A bill that would guarantee parents time off for some school activities sparked a lively House floor debate before passing on a preliminary voice vote Friday.

The discussion focused on how to balance the right of parents to be involved in their children’s education with the right of employers to run their businesses.

House Bill 15-1221 prime sponsor Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, said he values parents more highly than business flexibility. “You have to make a decision about which of those values you hold.”

But Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, cited the lack of any data that an existing parent time-off law has had any impact, calling it “an unproven program.”

Both the existing law, passed in 2009, and HB 15-1221 have significant limits and don’t provide parents free rein to take time off from work for any school activity. (The current law is set to expire later this year, so it will go out of effect unless HB 15-1221 is passed.)

The current law requires only businesses with 50 or more employees to give workers up to 18 hours a year in unpaid leave for parent-teacher conferences or meetings related to special education services, interventions, dropout prevention, attendance, truancy or disciplinary issues. The requirement didn’t apply to businesses with existing leave policies, employers can deny time off if it would disrupt business operations and the law contains no enforcement provisions or penalties for non-compliance.

In addition to extending the current law indefinitely, HB 15-1221 would add meetings with school counselors and “academic achievement ceremonies” to the list of activities for which parents can claim time off. It also would extend the law’s coverage to parents of preschool students and require school districts to inform parents about the time-off law.

Opponents of the bill argued that most businesses are flexible about giving parents time for school activities. But supporters say low-income and minority parents and low-wage workers need the law.

“This is really about families and children,” argued Rep. Rhonda Fields, another Aurora Democrat who also is a prime sponsor.

On the other side was Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

“This is just an overreach of government,” he said. “This should be between the employer and the employee.”

The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business, two influential lobbying organizations, oppose the bill.

If HB 15-1221 gets final approval in the Democratic-majority House, it’s chances could be iffy in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Teacher tax break gets important committee approval

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A measure that would give teachers a $250 state tax break for the cost of school supplies they buy was passed 12-1 Friday by the House Appropriations Committee, clearing it for House floor debate. House Bill 15-1104 had to be considered by appropriations because it could cause an estimated $355,522 in budget year 2015-16 and $711,640 in 2016-17.

Get more details on the measure and the issues behind it in this prior Chalkbeat Colorado story.