Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Gazette: Garcia meets with Obama about cabinet post

A report in today's Colorado Springs Gazette indicates that rumors of Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia's candidacy for an Obama administration cabinet position may have substance.

A story by Megan Schrader quotes Gov. John Hickenlooper as saying that Garcia had flown to Washington, D.C. to meet with the President.

A Reuters report published by the Denver Post on Jan. 31, citing anonymous sources, disclosed that Garcia is the leading choice to become secretary of labor.

Hickenlooper suggests child welfare reforms

Gov. John Hickenlooper has publicly revealed his ideas for fixing Colorado's troubled child welfare system.

The Denver Post has the story.

GOP abortion ban legislation dies

Another in an annual parade of Republican abortion ban bills died in a House committee Wednesday.

HB 13-1033 was rejected by the House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee.

The measure would have criminalized all abortions except those deemed by a doctor to be necessary to prevent a pregnant mother's death.

Abortions can be regulated to an extent under U.S. Supreme Court cases that interpret relevant provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The Court, however, has held that a ban with a reach similar to that proposed in HB 13-1033 is unconstitutional.

A GOP member of the committee - former majority leader Amy Stephens of Monument - sought to amend the bill to permit the use of emergency contraception in cases of rape or incest.

Stephens, a former employee of the conservative advocacy group Focus on the Family, argued that criminalizing abortion when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of such assaults is not consistent with the ideals of justice.

The amendment was rejected by the other members of the committee, including the Democrats. 

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Steven Humphrey, R-Severance.

State's colleges and universities get financial boost from two advancing bills

Two bills that would give a financial boost to Colorado's public universities and colleges are moving steadily toward the law books.

HB 13-1144, which makes permanent a cigarette-specific supplemental sales tax and devote the annual revenue it produces to higher education, is on the way to the Senate. The bill would add about $28 million per year to the state's budget for colleges and universities.

The measure was approved by the House Monday on a 40-24 vote. The chamber's caucuses divided on the bill.

Votes to pass the bill came primarily from majority Democrats, but also from six of the chamber's 28 Republicans. They included Kathleen Conti of Littleton, Don Coram of Montrose, Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch, Carole Murray of Castle Rock, and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling.

The opposition came from the other 22 Republicans and two Democrats - Reps. Crisanta Duran and Dan Pabon of Denver. Interestingly, Duran is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Meanwhile, SB 13-090 sailed out of the Senate on the same day. The supplemental appropriations bill would increase this year's budgets for the state's institutions of higher learning by more than $9 million.

The vote was 27-6. All of the opponents were Republicans. They included Sens. Bill Cadman, Owen Hill, and Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs, Kevin Grantham of Canon City, Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch, and Scott Renfroe of Greeley.

SB 13-090 will next be considered by the House appropriations committee.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Academic acceleration mandate for public schools clears House

A bill that would require public schools to provide opportunities to learn at a faster pace to academically capable students was approved by the House of Representatives Monday.

HB 13-1023 allows school districts and charter schools some flexibility to meet its mandate. The bill provides that an "acceleration policy" might incorporate options such as advancing a student in a particular subject, "compacting curriculum," allowing a student to enroll in an advanced class at the same time he or she is in a less advanced course in the same subject, permitting credit to be gained by passing a test, providing advanced placement or International Baccalaureate programs, or authorizing independent study efforts.

The measure's reach is not limited to students who have been determined by school administrators to be "gifted and talented." Instead, school districts and charter schools are instructed to make acceleration programs available "to all students who demonstrate high ability and who may benefit from content acceleration or other acceleration interventions in their area or areas of strength."

The bill sets a July 1, 2014 deadline.

The bipartisan bill was approved on third and final reading in the House by a unanimous vote. It now heads to the Senate.

The House sponsors are Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. In the Senate, Republican David Balmer of Centennial and Andy Kerr of Lakewood are carrying the measure.

Identity theft victims gain tool to fight back, CBI gets hiring flexibility in bills moved ahead Tuesday

Bills that would give identify theft victims a new tool with which to fix public records corrupted by criminals and that would allow the Colorado Bureau of Investigation additional flexibility in filling senior positions progressed at the capitol Thursday.

The identify theft measure, which is sponsored by Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, would permit a person to enlist the aid of CBI in obtaining corrections of public records relating to criminal justice proceedings. The bill requires the crime victim to provide fingerprints to the agency and leaves open the option of seeking the fix in court. 

It also allows the victim to recover his or her costs as part of any restitution judgment entered against the convicted thief.

HB 13-1146 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee and now heads to debate on the House floor.

The second bill would allow CBI to hire a director, assistant directors, and deputy directors who do not have certification from the Peace Office Standards and Training Board. Current law requires that candidates for those slots at the agency hold such certification.

“This change will expand opportunities for those already employed by the State of Colorado and expand opportunities for the agency to attract highly-qualified people without diminishing the quality of the directors,” the measure's sponsor, Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, said.

HB 13-1076 was approved by the House of Representatives on a 41-22 vote. It now heads to the Senate, where Republican Steve King of Grand Junction is the sponsor.

CBI supports the bill.

Bill opening door to creationism, climate change denial in science classrooms dies in committee

A Republican bill that would have allowed science classrooms to become a locus for discussion of religious ideas about the origins of life, rejection of the central principle of the life sciences, and denial of the climate change now occurring on Earth was rejected Monday by a House committee.

HB 13-1089 died in the House Education Committee on a party-line, 7-6 vote. All Democrats opposed it and all Republicans supported it.

The Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Boards opposed the measure, which was based on a template provided by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. DI advocates for the teaching of "intelligent design," a variant of creationism, in public school classrooms.

Federal court decisions have made clear that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public school science classrooms.

The measure sought to avoid that stricture by couching its mandate in terms of "critical thinking." Sponsoring Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance, argued that students cannot learn to do that unless they hear opposing sides of a "debate."

There is no debate in the mainstream scientific community about whether evolution accounts for the diversity of life on Earth. The process by which populations of organisms adapt to environmental conditions. and develop over time into separate species, is generally considered to be the most fundamental principle of the biological sciences.

HB 13-1089 also aimed to force teachers to encourage, or at least tolerate, political arguments against the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change.

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, argued that climate change is a "myth."

"If that is a theory, I hope we are encouraging and empowering students to absolutely attack that as nonsense,” he said.

In science, a theory is not a guess, speculation, or hunch. Instead, it is an explanation about why a phenomenon occurs in nature that is based on factual evidence gathered during multiple investigations.

Nearly all climate scientists agree that humanity's greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities, motor vehicles, and electric power plants are causing Earth's atmosphere to warm.

That conclusion is based on a variety of observational evidence, including melting ice sheets, rising sea levels, desertification, increasing atmospheric and ocean surface temperatures, a reduction in the extent of Arctic Ocean seasonal ice, glacial retreat around the world, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events, as well as modeling.

In addition, scientists have understood the tendency of carbon dioxide molecules accumulating in the atmosphere to prevent dissipation of heat from the planet's surface since at least 1895, when the phenomenon was discovered by chemist Svante Arrhenius. The heat-trapping capacity of the atmosphere has been known since 1824.

Representatives that voted to kill HB 13-1089 were John Buckner, D-Colorado Springs, Lois Court, D-Denver, Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, Dave Young, D-Greeley, Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, and Millie Hamner, D-Dillon.

The GOP members of the chamber that voted to advance the bill to the floor of the House were Justin Everett of Littleton, Holbert, Lois Landgraf of Colorado Springs, Carole Murray of Castle Rock, Kevin Priola of Henderson, and Jim Wilson of Salida.