An emotional cyberbully debate; veterans’ business bill goes to Gov; money for drilling inspection; allowances made for rural special ed

Two “Kill Committees” spare bill to help small businesses owned by disabled vets

The Senate and House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committees are known to be where minority party bills go to die. But in the case of HB 1224, the committee assignment made a lot of sense. The legislation calls for state agencies to give at least three percent of their contracts to small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans. Both ‘kill committees’ passed it almost unanimously.

The bill was sponsored in both chambers by Republicans who represent Colorado Springs, a major military city that’s home to more than 50,000 veterans. Rep. Bob Gardner carried the bill through the House, and today freshman Senator Bernie Herpin ushered the measure past the Senate with strong bipartisan support.

The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk.


More money for oil & gas clean-up and inspections 

make it rain

The Senate gave initial approval today to increase the funding cap for oil & gas clean-up efforts and inspections from $4 million to $6 million annually. HB 1077 sponsor Senator Mary Hodge of Brighton noted that 75 percent of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s operating budget comes from this environmental response coffer.

“The commission has increased the number of people working there… this gives them a buffer so they can continue doing the things they do like well and site inspections,” said Hodge.

The measure, which already passed out of the house, will come up for a final vote in the Senate this week. If approved there, it will go straight to the Governor’s desk.


Allowing for economies of scale in rural special education

malta schoolIn cash-strapped school systems throughout the state special education teachers are able to work in multiple schools throughout a district under the state’s “Exceptional Children’s Educational Act.” But, as written, the law doesn’t address the needs of very rural areas where teachers are being shared between as many as three districts.

Recognizing that small districts have been pooling their special ed staffing to serve students with special needs since at least 2011, Senators Rachel Zenzinger of Westminster and Steve King of Grand Junction put together a bill to grandfather those coalitions into the Exceptional Children’s Act.

Zenzinger noted that many of these district collectives successfully have been serving students for decades. King said the bill simply codifies a practice that’s known to work.

The measure passed in the Senate on a voice vote today and will come up for a final vote this week.


Cyberbullying passes House but debate about equal protections vs. anti-discrimination policy may continue in Senate 

After much debate about how to regulate cyberbullying, the House passed Aurora Rep. Rhonda Field’s HB 1131 today by a vote of 54-10.

Earlier in the week, an amendment sponsored by Republican Representative Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs to make all cyberbullying — regardless of motivation — punishable by the harshest level one misdemeanor raised much debate in the House over the definition of equal protection under the law in the context of Colorado’s long history of anti-discrimination policies.

Currently, the bill distinguishes between general bullying (which would be prosecuted as a level two misdemeanor) and bullying motivated by “immutable” characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or religion (which would qualify as a more serious, level one offense).

Although his amendment failed, Gardner took the floor today in support of the bill.

“I am not one that’s going to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” Gardner said, adding that he hopes the debate around what he considers a very real and complex policy decision will continue in the Senate.

Several supports of the two-tiered bill — many of whom have experienced bullying related to race, gender, sexual orientation or disability — shared their painful memories on the floor this week, including the sponsor herself.

Passions have run high also among backers of a one-tiered law. So high, in fact, that some supporters of Gardner’s amendment were unwilling to vote for the bill without it.

“I will be a no on one basic principle. I cannot go against my principle that all people are created equal, therefore all people should be punished equally,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling.

The move to collapse the cyberbullying bill’s distinction between discrimination motivated bullying and general bullying wasn’t strictly partisan.

Democratic Rep. Cherylin Peniston of Westminster heard testimony on the bill in the Education Committee and now questions the bill’s two-tier system. What struck Peniston was a description by a high school student named Bailey of being called a squirrel by her classmates. Bailey’s classmates facebook posted and tweeted a barrage of images and videos of squirrels as roadkill, squirrels being tortured and squirrels blowing up — all with the message that a similar fate should befall her. Peniston, in taking the floor to explain why she would like to see Gardner amendment further discussed in the Senate, addressed her comments directly to Bailey.

“I can’t tell you how impressed I am with your ability to speak with adults about your experiences with bullying. But you don’t fit any of the special groups, so this bill is not quite right for you. Even so, your pain was palpable to me. I could feel it … . This is not quite a perfect bill, but I still say yes.”

The measure now moves to the Senate where it’s likely the debate will continue.

 [One room schoolhouse outside Leadville photographed by Jimmy Emerson]