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Colorado Capitol

Jaclyn Zubrzycki / Chalkbeat

Parent rights bill meets its expected fate

As expected, the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee voted 7-6 Tuesday to kill a bill that would have created a sweeping “parent’s bill of rights” affecting how parents relate to schools, courts, health care agencies, and medical professionals.

The party-line vote on Senate Bill 15-077, with Democrats in the majority, came after nearly four hours of often-emotional testimony. The witness list was dominated by parents airing grievances about run-ins with judges, guardians, social workers, doctors, teachers, and principals.

Vaccination laws also came under fire from some witnesses supporting the bill. Two witnesses claimed that half of American boys will be autistic in the future because of vaccinations. And one witness maintained that flu shots cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Opponents of the bill, representing victim rights organizations, medical groups, the Colorado Bar Association, teachers, and school districts, said the bill was unnecessary because existing laws protect parents and because it would have weakened protections for children who are victims of abuse and sexual exploitation by family members.

Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs, proposed a successful amendment intended to ease concerns about protection of abused children and about vaccinations. But committee Democrats killed the bill anyway.

The bill also proposed criminal penalties for teachers, health workers, and others who violated its terms.

The measure was sponsored by the father-son team of Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton and Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock. Both are Republicans and strong social conservatives. (Read the bill here.)

Committee Democrats were uniformly polite and attentive to the witnesses who testified during the long hearing. “Some things were quite eye-opening to me,” said Rep. Joan Ginal, D-Fort Collins.

But House Democratic staff members were more direct in the news release issued after the bill was killed. “Another GOP Tinfoil-hat Bill Bites the Dust” was the headline on the email.

Truancy bill advances, but questions linger

The Senate Finance Committee passed a truancy bill on a 4-0 vote Tuesday, but the measure’s future remains unclear.

As passed by the Senate Education Committee last week, Senate Bill 15-184 aims to end jailing of truant students who ignore court orders to return to school. The bill would take truancy cases out of juvenile courts and assign them to administrative judges, who don’t have the power to send people to jail.

There’s concern by some senators that passage of the bill in its current form could cut off promising truancy court programs that have been developed in a few counties.

A more immediate concern is the bill’s fiscal impact. It would generate an estimated $389,881 in revenue from fees school districts would pay to have truancy cases referred to the administrative judges. But that income would count against the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights revenue cap that requires refunds to taxpayers once revenues reach a certain level.

The bill goes next to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will consider that issue before deciding whether to send the measure to the Senate floor.

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, told the finance committee Tuesday he has an amendment that would avoid the fiscal issue, but he didn’t offer the change because the amendment language isn’t final.

Kerr’s plan would keep truancy cases in juvenile courts, but it would ban youth correctional facilities from imprisoning students found guilty of contempt of court for ignoring district requests to return to school.

Bill sponsor Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, has said his main goal with the bill is to keep truant students out of juvenile detention.