Colorado Senator Michael Merrifield

The Peoples Voice


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Rallying for our Children, our Teachers, and our Schools

Rallying for our children, our teachers, and our schools to reduce the flood of testing that is drowning our education system in Colorado. Whether it’s my bills, or someone else’s, it’s imperative that something be done, and done soon. Testing does not equal learning. Our children are more than a score!

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Senate Republicans Choose Private Schools over Public Schools

Republicans vote “no” on amendment to eliminate “negative factor” first.

DENVER — During the recession, the legislature was forced to cut public education by nearly $1 billion, and since then the Senate Democrats have worked to repair the system by restoring the cuts.

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Senator Michael Merrifield

This afternoon, Colorado Senate Republicans reversed direction from the previous year’s progress, approving legislation to establish back door school vouchers.  Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, sponsored the bill, which could reduce public school revenue in favor of subsidizing private, private-religious, or home-school education (SB 15-045).

The bill would create income tax credits for parents enrolling their children in home-based or private schools.

The bill was amended today by Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, allowing parents who do not have enough tax liability to get the entire tax credit within a specified time to get an actual refund.  The amendment arguably changed the program from “back door” school vouchers to actual school vouchers.

“Colorado students are going to have to compete in a global economy,” said Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood.  “We need to provide them with all the tools necessary to be effective in today’s world.  Public schools should offer a level playing field and provide all children with that opportunity.”

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Senator Any Kerr (D- Lakewood)

During debate, Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, acknowledged the fiscal impact tax credits would have on public education.  He offered an amendment that would allow for the tax credits but only after the public education system has recovered from recession-era deductions, known as the “negative factor.”  Republicans bucked the amendment.  Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, argued against the amendment saying, “I do not agree that the ‘negative factor’ is a reality.”

“We need to make our education system whole again before we start handing out special tax credits,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.  “During the recession, K-12 education was hit hard, and for the sake of our economy overall, we must reinvest in the system.”

Another amendment was offered by Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs.  It would have required families accepting tax credits to send their children to a school that accepts students of all races, sexual orientations, or religions.  He noted that only 20 percent of private school students attend non-sectarian schools, while the other 80 percent are in religiously-affiliated schools.  Also, he said that due to the high cost of private schooling, only six percent of kids attending private schools come from households with incomes of less than $50,000, while 26 percent are at $200,000 or more.  Despite those facts, the amendment was defeated.

“All children deserve a top-notch education, not just the wealthy few,” said Sen. Merrifield.  “For some families, private school is what works best, but the vast majority of middle class families rely on public education.”

The bill passed the Senate today on a second reading voice vote, and will now go to a third reading vote.  If it passes on third reading, it will go to the House of Representatives.


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Notable bills to be heard in the Senate this week (March 23 – March 27)

rotundaDENVER — The Colorado State Senate has scheduled the following noteworthy legislation to be heard this week.  The list is not exhaustive but includes legislation that has typically garnered public input and media attention.  The dates and times may change throughout the week, so please verify before covering.

SB 15-069: “RIGHT TO DISCRIMINATE”

Sponsor: Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada

Senate third reading: Monday, March 23 at 10:00 a.m. in Senate Chamber

The bill repeals basic protections for workers at businesses with fewer than 15 employees.  It eliminates a way to achieve recourse against intentional discrimination based on sex, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and disability.

SB 15-086: “NO CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR FIREARMS”

Sponsor: Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs

Senate second reading hearing: Monday, March 23 at 10:00 a.m. in Senate Chamber

The bill erodes public safety by eliminating a requirement for criminal background checks on gun transfers between strangers who met online or through classified ads.

Throughout 2014, 308,908 law-abiding Coloradans passed a criminal background check for a firearm transfer.  During that same period, about 6,068 firearm sales were blocked because the applicant had a record.  In addition, because of background checks, local authorities were able to find and arrest 226 fugitives who tried and failed to obtain a gun.

SB 15-045: “TAXPAYER DOLLARS FOR PRIVATE AND HOME SCHOOLS”

Sponsor: Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud

Senate second reading hearing: Monday, March 23 at 10:00 a.m. in Senate Chamber

The bill plays financial gymnastics with K-12 education by establishing tax credits, similar to vouchers, for parents who have opted to enroll their kids in home or private schools.

The tax credit is costly; decreasing state general fund revenue by $37 million in FY 2016-17, $63 million in 2017-18, and $318 million in 2028-29, impacting public education funding.

SB 15-091: “REDUCE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON CONSTRUCTION DEFECTS”

Sponsor: Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction

Senate second reading hearing: Monday, March 23 at 10:00 a.m. in Senate Chamber

As amended in committee, the bill would reduce the statute of repose from six years to five years in most cases involving single-family homes, impacting homeowner rights.  Also, the bill could reduce the statute of limitations from two years to one year.

HB 15-1072: “KIANA ARELLANO’S LAW”

Sponsor: Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton

Senate second reading hearing: Monday, March 23 at 10:00 a.m. in Senate Chamber

Knowing that bullying is different in the twenty-first century, the bill adds electronic harassment to existing harassment law.  It is named for a Colorado victim of electronic harassment.  National studies show that cyber bullying victims are more likely to attempt suicide than even traditional bullying victims.

HB 15-1164: “POSTPONING JURY SERVICE FOR BREAST-FEEDING”

Sponsor: Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood

Senate second reading hearing: Monday, March 23 at 10:00 a.m. in Senate Chamber

The bill allows a prospective juror, who is breast-feeding a baby, to be excused from duty.  The postponement can be for 24 months.

HB 15-1130: “PROTECTING MILITARY VOTING RIGHTS”

Sponsors: Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo; Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs

Senate second reading hearing: Monday, March 23 at 10:00 a.m. in Senate Chamber

The bill would help active-duty military personnel deployed overseas and other overseas citizens vote in local municipal elections.

Currently, municipal elections are not conducted like other elections for our men and women in uniform.  With passage of this bill, municipal election code would fall in line with federal, state, and county election code.

SJR 15-019: “COLORADO AEROSPACE DAY”

Sponsors: Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora; Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs

Monday, March 23 at 10:00 a.m. in the Senate Chamber

The resolution acknowledges aerospace activities in Colorado.  It reads, in part: “WHEREAS, 163,000 Coloradans are employed in space-related jobs, generating approximately $3.2 billion in annual payroll.”

HB 15-1204: “DISTILLERY PUBS”

Sponsor: Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood

Senate second reading hearing: Tuesday, March 24 at 9:00 a.m. in Senate Chamber

The bill establishes a distillery pub license with rules like a winery or brew pub license.  The distillery must sell other alcohols and food, as well as have a state and local liquor license.

SJR 15-020: “WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH”

Sponsors: Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora; Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango

Wednesday, March 25 at 9:00 a.m. in the Senate Chamber

The resolution designates March Colorado Women’s History Month to coincide with National Women’s History Month.  It reads, in part: “WHEREAS, In 1893, Colorado was the first state to give women the right to vote through popular vote, and a year later Colorado was the first state to elect women to the state legislature.”

SB 15-205: “VETERANS’ FIRE CORPS”

Sponsors: Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo; Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango

Senate Judiciary Committee: Monday, March 23 at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Committee Room 352

The bill promotes the Veterans’ Fire Corps in the Division of Fire Prevention and Control.  It trains post-9/11 veterans in natural resource management and wildland fire control.

HB 15-1104: “OUT-OF-POCKET EDUCATOR EXPENSES”

Sponsor: Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver

Senate Finance Committee: Tuesday, March 24 at 2:00 p.m. in Senate Committee Room 354

The bill establishes the Colorado educator expense tax deduction for tax years 2016-2018.  It allows educators to deduct unreimbursed school supplies.

SB 15-200: “PRIVATE STUDENT LOAN DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS”

Sponsor: Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood

Senate Education Committee: Wednesday, March 25 upon adjournment of the Senate in Senate Committee Room 356

The bill requires student loan lenders be transparent and disclose information like possible adjustments to the interest rate and an estimate of what the total repayment will be, among other disclosures.  It also ensures that lenders do not have unfair agreements with schools.

HB 15-1142: “MODERNIZING FORECLOSURE SALES” 

Sponsor: Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver

Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee: Wednesday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Committee Room 354

The bill allows public trustees to do foreclosure sales on the Internet.

HB 15-1183: “CHILDREN’S STATEMENTS OF ATTEMPTED SEX CRIMES” 

Sponsor: Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver

Senate Judiciary Committee: Wednesday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Committee Room 356

The bill allows children who survive or witness an attempted sexual offense to give a statement outside of the courtroom.

HB 15-1221: “PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT IN EDUCATION”

Sponsor: Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood

Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee: Wednesday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Committee Room 353

The bill extends and expands the Parental Involvement in K-12 Education Act of 2009.  It allows workers to take unpaid leave for parent-teacher conference and other school activities.


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In Party Line Vote, GOP Kills Bill That Would have Made CollegeInvest Better for Middle Class Families

Upper class protected during debate about saving for college

By Lynn Bartels

The Denver Post

(Original Article Here)

 

senate photo 400In a session where both parties constantly tout their efforts to help the middle class, Sen. Michael Merrifield thought his bill on higher education would be a hit.

Senate Bill 118 concerned Coloradans who save for college through a not-for-profit state agency called CollegeInvest, where money is put into what are known as 529 plans.

As amended, the proposal from Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat, would have eliminated the state income tax break for those earning more than $500,000 a year, while doubling it for those making less than $150,000 a year. Coloradans earning between $150,000 and $500,000 would still receive some tax break.

The bill died March 5 on a 3-2 party-line vote in the GOP-controlled Senate Finance Committee, where Sen. Chris Holbert made a statement that stunned Democrats and bill supporters.

“I represent a part of a county that has the sixth-highest income demographic in the nation,” the Parker Republican said. “The people who elected me and who I represent, many are in those upper-income brackets.”

Census data shows that the median household income in Douglas County is $101,591, compared with the state average of $58,433.

“I’m surprised that some members would say that they take into account how much money certain constituents make when they’re taking a vote,” said Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. “This bill was about improving college opportunities for the middle class.”

The middle class has been the mantra of this year’s session, and it was the topic of a speech President Barack Obama delivered March 10 at Georgia Tech.

“A college degree is the surest ticket to the middle class and beyond,” the president said.

“Higher education has never been more important, but it’s also never been more expensive. The average undergrad who borrows money to pay for college graduates with about $28,000 in student loan debt.”

Under 529s — named for a section of the tax code they fall under — contributions and the returns can be withdrawn tax-free as long as they are used for qualified educational expenses anywhere in the country. The investments are designed to reduce student loan debt and encourage planning for college costs, from books to tuition.

In Colorado, there is an added benefit of the state income tax break. Under current law, there is no income limit to receive the break. Every dollar invested up to $350,000 can be deducted when calculating state income taxes.

Those deductions in 2014 meant $11.68 million less for the state’s general fund, with 44 percent of the breaks going to Coloradans who earn $250,000 or more, according to a 2014 tax report.

During the committee hearing, Holbert said he was a “reluctant no” on the bill, pointing out, “I’m one of those doughnut hole people,” or those who make too much money to qualify for financial aid but not enough that they can easily pay for college.

Holbert said this week that he believes most of the people in his district are in the doughnut hole, but he also has to represent higher-income earners.

Ali Mickelson, the director of legislative and tax policy at the Colorado Fiscal Institute, testified in favor of the bill and was disappointed to see it die.

“It took a great program for helping families save for college and made it better for the middle class, for those in the doughnut hole,” she said.

State tax data shows that the average contribution for a family making $73,000 is $3,158 per year. That amounts to a state income tax break of $146, which under Senate Bill 118 would have doubled to $292. The amount is based on the state income tax rate of 4.63 percent.

One of the concerns of CollegeInvest’s chief executive officer, Angela Baier, is that 17 percent of the investment accounts are owned by “high net worth individuals” who fund 40 percent of the program. CollegeInvest is self-supporting through fees and does not receive tax money. It also provides grants and scholarships to low- and middle-income students.

Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, said he voted against the bill because he didn’t want to jeopardize the program.

Holbert urged Merrifield to keep working on the issue. Merrifield said he hopes a similar concept is introduced in the Democratic-controlled House so the discussion can continue.

Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327, lbartels@denverpost.com or twitter.com/lynn_bartels

Household income

A look at median househould income from 2009-13 in Colorado and certain counties:

Colorado: $58,433

Douglas: $101,591

Broomfield: $77,998

Pitkin: $72,745

Jefferson: $68,984

Boulder: $67,956

Arapahoe: $60,651

Larimer: $58,626

Weld: $57,180

El Paso: $57,125

Adams: $56,270

Denver: $50,313

Mesa: $49,471

Pueblo: $41,777

Source: U.S. Census