DENVER – Colorado lawmakers debating a proposed state budget in the Senate on Wednesday took a stab at advancing issues that stalled during previous legislative attempts.
All of the issues can be revisited, as the Senate gave only initial consideration.
Early on, the Senate killed an amendment to the $26 billion proposed budget that would have eliminated funding for controversial student assessments.
The issue has been a centerpiece battle this year at the Legislature. The conversation is overshadowed by politics, with concerns growing over federal Common Core standards, including the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing, or PARCC.
Five Republicans proposed reducing $16.9 million from the Department of Education to eliminate funding for statewide assessments in math and English language arts.
But Republican leadership, including Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango, joined Democrats in opposing the amendment, suggesting the budget is not the appropriate avenue to tackle such a complicated issue.
“There’s nothing in the amendment that talks about PARCC; all it talks about is reducing funding. ... I don’t think this is the right vehicle,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, chairman of the committee that wrote the budget.
But Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, who has been working to reduce testing and offer parents more choice, said there is an outcry across Colorado that would have been addressed through the amendment. He pointed to Mancos, where 93 percent of parents with students at Mancos High School signed a form recently opting them out of the PARCC test.
“I hear from rural districts all over the state that are interested in working together in developing their own assessment tools to meet the unique needs of those communities,” Holbert said.
Education wasn’t the only sideshow Wednesday. A Republican proposed stripping more than $1.2 million from a program tracking immunizations, another hot-button issue that has not seen progress by the split Legislature. The amendment failed.
“This amendment rolls back ... hiring four more bureaucrats to expand a program that basically tracks vaccinations, even though your doctor already does that ... your school system already does that,” said Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, sponsor of the amendment.
But Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, a physician, said she was offended to hear about a lack of faith in the medical community after breakthroughs in vaccinations that eradicated many diseases.
“I’m disappointed that the integrity of physicians has been questioned here as a whole,” Aguilar said. “To imply that an entire profession ... is playing a hoodwink game on people and lying to them ... is purely offensive.”
Democrats also forged into the Indiana controversy over a religious freedom measure that critics say would allow private businesses to deny service to gays.
Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, a Commerce City Democrat who is gay, attempted an amendment that would have directed the governor’s office to promote Colorado as a destination for businesses boycotting states where laws permit discrimination. The Republican-controlled Senate shot the proposal down.
“It makes good business sense for us to recruit those businesses to Colorado because we do have a fully inclusive nondiscrimination policy,” Ulibarri said.
Democrats called for an amendment that would have secured $5 million to extend a program that provides intra-uterine devices, IUDs, to low-income women. The amendment was killed.
There were other budget efforts to fund a statewide teen pregnancy-prevention education program and set aside money to prepare for a surge in Medicaid use if the IUD bill fails. But both those amendments also were killed.