Capitol Wrap: Dems (gasp!) pass GOP jobs bill

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DENVER — Just as the current legislative session appeared to be devolving into petty partisanship right as it reached the midway point, the Senate offered up something different and almost novel as the Democratic majority got behind a GOP jobs bill.

On Tuesday, the Senate, where Democrats hold a 20-15 majority, gave initial approval to a bill that will let municipalities control how much of the taxes they want to exempt.

Currently, the law caps local exemptions on taxes on equipment — things like office furniture for new businesses — at 50 percent.

The potential loss of revenue wouldn’t impact the state, only local governments, and wouldn’t have any impact on local school districts, according to a legislative analysis. On the flip side, its sponsors believe, it will encourage businesses to expand.

“Talk about a jobs bill? This is a jobs bill,” said Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, on the Senate floor prior to Tuesday’s initial voice vote. “Talk about an economic stimulus bill? This is an economic stimulus bill.”

With split control of the legislature and a major election looming in November, both majorities, House Republicans and Senate Democrats, have seen key pieces of their jobs agenda pass their own chamber only to be killed by the other.

On Tuesday, Sen. Michael Johnston recalled Scheffel bemoaning the partisanship and telling him that he’d bee told “pigs would fly before he would pass a business personal property tax in this building.”

After the bill survived a Senate committee on a surprising, unanimous vote, “I said that the pigs were strapping on their wings,” Johnston said.

Juvenile justice reform bill heading to House floor

A controversial proposal aimed at preventing Colorado district attorneys from being able to ‘direct file’ the cases of juvenile offenders right into the adult prison system is heading to the full House for a vote.

That’s the next step for House Bill 1271, which passed the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday on a 9-4 vote.

Colorado is one of just four states where DA’s have sole discretion on whether to prosecute a case through the juvenile or adult system.

And a recent study commissioned by the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition concluded that the law has disproportionately affected people of color and resulted, most of the time, in plea bargains — and, in the end, failed to rehabilitate the young offenders or make communities any safer.

The current legislation, which has bipartisan sponsors, wouldn’t prevent juvenile offenders from being tried, jailed or possibly sentenced as adults; it would just give a judge, not a prosecutor, the final say.

“This is a fair and just measure,” said Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, one of the bill’s sponsors. “It prevents government attorneys from using direct filing to obtain harsh plea deals and evenly disperses power rather than concentrating it into a single authority.”

Hickenlooper’s 3rd grade literacy measure being fast-tracked through the House

After a seven hour hearing Monday on Gov. Hickenlooper’s key education bill that was guaranteed to pass, House Republicans have agreed to speed the legislation through the House.

House Bill 1238, which would push school districts to hold back students who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of the third grade, will be heard by the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday morning, and could be debated and given an initial voice vote on the House floor before the end of the day.

On Monday, the House Education Committee heard several hours of testimony on the legislation.

Those who support it — education reform advocates, the business community, and a number of Colorado superintendents — argue that an emphasis on literacy, and an incentive for both teachers and parents to intervene earlier in helping their children learn to read will go a long way toward improving early childhood literacy.

Meanwhile, a number of reading specialists, teachers, parents and even children who have struggled with dyslexia told lawmakers about their concern that pushing schools and districts to retain third graders with weak skills will only make it more difficult and painful for those students to learn.

They argued that teachers need more support from the state to learn how to more effectively intervene with students who don’t learn how to read in the same manner as other students.

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