By Marianne Goodland
State Capitol Correspondent
Senate Democrats, faced with a threat of more than 24 hours of debate on a bill on collective bargaining, watered the bill down on April 29 to one that puts more control into the hands of county commissioners.
That debate came two days after dozens of county commissioners testified to the potential negative financial impacts of Senate Bill 230.
Out of 38,000 county employees statewide, not one currently employed county worker who was not already affiliated with a union testified they wanted a union. Sixty people signed up to speak on the bill in the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee on April 27.
A dozen union representatives did sign up, and four testified during the six-hour hearing. The bill is seen as an attempt to repair the relationship between statehouse Democrats and unions, notably the AFL-CIO, which last July said they would no longer contribute to state House and Senate Democratic candidates unless their interests were better addressed in the future.
That moratorium would last until the end of the 2022 session, according to the letter sent to union leaders and as first reported by the Colorado Sun last July.
“We need the Colorado Democratic party to treat us like authentic partners.” wrote AFL-CIO Colorado head Dennis Dougherty.
The bill represents the single largest unfunded mandate to counties in state history, said El Paso County Commissioner Holly Williams.
Commissioner Byron Pelton of Logan County said out of his county’s 200 employees, not one has ever asked for collective bargaining or union rights, which was echoed by numerous county commissioners.
Cathy Shull of Pro 15, which represents northeastern Colorado counties, told the committee that she and other rural county representatives (Club 20 and Action 22) were very concerned that the bill was written to address a problem that did not exist. Once this bill passes, if you don’t have any employees asking to form a union, why would it hurt? “You will have to be prepared in case someone wants to.” Most counties in northeastern Colorado don’t have county administrators; their human resources personnel and county attorneys don’t handle union relations.
That would be two big dollar issues that counties would have to address. While they might not go to Cheyenne County, they might show up in Logan or Morgan counties, she said.
Two former El Paso County employees from human services testified to poor working conditions, with one saying she was beaten down, frustrated and threatened. She called it a “domestically-violence relationship with my job.”
Senate Republicans planned (and announced) they would offer 271 amendments to the bill for Friday’s debate, including efforts to exempt most of Colorado’s 64 counties, one at a time. That prompted an all-day discussion among Senate Democratic and Republican leaders to come up with a compromise to avoid what could have been a debate lasting at least 24 hours, if not more.
One significant amendment clarified the size of a bargaining unit, one of the major sticking points for counties. As introduced, SB 230 dictated a minimum of 50 employees per unit, which would not be as much a problem for small counties. However, counties with more than 50 employees could wind up with multiple bargaining units, one for human services, sheriffs or transportation. As amended, the size of the bargaining unit would be negotiated between the parties.
Another amendment that won support from Republicans and sought by counties said neither the law nor the agreement could restrict the authority granted to county commissioners under either the state Constitution, a home rule county charter or other state law. In other words, a county could say “no” to an agreement, although that could result in a trip to the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment for mediation, although not binding. County commissioners are the only ones allowed to sign such agreements, under another amendment approved by the Senate.
The bill is expected to win approval in the Senate this week and head to the House in the session’s final week.
In other news, The 2022-23 School Finance Act has cleared the House and this week awaits action from the state Senate.
As introduced, House Bill 1390 would increase base per-pupil funding by $252.88 to $7,478.16, which reflects a 3.5-percent inflation rate. It also would reduce the debt to K-12 education, known as the budget stabilization factor, by $182 million, leaving a balance of $321.2 million.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, Haxtun RE-2J’s total per pupil program funding (including all funding sources, including local property taxes), was $11,398.88 in the current school year. For Holyoke RE-1J, it was $9,973.93; for Yuma it was $10,247.40.
The school finance bill also extends until the end of the calendar year a requirement regarding Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES). That extension requires the BOCES to obtain written consent from a school district before authorizing a school or an additional location of an existing school that is physically located within the boundaries for that district.
The Northeast BOCES serves 12 school districts in northeastern Colorado and helps supply educational services to two or more school districts that alone cannot afford those services, such as school health, special education or gifted and talented education.
The school finance act also noted an extension of the deadline for schools, which includes Yuma, to transition away from the use of American Indian mascots; that deadline moved from June 1, 2022, to July 28, 2022, which affects potential state revenue from the fines that would be imposed for schools that fail to comply with Senate Bill 21-116. That fine is set at $25,000 per month.
Finally, the House has given final approval to a bill on medically necessary treatment for children during the school day.
House Bill 1260 was amended by the House Education Committee to require schools to adopt policies to address how a student who has a prescription for medically necessary treatment receives that treatment, as required by federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The bill requires the policy to address the process under which a private health-care specialist will collaborate with school personnel and provide that treatment.
HB 1260 addresses concerns raised by parents that their children, many on the autism spectrum and some with severe behavioral problems, are being denied those services, including services known as “applied behavioral analysis” that address behavioral issues, during the school day. Those services would allow their child to attend school, parents said.
The bill won a 61-3 vote on April 28 and is now awaiting action in the state Senate.