Friday, May 2, 2008

Teacher Merit Pay Program Added to School Finance Bill by Senate

The Senate, sticking to its guns on a bipartisan bill to implement performance pay for teachers in Colorado, added an amendment creating the program to the annual school finance bill Thursday, sending a rebuke to the House after a committee of that chamber killed an independent bill on the subject.

Sens. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, Sue Windels, D-Arvada, and Peter Groff, D-Denver, convinced their colleagues to add the substance of SB 65 to HB 1388. SB 65 had been killed in the House Appropriations Committee.

The pay plan would establish a $2 million fund to help launch efforts by school districts to cultivate and retain teachers based on their performance.

SB 65 aimed to make $2 million available in seed money to all Colorado school districts for programs that those districts design to reward their teachers. The bill set some basic criteria, such as that the programs must be designed to help close the achievement gap between different groups of students. However, any district applying for some of the seed money would be free to come up with a specific program that best addressed its circumstances.

Denver Public Schools recently implemented a performance-pay program on its own, and Douglas County Schools also have such a plan in place.

Gov. Bill Ritter has indicated his support for Spence's proposal to implement performance pay programs for public school teachers.

House Clears Resolution Calling for Study of Merger of Departments of Education, Higher Education

The state's Departments of Education and Higher Education might end up being merged into one department if an interim committee created by a resolution cleared by the House Thursday makes it into the law books and the panel recommends that structural change to the executive branch.

HJR 1027 was approved on 56-6 vote Thursday. Opposition came only from two Republicans - Douglas Bruce of Colorado Springs and Ken Summers of Lakewood - and four Democrats - Anne McGihon of Denver, Karen Middleton of Aurora, Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster, and Nancy Todd of Aurora. Middleton is a former member of the state Board of Education and Todd and Peniston are former teachers.

The resolution now moves to the Senate. It is sponsored by Rep. Paul Weissman, D-Louisville, and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial.

Increased Motor Vehicle Registration Fees Proposals Dead

The Denver Post reports this morning that legislators have agreed to put off further discussions of raising the state's motor vehicle registration fees to pay for highway and bridge improvements and repairs.

According to the story:

"At a Capitol press conference this morning, legislators from both parties — flanked by color photo blow ups of crumbling bridges — agreed to meet over the summer to consider ways of developing an adequate and reliable funding stream for transportation and a bill for next year's session.

"'Transportation isn't and shouldn't be a partisan issue,' said Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

"In recent days, Penry and colleagues on his side of the aisle had explored a possible funding compromise with Democrats that might have included a smaller rental-car fee of $3 a day and possibly a formula for tapping as much as $70 million a year for roads and bridges from an expected increase in severance tax proceeds.

"In the end, legislators from both parties agreed that it would be better to scuttle the rushed effort to get a funding bill this session, and instead aim for a more comprehensive fix of the problem.

"A summer effort aimed at getting bipartisan support for roads and bridge repair might enable legislators to craft the 'whole solution' to the problem instead of 'one-third of the solution,' said Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver."

Earlier in the year Gov. Bill Ritter's Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel recommended a funding level of $500 million per year to adequately maintain Colorado's bridges and roads.

Three Named to Court of Appeals

Gov. Bill Ritter named three new judges to the state court of appeals Thursday, filling slots created when the General Assembly expanded the size of that court in legislation passed in 2007.

Named to the bench were:

1. Sean Connelly

Connelly is a partner at Reilly, Pozner & Connelly (1994-present) and previously worked in private practice (1984-90) and as a judicial law clerk to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (1983-84). Connelly received his bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University in 1980 and his law degree from Catholic University Law School in 1983.

2. Richard Lance Gabriel

Gabriel is a partner at Holme Roberts & Owen. He has been with that firm since 1990. He previously worked for Shea & Gould (1988-90) and as a law clerk for the federal judge Frederick Motz of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland (1987-1988). Gabriel also served as prosecutor for the city of Lafayette. He received his bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1984 and his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law in 1987.

3. David Jay Richman

Richman serves as career law clerk at the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado (2003-present). Prior to joining the court, he was in private practice, specializing in civil commercial litigation and arbitration and criminal defense. Richman received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1972 and his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1975.

All three appointments take effect July 1 and are for a provisional term of two years. The new judges would have to stand election in 2010 to retain their seats for an additional eight years beyond the expiration of the provisional term.

The seats on the court filled by Connelly, Gabriel and Richman were created by HB 07-1054.

Bill to Fund New State Courts Building, History Museum Clears House

The dangerous and aging state courts building west of the Capitol will be replaced if a bill given final clearance by the House Wednesday is signed into law.

The current state judicial building, located across Lincoln Avenue from the Capitol at the south end of Civic Center park, has been plagued by structural problems, persistent water leaks and vulnerability to terrorist or criminal attacks.

Once built, the new judicial complex will be named the "Ralph L. Carr Judicial Complex."

It will house the state supreme court and court of appeals, as well as agencies of the supreme court, and the Department of Law (attorney general), state public defender, Office of the Child's Representative and Alternate Defense Counsel.

Currently most of those court agencies and other state prosecution and public defender agencies are housed in private office buildings leased by the state.

House debate on the measure focused on the debt the state will assume to build it and the assertions by one Republican that the building is not in need of replacement due to its relatively young age.

Rep. Douglas Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, argued that TABOR requires voter approval of the proposal, despite state supreme court precedent holding that lease-purchase agreements of the type to be used to build the new court complex aren't subject to that constitutional provision. He also said the building shouldn't be replaced since it is only about 40 years old.

"This is a momentous bill," Bruce said. "On average, according to the sponsor, court costs for having your day in court are going to go up about 37 percent. This is $633 million in debt the people won't be able to vote on."

Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, pointed out that the design of the currrent building is not amenable to safety.

"It's not a building worth keeping," McFadyen said. "Building on the cheap is not saving any taxpayer any money."

Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, also pointed out that the current building is unsafe.

"Our courts are targets," Carroll said. "I think it's necessary. Our court [building], right now, is grossly insufficient in the level of security it has."

Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, said the measure protects the state against inflation in construction costs and reminded legislators that the bill contemplates that the judicial department would purchase the site now occupied by the history museum.

The third reading vote in the House on SB 206 was 50-14. It gained final approval in the Senate April 14 by a 22-12 vote. The bill now moves back to the Senate for consideration of amendments added by the House.

Construction on the new museum would commence in the second quarter of 2009, with completion by 2011, while the new Ralph L. Carr Judicial Complex would be built between 2012 and 2014.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Holocaust Awareness Week Recognized

The General Assembly, after an emotional remembrance of those who suffered under Nazi terror in death camps across Europe, asked Coloradoans to commemorate Holocaust Awareness Week Wednesday.

Rep. Victor Mitchell, R-Castle Pines Village, talked of his visit to Auschwitz in Poland.

"I would say that both my wife and I were forever changed by this experience," Mitchell said. "Going through, walking these grounds, it's really like nothing else I've ever been to. The sheer enormity. It was like a well-run business. They had thought of everything in the most evil and sinister ways."

Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, urged her colleagues to remember that the Holocaust is both a moment in history and a reminder of human frailty.

"History is only history when we allow it to stay in books," Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, said. "Teaching young people how to respond to human needs across our world is one of our most important responsibilities."

Others spoke of the imperative to remember the evil embodied by the Nazi effort to exterminate Jews and others.

"We need to tell this story," Rep. Alice Madden, D-Boulder, said. "We need to tell it over and over again."

HJR 1028 was approved unanimously in both the House and Senate.

Bruce Would Have Compared Legal Migrant Ag-Workers to 9-11 Perpetrators, Cop-Killer

Rep. Doug Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, was prepared to compare legal migrant farmworkers to the terrorists who committed the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. and to the murderer of a Denver police officer before he was prevented from continuing a speech during House floor debate on HB 1325 April 21.

The text of Bruce's planned comments on HB 1325 are posted on his personal website.

Here are some excerpts. First, Bruce says that migrant workers get paid to do little or no work and that the state should simply forcibly enlist prison inmates to pick crops. He also implies that migrant farmworkers pose a threat to break up the union:

"Do you recall the immigration petition in 2006? All those mean Colorado citizens wanted to take welfare state benefits away from our foreign cousins visiting us here from our extended world family. Fortunately, the supreme court protected us from being able to vote on that ballot issue. Judge Martinez wrote the court opinion that one sentence of that shot petition was two subjects, so those selfish citizens could not prohibit subsidizing this invasion.

"Now a second branch of state government, our responsive legislature, is also heeding the public will. HB 1325 proposes we phase in the importation each year of up to 5,000 additional aliens to live in work camps and undercut free market wages that would attract American workers. An act of sheer genius!

"You say Americans don't want this seasonal work at any wage? No wonder, since the CATO Institute estimated about eight years ago that the cash value of Colorado's total welfare benefits was the equivalent of $10.05 per hour. Eight years later, it's probably closer to $14 per hour. Pretty good income for doing nothing. Why work, when government will pay you not to work? Here we can show our international compassion and, at the same time, prop up the welfare state entitlements that created the wage rate distortion-such a deal!

"We can't use prison labor to pick crops. The convicts might object, or they might eat too much of the crops they are picking, and contribute to our obesity crisis. We wouldn't want that on our conscience.

"We can't let free market labor pricing work. That is too radical a concept.

"Once we implement this brilliant program for agriculture, can manufacturing, construction, and other labor sectors be far behind? Maybe we could also import our politicians! We couldn't do worse.

"Look how successful this program has been in Germany and other parts of Europe, which now are overflowing with Turkish, Greek, and other immigrants creating their own subcultures. Look at the cultural peace in Quebec, with two main languages and daily disputes about which language's traffic sign should be on top."

Next, Bruce would have stated that "immigration tolerance" of the type supposedly advanced by Rep. Marsha Looper's bill invited more terrorism and violent crime:

"We have plenty of examples of the results of our immigration tolerance, both legal and illegal. One man came here legally on a lawful tourist visa. He wanted to learn how to fly a commercial jet. Take-off and navigation only, please; learning to land was not required. His name was Mohammed Atta, and he and 18 other visitors were America's guests until their visit came to an abrupt end on September 11, 2001. Of course, they were just exercising their rights to self-expression.

"Another 'gentleman' was hired to work in a local restaurant owned by Denver's mayor. Raul Garcia-Gomez also worked in the food industry, until he killed a Denver police officer. He then fled to his native Mexico. He was extradited only after he was guaranteed that he would not face the death penalty. Now we are providing him free room and board for life-he has no more worries. What a country!"

Bruce then would have compared the pilot program to assist with processing of H-1A visas with slave smuggling:

"HB 1325 is an ingenious solution to the illegal alien problem. It makes them LEGAL because government gives them a piece of paper! Now why didn't I think of that? When WE import them, we save them the trouble of crossing the border at night. We will out-compete the coyotes, better known as slave traders, who charge them for the trip. We will do it safely and for free! Who says government programs can't replace the private sector?"

He then accuses Democrats of being supportive of Looper's bill because the migrant farmworkers would vote for Democrats and Republicans of supporting it so that businesses can exploit people:

"Democrats should support this bill even though it is a precedent to further undermine organized labor. When the next amnesty comes, these people are expected to register and vote Democratic.

"Republicans should support this bill to maintain their image of exploiting the little guy on behalf of Big Business. Another win-win for our noble and responsive political system."

Migrant farmworkers in the United States under authority of a temporary visa cannot vote in federal, state, or local elections.

Bruce was gaveled down during the April 21 debate for saying he thought the bill would lead to the presence of "5,000 more illiterate peasants" in Colorado.

General Assembly Declares "Police Week" and Peace Officer Memorial Day

Both chambers of the General Assembly passed Wednesday a resolution establishing Police Week in Colorado during the week of May 11-17 and establishing "Peace Officer Memorial Day" for 2008 on May 15.

SJR 17, sponsored by Sen. John P. Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, asks Coloradoans to remember the work of the state's law enforcement officers and lists the 215 peace officers killed in the line of duty since statehood.

"They say that courage is being afraid and doing your job anyway," King said. "That's what those people did."

The federal government also recognizes Police Week and Peace Officer Memorial Day.

Flags of the United States and Colorado should be flown at half-staff on Peace Officer Memorial Day.