House approves Dallas Buyers Club bill; Senate delays part of teacher evaluations

“Dallas Buyers Club” bill gets go-ahead in House

dallas buyers

Popularly known as the “Dallas Buyers Club” bill, HB 1281 would allow terminally ill patients and their doctors to choose a treatment plan that involves drugs not yet fully approved by the FDA if they’ve exhausted all other options.

“Terminally ill patients do not have time on their side. This bill illuminates unnecessary procedural burdens,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Joann Ginal of Fort Collins. She added that while the measure would allow patients as ill as Matthew McConaughey’s character in the movie “Dallas Buyers Club” to access drugs in the final stages of FDA approval, the medications still would need to have passed at least the first round of U.S. Food and Drug Administration safety trials.

“We are just trying to give them a choice,” said the measure’s co-sponsor Rep. Janak Joshi of Colorado Springs, noting that the bill specifically protects insurance companies from having to pay for the trial drugs and doctors from being held liable for the outcomes of the experimental treatment.

Rep. Rhonda Fields of Aurora worried that because these drugs won’t be covered by insurance, the treatment could become seriously expensive. She proposed an amendment that clarified who could be held responsible for the cost of the treatment after a patient has died — namely that the medical fees could be drawn from the deceased’s estate but not from living relatives.

That amendment passed and the bill got initial approval in the House on a loud, bipartisan voice vote. It likely will come up for final passage this week.

Senate moves to give districts another year before evaluating teachers on standardized test results

As Colorado transitions to administering new standardized tests under the expansion of Common Core and the Colorado Measures of Academic Success programs, Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver and Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood brought an assessment flexibility bill, SB 165, to the Senate floor today.

As Colorado implements the Common Core, new literature and math tests will hit schools in 2014-2015.
As Colorado implements the Common Core, new literature and math tests will hit schools in 2014-2015.

Current law requires districts to base at least 50 percent of their teacher effectiveness evaluation on students’ performance on standardized tests. However, many schools will be conducting new literature and math tests for the first time next year and won’t have much to directly compare them to. If SB 165 passes, districts would be able to decide to weigh the tests less heavily next year if they choose to.

Johnston said the added year of flexibility would give districts more time to establish growth measures so they’re not comparing apples to oranges when it comes to teacher evaluations.

Sens. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins and Scott Renfroe of Eaton said they agreed that districts should be able to decide for themselves how much students’ performance on standardized tests should be considered as part of a teacher’s effectiveness. In fact, they didn’t want the time-out to end after next year. So Marble proposed a bill to permanently give districts the authority to decide how much the tests matter when they evaluate their teachers. But, as Johnston pointed out and the floor Chair agreed, the bill’s title specifies the 2014-2015 school year, so Marble’s amendment was dismissed.

The legislation got initial approval today and may come up for final vote this week.

House moves legislation that would allow charter schools to snag more district funding 

Today the House gave initial approval to HB 1314, a measure sponsored by Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood that would allow charter schools to benefit when districts raise money locally.

The bill requires that a representative from each charter school in a district be present when the district sits down to talk about putting a fundraising initiative — otherwise known as a ‘mill levy override’ — up for a popular vote. It also authorizes districts to run specific fundraising initiatives on behalf of the charters in their jurisdiction.

The legislation touches on a major component of many school finance debates at the Capitol — primarily that charter schools aren’t eligible for certain building funding streams and have to spend per-pupil education dollars to maintain their facilities.

“This bill doesn’t demand that districts share their mill levy overrides with charters, it just starts the conversation,” Petterson said on the House floor today.

The measure got initial approval on a voice vote and likely will come up for final passage this week.

Vaccine debate takes animal detour

Rep. Mike McLachlan of Durango got a surprise today when his measure, HB 1313, which requires all dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated for rabies in the counties that call for it, briefly became a part of a larger debate about choice in vaccinations.

Back referencing controversial legislation carried by Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver that requires parents to take an online course before opting their school-attending children out of mandatory vaccinations, Rep. Libby Szabo of Arvada offered a parody amendment that would require pet owners, too, to educate themselves about the dangers and benefits of vaccination.

McLachlan didn’t appreciate the amendment, saying that it made light of serious issues, including a recent uptick in rabies infections on the Western Slope.

Ultimately the Szabo amendment failed and the legislation itself was given initial approval.