The Colorado General Assembly began its session Wednesday morning with hugs, tears and cheers as all 65 members of the House took their oaths of office. This year’s class includes a record number of black lawmakers – six in the House and two in the Senate – the first-ever Latina Speaker of the House, and 19 new members in the House.
The House was what it often is: boisterous, with young children running up and down the aisles before the 10 a.m. start. But House Speaker Crisanta Duran wasted no time in taking on Trumpism and its possible ripple effects in the statehouse, referring to it as “a dangerous movement afoot that threatens to rip our social fabric, an elevation of hate and fear that puts democracy at risk.”
No such tone showed in the more somber and Republican-controlled Senate, which has as its new president the first rural lawmaker to serve in that role for decades. Sen. Kevin Grantham of Cañon City took the Senate helm this morning to the cheers of his Senate colleagues. As Duran did in the House, he promised to work across the aisle and with the other chamber.
Transportation projects and how to pay for them tops the agenda for the four-month long session, but affordable housing and fixing the state’s construction defects law, which many claim prevents affordable housing from being built, are also priorities.
On Thursday, Gov. John Hickenlooper will present his seventh State of the State address. He is expected to list transportation and protecting the state’s health exchange and clean air program as his priorities.
Broomfield residents hoping for a temporary, citywide ban on fracking will now have to wait until February 28 for the City Council’s vote on the matter. The council voted 5-4 to delay its vote on a proposed five month moratorium on new fracking activities after a meeting Tuesday night that drew more than 500 people. The often-emotional testimony and discussion stretched into the early-morning hours.
Council took up the issue of a temporary moratorium after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that local jurisdictions have no control over oil-and-gas regulation — even within their own boundaries — because such decisions lie with the state. That decision invalidated Broomfield’s 5-year moratorium.
Still, residents there and in other cities across the state continue to push for temporary bans to give local governments time to review existing fracking rules, regulations and related fees. The proposed ban in question comes after Extraction Oil and Gas company proposed to drill 140 wells on four well sites in northern Broomfield.
Attendees at last night’s meeting offered passionate and occasionally emotional testimony, with many demanding that the city impose the moratorium in order to protect human and environmental health. But attorneys for both Extraction and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association argued that such a ban would be illegal. Extraction also presented an updated plan for its development, which includes one less well and moves 25 wells farther from neighborhoods. Council members said they needed more time to discuss their options.
In the interim, Broomfield is organizing a community forum that will include Extraction, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the state agency that oversees oil and gas development. That meeting is expected for late this month or early next.
A national school climate survey shows that despite some progress, Colorado high schools remain hostile environments for many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer youth, who continue to hear biased language and experience harassment, discrimination and assault.
The report, released today by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, includes the results of a 2015 school survey of more than 10,000 LGBTQ youth from all 50 states. The survey shows that rates of harassment and assault have decreased, and that schools nationwide have increased various support systems for queer and transgender youth. But, the report says, “overall rates of homophobic and transphobic harassment are still higher than anyone should be willing to accept.”
In Colorado, three of four LGBTQ students surveyed said they sometimes hear homophobic remarks, and 60 percent said they hear transphobic comments. Seventy percent of gay and trans students reported that they have been verbally harassed for their sexual orientation, more than twice the rate of verbal harassment due to race or ethnicity.
Though the majority of students have access to supportive educators and a school gay-straight alliance, according to the report, only 10 percent attend schools with a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender expression.
The report says that students at schools with such resources experience lower rates of victimization and higher educational achievement. It recommends that more schools implement such anti-bullying policies, provide professional development for staff on LGBTQ issues and increase student access to inclusive resources.
The state Board of Education, under Democratic control for the first time in 50 years, today selected Democrat Angelika Schroeder as it new chair.
The shift to Democratic control comes after a November election that saw Rebecca McClellan narrowly beat Republican incumbent Debora Scheffel. McClellan, a former Centennial City council member, ran on a promise of respecting local control of school boards and listening to classroom teachers and principals.
The board selected Joyce Rankin, a Republican, as its vice chair.
As Chalkbeat Colorado reports, the shift of partisan control comes at a critical juncture. The board is set to begin addressing how to fix the state’s lowest performing schools and review the state’s academic standards that include the politically controversial Common Core State Standards.
The state education department must also submit a plan to the federal government detailing how it plans to use federal funds to meet the expectations laid out in the nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.
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