#Coleg Notebook: Cyber-bullying prevention; paring down PERA

via wikicommons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_bullying#mediaviewer/File:Rebecca1917version.jpg

House supports digital bullying prevention bill

“Everyone hates you.”

“You are fat, pathetic and you mean nothing.”

“You should just go kill yourself.”

“These kinds of comments cannot be tolerated. We need to break the cycle of hate on the Internet,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, arguing for the passage of her HB 1072, which clarifies existing harassment statute to also include direct and indirect cyber-bullying by people of all ages.

Fields brought a similar measure last year. It passed with 54 votes in the House but the Senate downgraded the program it proposed to a study.

A coalition that includes district attorneys, public defenders and the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice spent five months tinkering with the bill’s language in an effort to make sure it is broad enough to keep pace with developing technology — but not so broad as to infringe on free speech. Field’s new bill is the product of that work.

Even so, several lawmakers raised concerns that the proposed law wouldn’t be as effective in countering online harassment as it would in chilling free speech.

“As much as we abhor a comment that indirectly offends or annoys us, we must defend that level of free speech and work to motivate civil behavior by virtue of our example, our behavior and the way we interact with other human beings,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Colorado Springs, who, along with many in his caucus voted for amendments that would narrow the scope of the bill.

The bill passed on second reading. Lawmakers approved an amendment proposed by Fields to name the measure after a Colorado high school student who was rendered paraplegic after a bullying-motivated attempted suicide.

The measure will come up for a final vote next week.


No open records for public defender expenditures

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted last night to kill a bipartisan measure that would have made spending by the Public Defenders Office and the Alternative Defense Counsel subject to the Colorado Open Records Act. Currently, the entire Judicial Branch is exempt.

HB 1101 was co-sponsored by Reps. Rhonda Fields and Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton.

“On a personal level, I’m interested in how much the public defender’s office has spent on the three defendants that were charged with the murder of my son,” Fields told The Independent.

Democrats worried the bill would end in pressing most upon legal teams defending people who can’t afford their own lawyers.

“[T]he public defenders office’s budgets have surged in the last few years,” said Lawrence in a release after the measure failed, “yet without transparency, we have no way of holding these government entities accountable to Colorado taxpayers.”

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition has more details on the bill’s demise.

[blockquote]At the heart of the matter, although barely mentioned by the bill’s bipartisan sponsors Thursday, are public spending records in the case against admitted Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes.

Reporters such as KUSA-TV’s Chris Vanderveen have repeatedly asked Colorado Public Defender Doug Wilson for records showing how much his office has spent to keep Holmes from the death penalty. Arapahoe County DA George Brauchler, who is pursuing the death case against Holmes, has voluntarily released his expenditure records in the case.

Unanimous voice vote for bipartisan teen pregnancy prevention bill

Reps. Jessie Danielson, D- Wheat Ridge, and Don Coram, R-Montrose, drew hardy “Ayes” for their bill to expand statewide a successful teen pregnancy prevention education program that has been operating in Coram’s district.

“Good bill, vote yes,” said Coram.

The program offers education resources to at-risk students — information about abstinence and contraception and tools for avoiding underage drinking and resisting peer pressure. Read more about the policy here.


Sparing over PERA 

The Senate had a good old fashioned retirement debate today about whether or not all state employees on PERA should have access to a defined contribution option. Right now lawmakers and some state employees have the option to invest in a “DC” but the rest of PERA is all defined benefits and 401(k). A defined benefits plan, or pension, operates on a years-worked formula and guarantees a certain dividend upon retirement. A defined contribution plan invests employee and employer money in the market today in the hopes that it will grow.

“This would affect teachers and give them the opportunity to opt-in to a defined contribution plan,” said sponsor Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs. “This is a simple, non-complicated, noncontroversial bill, as I’d like to hope in another life.”

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, a former teacher and principal dedicated to education policy, laughed at that remark, and at SB 80‘s fiscal note.

“The impact of this bill is $4.2 billion, that’s billion with a “B”… on the PERA trust fund,” he said, saying it was the “most impressive” fiscal note he’d ever seen.

Other lawmakers were less light hearted about the move, noting that two of the three states that tried the option are reconsidering it and that a migration to DCs could impact the value of everyone on PERA’s retirement savings.

“We are having a retirement security crisis in America; we are having a retirement security crisis in Colorado,” said Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Denver. “SB 80 reduces retirement security. It puts us in a position where retirees won’t know how much they’ll get for how long … it ties retirement to the whims and wills of Wall Street.”

Representatives from PERA and the AARP testified in opposition to the measure.

Supporters of the bill pointed out that it’s just an option and one which might appeal to folks not looking for a life-long career in public service.

“Why did I choose a defined contribution plan? Because I knew based on age I would not benefit from a defined benefits program,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. “The defined contribution program is what made sense for me and my family.”

The measure got initial approval in the Senate today.

Clarification: Many thanks to Katie Kaufmanis at PERA who clarified a few points about SB 80 for us:
“New state employees and employees of community colleges currently have the choice between the PERA DB Plan and the PERA DC Plan (not just legislators). SB 80 would expand this choice to all divisions of PERA (school, local government, DPS, judicial). All PERA members in all divisions have the opportunity to participate in the PERA 401(k) Plan (in addition to the DB plan).”


Bullying image from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm