School funds, OHVs & foster care

We’re seeing a lot of action in the Capitol these days, as legislators present their final bills while we collectively prepare to work on the Long Bill, Colorado’s budget. 

To review how legislation is passed: we present bills in front of a committee, with public testimony and, sometimes, a few amendments. If the bills pass, they may be sent to a second committee. Then the bill is brought to the House floor for debate on “second reading,” when every legislator can hear about the legislation. A voice vote is taken there. Finally, the bill is brought to a “third reading” for a recorded vote. If it passes, it is sent to the Senate, where the process starts again.

If legislation passes both chambers, as amended, it is sent to the Governor to sign. We always face the chance of having the Governor veto our bill. 

The legislation I am running saw success this week:

The Governor signed HB 21-1161 requesting the Department of Education apply for a waiver from the federal government for students taking the CMAS standardized tests this year. We learned this week the federal government approved the waivers, adding eighth-grade science to the list, which includes math for grades 4, 6 and 8, and language arts for grades 3, 5 and 7. No decision was made about holding students, educators or districts accountable for the scores. Colorado is the first state to earn a waiver.

A second bill signed by the Governor, SB 21-053, will hold harmless the schools experiencing a temporary shortage of students during the pandemic. Thousands of students, mostly at-risk, did not attend remotely, or at all; our normal procedure would be to take the money given, according to the estimated student count in October, away from the schools. We felt that was cruel punishment, so we budgeted money to be taken off the negative factor debt instead. Colorado is giving $60 million to schools and another $25 million to rural schools from the new tobacco tax.

Three bills passed third reading and are headed to the Senate. The first is HB 21-1138, standardizing off highway vehicle use in the state. Currently, people licensed elsewhere tend to follow their own state laws allowing OHV use on all county roads. In Colorado, each county decides which roads these vehicles can and cannot use. Some people in Colorado are licensing their OHVs in other states so they do not have to follow Colorado law. This        legislation says all vehicles, no matter where they are registered, must follow state law.

Second is HB 21-1129, giving educators one extra year to be trained to teach reading, required under 2019’s READ Act. The wait is permissive but gives educators a little extra time to be trained when they wish. 

And third is HB 21-1151. I am running the bill with Rep. Marc Catlin and Sen. Don Coram, the only other representatives with federally recognized Indian tribes in their districts. This bill addresses the fact that only 4 percent of Native American children needing foster care are placed in Native American homes. This legislation allows tribes to certify their own foster homes so children can receive care in their own communities, remaining connected to their culture.

Finally, HB 21-1104, passed through the Education Committee and now heads to the Finance Committee. Currently, educators renew their licenses every five years; this bill will make it every seven years. The extra time aligns Colorado with most other states and accounts for the extra classes past legislation has required, giving educators more options for classes and saving them money. For two years, the Teacher Licensure Fund will be losing money, as about 38,000 teachers will be affected. We are requesting some stimulus money to cover the temporary cost. Four Department of Education positions will be eliminated.

The work continues.

– Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango