Updated noon May 8 – The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted 4-3 to kill House Joint Resolution 12-1023, which proposed to have the legislature intervene in the Lobato school funding case.

The panels four Democrats voted to postpone the resolution indefinitely, while the three Republicans supported the measure.

Text of Monday story follows.

The Colorado House Monday afternoon passed House Joint Resolution 12-1023, which proposes that the legislature intervene in the Lobato v. State school funding case with a friend-of-the-court filing.

Also Monday, the multi-state testing bill passed out of a House committee, a Senate panel killed the proposed back-to-school sales tax holiday and Sen. Mike Johnston was dealt a setback on an amendment to the 2012-13 school funding bill.

Lobato discussion was measured and short

The lawyerly discussion on HJR 12-1023 was fairly brief – only half an hour – and focused on constitutional questions, not on the education funding issues raised by Lobato.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and legislators
Gov. John Hickenlooper prepares to sign the 2012-13 budget bill Monday, flanked by lawmakers and aides.

It was the first time either House has had a formal floor discussion about the decision that was issued by Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport last December, just before the 2012 legislative session convened.

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, moved the resolution with a sympathetic rhetorical nod to the funding problems issues raised by the case but moved quickly to the constitutional question. Budgeting is “the sole prerogative of this elected body and the governor,” he said. Intervening in the case “does our part to defend that prerogative.”

Rappaport ruled that the school funding system is not rationally related to the state constitution’s requirement for a “thorough and uniform” education system, but she did not specify a remedy nor suggest an amount that would meet constitutional requirements. The ruling is on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, repeatedly stressed those elements of the ruling in arguing against the resolution, saying, “I disagree that the decision in the Lobato case impinges on our prerogatives.” She argued, “It is entirely appropriate for the courts to pass on the constitutionality of the laws we pass.”

But another Democrat, Sen. Dan Pabon, of Denver, supported the resolution, saying he’s worried that a supreme court ruling against the state could “break the separation of powers.”

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, also argued for the resolution, saying court involvement in school funding “goes to the very question” of separation of powers and representative government. He also questioned “whether case should have been heard at all.”

The House chamber, which was kind of noisy earlier in the afternoon as members skipped around in a long calendar, was hushed during the Lobato discussion.

The resolution passed on a voice vote and was introduced in the Senate later in the afternoon. It was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. Tuesday. But the resolution isn’t on the Senate calendar as released Monday evening.

Get background on the Lobato case in the Education News Colorado archive.

Testing bill gets 8-5 House Ed approval

Time is precious during the last three days of the session, but the House Education Committee devoted nearly two hours to Senate Bill 12-172, a bill that would require the State Board of Education to commit Colorado to one of two groups that are developing multi-state achievement tests in language arts and math.

It’s pushed by Sen. Johnston and backed by the Hickenlooper administration. Johnston believes the multi-state tests will be higher quality that new Colorado-only tests, could be cheaper and will allow the performance of Colorado students to be compared to that of kids in other states.

A majority of the state board still leans toward developing Colorado-exclusive tests, and member Paul Lundeen, R-5th District, testified against the bill, calling it “a pig in a poke.” Get more background about the bill and the issue in this story.

Once the long list of witnesses was exhausted, the committee voted 8-5 to send the bill to the House floor. Republican Reps. Tom Massey of Poncha Springs and Ken Summers of Lakewood joined the six committee Democrats to pass the measure.

No go for sales tax holiday

Much-amended House Bill 12-1069, the proposed sales tax holiday for back-to-school purchases, was killed on a 9-0 vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, made a brief pitch for the bill, and then the committee did it in with no discussion.

The holiday wouldn’t have gone into effect until 2014 at the earliest, would have lasted for only two years and would have applied to only a limited amount of certain purchases on the first weekend of August.

Extra money for literacy software axed

Senate Appropriations did pass the 2012-13 school finance act, 9-0. But the full Senate didn’t take up the bill later, leaving it for Tuesday, the second-to-the-last day of the session.

The bill authorizes spending of $5.3 billion on K-12 operating costs in 2012-13. The amount is still 16 percent below what total funding would be without use of what’s called the negative factor. That’s a calculation used to reduce school spending to the amount necessary to balance the overall state budget. The finance bill is the legislation that activates the negative factor.

A late amendment that was added last week during a chaotic Senate Education Committee meeting last week was stripped Monday by the appropriations committee on a 6-3 vote.

Pushed by Johnston, a Denver Democrat, the amendment would have spent $6.1 million to pay for state acquisition of a computer system that teachers could use to administer literacy assessments to K-3 students. The system also would generate individual reading plans and instructional materials for struggling students. Use of the program would have been voluntary for schools.

The system was to be used to help districts implement the early literacy program that would be established by House Bill 12-1238, which is awaiting House review of Senate amendments.

“We want teachers to get data much earlier,” Johnston told the committee, noting that such work has to be done by hand now. “I think it’s not only an essential part of the literacy bill but essential for literacy instruction in K-3 throughout the state.”

But Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, moved to strike the spending from the school finance bill, saying, “In my opinion this expenditure is premature” and should have been brought up earlier during the budget process.

Committee chair Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said he opposed the Johnston plan because it would take additional money from the State Education Fund, which many lawmakers and the administration are trying to protect in order to provide backstop funding for schools in 2013-14.

In a related development, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the 2012-13 state budget, House Bill 12-1335. The governor and several lawmakers used the signing ceremony to tout the bipartisan nature of the bill and how the budget better serves programs like K-12 schools and higher education than did the cut-back budgets of the last three years.

Time may run out for college transparency bill

Rep. B.J. Nikkel’s string of government transparency laws seems to have run out with the delay Monday of her House Bill 12-1252, which would have required some state colleges and universities to post extensive amounts of financial information online.

The Loveland Republican, who isn’t running for reelection, is the author of state laws requiring online posting of financial information by the general state government and the Department of Transportation.

Her higher education proposal has gone through various versions – some applied to all colleges and some to just research universities – and has been hanging around in committee while she tried to build support.

It came up on the House floor Monday afternoon, went through much debate and amendment and then was laid over until Tuesday by House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument. Even if it were to get preliminary approval Tuesday, the bill could well die because Wednesday is the last day of the legislative session, meaning there might not be time for the Senate to consider it.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.