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Colo. lawmakers end session by passing tenure bill

By Steven K. Paulson and Colleen Slevin
Associated Press Writers / May 13, 2010

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DENVER—Colorado lawmakers wrapped up their legislative session Wednesday by passing a controversial teacher tenure bill and killing a proposal to replace the state's standardized tests with new student assessments.

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, said the testing bill died because the Department of Education and Gov. Bill Ritter wanted their own school assessment program to replace the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests that students are required to take each year.

Teachers said the tests were a poor measure of student progress, and they fought attempts to use the tests to measure their teaching ability. Lawmakers agreed the education system was broken, and complained teachers were teaching to the tests with little student improvement.

Instead, educators are waiting for a report from a task force set up by Ritter expected this year.

"They're not looking at the problem. They are not listening to schools, parents or teachers. Legislators and the governor promised people CSAPs were going away, and they're not going away. They have a vision of the governor's program, and nothing is going to stop them," said Solano.

A bill that would have allowed Colorado rafters to continue navigating the state's rivers also died. The measure was aimed at avoiding a battle over the issue on the November ballot.

The session began with a bitter partisan fight over ending or suspending $140 million in tax credits and exemptions to balance the $18.2 billion budget. On the final day, lawmakers passed two bills to raise more money.

One will suspend a property tax break for senior citizens worth about $92 million a year. Another would limit enterprise zone tax credits and not allow businesses to claim them until 2014.

Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, of the Joint Budget Committee said the extra money is needed in case tax revenues drop off more than expected after lawmakers head home, and to prevent deeper cuts to public schools next year.

This year, lawmakers cut funding for public schools by $260 million, and more cuts are expected to follow next year as federal stimulus money that has propped up the budget dries up.

Despite the wrangling over taxes, lawmakers from both parties were able to team up on a number of significant efforts, including trimming pension benefits for retired state workers, nudging utilities toward replacing coal-fired power plants with ones powered by natural gas, and passing regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries that proliferated around the state since the last legislative session.

On their final day, lawmakers also spent time paying tribute to colleagues who are term-limited and to Ritter, who is not running for re-election.

Members of the House, who stayed late into the night Tuesday debating the teacher bill, grew annoyed that the Senate was moving so slowly Wednesday. They filed into the gallery of the Senate floor to show how far ahead they were, throwing paper to the floor below to show their displeasure at the delays.

The House was first to adjourn, followed by the Senate at 8:19 p.m.

Just before senators finished their work, outgoing Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, praised Brandon Shaffer, a Democrat, for the way he ran the chamber during his first year as Senate president.

"You were fair day in and day out," Penry said. "You did a wonderful job, and you made this year a success. Let's go home."

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