Bill to let college workers opt out of state system advances

DENVER — A bill that would allow current Mesa State College employees the ability to opt out of the state personnel system won preliminary approval Wednesday in the Colorado House.

The bill’s lack of such a choice for future employees, however, was a point of contention for Democrats, who failed to amend the measure in the House, but their majority in the Senate could force the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, to make that concession.

Bradford said she will amend her measure only if Grand Junction Republican Sen. Steve King, who will carry Bradford’s HB1007 in the Senate, can’t get enough Democratic support for it there. Republicans have a 33–32 majority in the House, but Democrats control the Senate 20–15.

While House Democrats said they don’t like the bill in general, their biggest problem with it is it doesn’t give future employees the option of being in the state’s personnel system, which was established in 1918 to protect state workers from unfair labor practices. The Democrats believe the real intent behind the bill is to do away with the system for all state workers because Republicans don’t like its union-like protections.

“Once a position is requested by an employee to be taken out of the system, that position is forever out of the system,” said Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs. “Any new employee filling that position does not have a choice. This means the positions, one by one, will be allowed to migrate away from the state system.

“This is not about choice. This is about a plan to migrate position by position, pressured by the administration to move out.”

Bradford successfully fought off an amendment to allow new employees the same choice her bill would give the current 120 classified employees at the school, but later said she would agree to that change if it meant the bill would survive the Senate.

“If that is the very last issue, I think we’ll address it,” she said. “If that is the last threat to this bill not passing, the people that I’ve spoken to will entertain it.”

Under the bill, Mesa State workers first would vote to see if they want to have the choice. If a majority of them agree, each could decide on their own to stay in the system or be an at-will employee of the college.

In an effort to kill the bill, Democrats tried to amend the bill to reduce the college’s state funding for every employee who opts out of the system, saying that if the four-year school wants to be a private college, it shouldn’t be funded with taxpayers’ dollars.

Democrats also tried to get an amendment onto the bill that would require a third party to run the opt-out vote, adding the college’s plan to do an Internet poll similar to one it did last year on the issue wasn’t an accurate survey of support for the idea.

To ease some concerns about the measure, Bradford altered the bill to allow current and new employees the option of enrolling in the state’s pension system, or one operated by the school. Some opponents fear allowing too many people to opt out of the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association pension plan will lead it to insolvency.

The measure needs a final House vote before it can head to the Senate, which could come as early as today.


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