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Parents could get time off for school conferences under bill headed to House floor

E.M. Eisen-Markowitz, teacher at City As School High School Flickr

A bill requiring large companies to give their workers 18 hours of unpaid time off for some school activities is set for debate in the full House.

The measure, House Bill 16-1002, would revive a similar law that expired last year. It passed 6-5 Wednesday by the House Education Committee.

While the bill’s provisions are somewhat limited, it has sparked lively disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over whether it’s needed.

“This is incredibly important for parents,” said committee chair Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, during debate Wednesday.

“The overwhelming majority of businesses are not bad actors. … I don’t think this legislation is necessary,” said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. Republican members repeatedly noted that there’s no evidence available about the previous law’s impact.

The committee vote to send the bill to the floor split on party lines, with Democrats in the majority.

The proposal largely mirrors the 2009 law. Key provisions include:

  • Only companies with 50 or more employees are covered.
  • Parents can take leave for parent-teacher conferences or meetings related to special education services, interventions, dropout prevention, attendance, truancy, or discipline issues. Other school activities, such as sports and plays, aren’t covered.
  • Time off can be taken in increments of three hours or less, not to exceed six hours a month. Employees would have to give a week’s notice.
  • Employers can deny leave requests for reasons like possible disruption of service or production.

Sponsor Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, originally proposed that the bill cover parents of preschoolers and be expanded to cover some school activities like awards assemblies. She had the bill amended to remove those provisions to meet concerns from business lobbyists. The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry is neutral on the amended version.

One provision of the bill that wasn’t in the 2009 law would require school districts to notify parents of their rights to time off.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have various forms of parent leave laws, according to the New York-based Work and Family Legal Center. Most states exempt smaller businesses, and in four states the laws cover only government workers.

The original parent leave law was passed when Democrats controlled both houses of the legislature and after it had been amended to meet business concerns. Rep. John Buckner, Janet Buckner’s late husband, carried an unsuccessful bill last year to extend the law and expand its provisions. (She was appointed last summer to fill his seat.)

That 2015 bill passed the Democratic-controlled House 34-30 but was killed by a committee in the Republican-majority Senate. Statehouse observers expect the same thing to happen this year.

House Education originally was scheduled to vote on the bill Monday, but Pettersen delayed action because Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, was absent. As an example of the partisanship surrounding the bill, a House Democratic news release issued Wednesday noted, “ironically, he needed to take his child to a doctor’s appointment.”

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