Busy Times: First Bill Signing, Town Hall in Boulder

At the midway point of our 2013 legislative session, activity has really picked up so there's rarely a dull moment. On Friday, March 15, I attended my first bill signing ceremony of the session, as Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 13-1043, sponsored in the House by first-year Represenative Mike Foote (pictured below at left).

House Bill 1043 signing Sen. Heath at Council Chambers

Rep. Foote introduced HB-1043, which updated Colorado's statutory definition of "deadly weapon" to define loaded or unloaded firearms as deadly weapons, regardless of the manner in which they are used or intended to be used. I signed on as the Senate sponsor of this bill after Rep. Foote introduced it. Friday's bill signing was enjoyable for me, but it was especially rewarding for Rep. Foote since it was his first bill signing ever. 

On Saturday, we held a town hall meeting at City Council Chambers in Boulder. About 45 people attended the event, and we had a lively discussion about education and other key issues. Dr. Bruce Messinger, Superintendent of Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), was on hand as our featured guest speaker, which was appropriate since the General Assembly is about to begin formal deliberations on Senate Bill 13-213, a proposed major update to our system of K-12 school finance. 

The bill itself weighs in at about 170 pages, with the bill summary alone including about 10 pages describing in brief the proposed changes to our 20-year old school finance framework. While Dr. Messinger has attended countless meetings on the topic and was certainly able to discuss the bill in detail, he started his talk by highlighing some of Colorado's basic education challenges. 

For starters, Colorado has wide diversity in the resources available to its individual school districts. We have relatively wealthy areas where the property values and tax bases are adequate, but other areas where property values and tax bases have fallen along with the recent declines in the economy. Also, we have a wide "achievement gap" in which ethnic minority groups as a whole tend to score lower on standardized tests than their counterparts in school. On top of that, Colorado's state education funding, in most measurements, ranks in or near the lower quartile among U.S. states. 

SB-213 represents an effort that education supporters have been working on for several years. It is designed to help us address both educational inequality and general inadequacy of state funding, while Dr. Messinger noted that our actions could help BVSD gain funding for full-day kindergarten and preschool for at-risk three and four-year-old children. The bill will go to its first hearing in the Senate Education Committee this Tuesday, March 19 beginning at 2:00, in the Old Supreme Court Chambers at the Capitol. It will be a public hearing, and people can listen to the hearing live on the General Assembly Web site at www.leg.state.co.us. 

Discussions around education and school funding certainly took up the majority of Saturday's discussion, but it was by no means the only significant topic. For example, the General Assembly has recently debated a package of public safety bills, including several that generated great controversy because they involved regulations on purchases or possession of firearms and ammunition. In short, HB-1224 would establish limits on the size of ammunition magazines, HB-1229 would require background checks for private firearms transactions, HB-1228 would impose fees on the background checks, and SB-197 would prevent people under restraining orders for domestic threats from legally possessing firearms. As of Saturday, 1224, 1228 and 1229 had passed the House and Senate but had not yet been signed into law.

Also, the General Assembly has approved a couple of civil rights bills that have been a long time coming. SB-033 would grant qualifying Colorado high school graduates in-state tuition rates regardless of immigration status. SB-011 would allow civil unions for same-sex couples in Colorado. Again, the bills have passed the House and Senate but have not yet been signed into law. 

In conclusion, we covered a great deal of ground Saturday, which was perhaps a reflection of the activity in what's turning out to be a very eventful 2013 legislative session. 

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