Senate works to keep military bases open; House to employ veterans

Senate moves to save Colorado military bases from closure

close callBig changes are on the horizon for the nation’s military industrial complex as it scales down from more than a decade of rapid-fire expansion. That means states across the country that rely economically on military bases will have to compete to keep them open.

Recognizing this, Senate President Morgan Carroll of Aurora and Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs crossed the aisle to bring forward SB 157, which would create a commission to study how to best market Colorado’s six military bases to the Department of Defense.

Carroll noted that as a representative of Aurora, she knows first-hand how the closure of the Lowry and Fitzsimons installations affected the community.

“This could have a multi-billion dollar impact on our state. These are high paying, high-skill jobs and a good source for related industries whether aerospace or research. We have to compete with other states,” she said.

Cadman, who represents the 5-base city of Colorado Springs, agreed with Carroll and added that the situation is particularly serious because the Department of Defense is slated to make $900 billion in cuts through base realignment and closure. He said he thinks of the bill as creating an opportunity for Colorado to tell the story of its military contributions, something he doesn’t feel the public has yet fully explore or analyzed.

The study would cost $300,000, but sponsors say it’s worth it to save the multi-billion dollar industry of the military’s presence in the state.

The measure got final passage in the Senate today and now heads to the House.


House extends transitional jobs programA

A proposed bill would extend a federal jobs program initially set up in 2009 using stimulus dollars until 2017, using state dollars. The Colorado ReHire program provides training, coaching and transitional subsidized jobs for unemployed Coloradans who have served in the military, are over 50 years old or fall below 150 percent of the federal poverty line.

HB 1015‘s sponsor, Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp of Arvada, said the earlier version of the program already has proven very successful, with 75 percent of participants transitioning into full-time unsubsidized jobs.

“This is an effective program, I’ll admit that much. But it’s also another example of where the federal government has come in and provided funding for a short time to create an expansion of government and then left it to taxpayers of Colorado to continue to fund a program,” said Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker, opposing the bill for its $1.2 million price tag.

Despite Holbert’s concerns, the measure got strong bipartisan support in the House because it is so specifically tied to supporting Colorado’s veterans as they struggle to transition back into civilian life.

The bill got initial approval today and will likely come up for a final vote this week.


House approves gifted and talented coordinators for schools

State law already requires schools to identify and provide special services for exceptionally bright students. Today, the House gave initial approval to HB 1102, which would put at least partial funding behind the current mandate.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Cherylin Peniston of Westminster, said the measure’s $3.4 million would go towards hiring part-time coordinators for schools so they can screen every student before second grade and provide more challenging coursework for the kids who qualify as gifted and talented — regardless of socioeconomic status or location in the state.

“People think gifted kids can make their education happen for themselves,” said Peniston, adding that many super smart kids — especially in schools already struggling to deal with a lot of at-risk students — are falling through the cracks under that assumption.

Several representatives, including Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker, opposed the measure, saying the money should go directly to paying back the general cuts made to public education since 2009 instead of to a targeted program for kids who already have a leg up.

Peniston pointed out that gifted and talented students are currently the only special group in the state that’s promised services by law but not given any state dollars.

“Colleagues, these are our brightest students and we’ve asked our districts to limp along identifying and serving them with no funding,” she concluded.

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


Senate unanimously passes Safe2Tell bill 

The Senate gave unanimous final passage to a bill that would make having an anonymous school threat reporting system state law.

SB 2, sponsored by Senate President Morgan Carroll of Aurora and Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs, allows the state to adopt the currently nonprofit-run Safe2Tell program. The program ensures that when someone makes a report about a school safety threat their privacy is protected and law enforcement know what steps to take next. As the state takes over the program, it will also ramp-up education and outreach about how to use it.

The popular school safety measure now heads to the House.