While Democrats have introduced a variety of bills during the first week of the 2020 session of the Colorado Legislature, which began last week, Republicans have set their sights on an issue they’re not generally known to champion: education reform.
Their proposed reforms, however, aren’t like the normal big-ticket changes that Democrats have pushed in recent years, such as all-day kindergarten for everyone.
In fact, that’s part of the point.
“We’re trying to find ways for great ideas that don’t necessarily require some new source of money,” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker. “We’re also not trying to make statements. When you look through the 20 to 25 proposals, I don’t know that you’ll find one that’s making a political statement.”
Some of their ideas will cost some money though, such as a proposal to give pay bonuses to teachers whose students perform the best in academic achievement.
Others, however, are self-described simple changes.
“A lot of these different bills empower private citizens to affect changes in education,” said House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock. “We’re empowering businesses and generous individuals to make donations to do the right thing through tax credits to actually affect change for the betterment of students.”
One measure that Holbert is to introduce would promote an existing program that allows high school students to gain college credit with their normal course work. Holbert said students who fully use that program could cut their college debt in half.
There is at least one high-ticket bill that the Republicans are backing, to be introduced by Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, one that the senator introduced last session but failed to pass. The bill is intended to work as an incentive to all teachers to follow practices that improve student performance.
“We should give a bonus to those teachers that are judged by the system we have today that identifies those who are most highly effective,” Lundeen said. “The system we have identifies 47% of our teachers as highly effective. (Money) to go into the pockets of their paychecks of the teachers who we know are highly effective.”
Last year, Lundeen wanted about $56 million to pay for that program. This year, he’s cut that request to about $50 million.
Republicans also want to give teachers a tax deduction for any money of their own that they spend on school supplies for their students.
Religious Liberty v. Gay Rights
Despite those GOP education bills that may well gain bipartisan support, others in the Republican Party still plan to introduce social issue measures that have little chance of becoming law in a Legislature controlled by Democrats.
Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Henderson, is once again introducing his Live and Let Live Act, a measure designed to protect religious beliefs against such things as same-sex marriages.
The bill aims to allow businesses owners, individuals and private groups the right to deny services to others in the name of their religious beliefs.
The measure, the third such bill to be introduced in as many years, was born in part from a legal fight between a Denver cake baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy group, calls the bill mean-spirited.
“Freedom of religion is important, and that is why it is already protected by the First Amendment of our Constitution,” said Daniel Ramos, executive director of the group. “That freedom doesn’t give any of us the right to harm or discriminate against others. We are confident that Colorado will continue to send a strong, clear message that these license-to-discriminate bills have no place in our state.”
The group also is opposing another measure, HB1063, that they say is designed to prevent children from being removed from homes where they are being abused because of their sexual orientation.
Other measures introduced the first three days of this year’s session — more than 160 have been introduced so far — include:
n HB1001: This bill aims to raise to 21 the age a person must be to purchase tobacco products, including all electronic smoking devices, known as vaping.
The measure also requires that no one under the age of 21 may sell such products, but it removes the criminal penalty for a minor to attempt to purchase tobacco products.
n HB1014: Spurred by a recent case of a Grand Junction fertility doctor using his own seminal fluid to impregnate female clients, this bill creates a new civil cause of action and a crime if a health care provider does that without the consent of the patient.
The measure, partly introduced by Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, authorizes compensatory damages of up to $50,000, and makes it a class 6 felony, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $100,000 fine.
n HB1070: As with similar measures in years past, this bill would require local governments that ban hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells to compensate mineral rights owners for any lost revenues, costs and damages to equipment.
n SB61: Motorists who fail to yield to a bicycle properly in a bicycle lane could be subject to a class A traffic offense under this measure, punishable by fines of up to $70.
n SB65: It’s already illegal to text while driving, but this measure would ban the use of mobile phones without hands-free devices while driving.
The bill would impose fines of up to $300 and four points against a driver’s license for multiple violations. It is similar to a bill that failed to pass during the 2019 session.