BILL SUMMARY for HB09-1324
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON JUDICIARY
01:33 PM -- House Bill 09-1324
Representative McNulty, prime sponsor, presented House Bill 09-1324 concerning employment disqualifications for employees in public schools. Currently, applicants for nonlicensed positions at public schools must submit fingerprints for a background check and certify that they have never been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor other than a traffic offense. Or, if the person has been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, the applicant must specify the felony or misdemeanor for which he or she was convicted and other related information. Current law does not specify misdemeanors or felonies that constitute grounds for dismissal or application rejection. This bill specifies grounds for dismissal or application rejection of nonlicensed positions based on the current requirements of licensed positions. Additionally, the bill requires denial or revocation of licenses for licensed professionals who have been convicted of a felony drug offense.
Representative Levy announced that the committee will take public testimony today and then bring the bill back for action only on Monday, April 13, 2009. Representative McNulty responded to committee questions about individuals who are affected by the bill. The committee held a lengthy discussion about the offenses enumerated in the bill and how the bill would bar individuals convicted of such offenses from being employed with a school district.
01:53 PM -- Dan Daly, Colorado Education Association (CEA), spoke in opposition to the bill. Mr. Daly stated that the bill merely codifies current practice regarding the termination of school district employees. The bill also prohibits school districts from hiring licensed educators who have any conviction for a felony drug offense. Mr. Daly expressed concern about the removal of discretion from the Colorado Department of Education for renewal of a license. He indicated that zero tolerance policies often have negative consequences and local school boards should make decisions that affect their local districts. Mr. Daly responded to questions from the committee about how the background check process currently works. The committee held a lengthy discussion about the discretionary hiring policies of Colorado school districts.
02:10 PM -- Carol Peeples, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC), spoke in opposition to the bill. Ms. Peeples discussed societal barriers that exist for individuals with criminal convictions. She stated that the bill is ill-timed and further review is necessary prior to the passage of any legislation that affects the disqualification of employment of individuals with criminal convictions. She discussed potential federal legislation that will address this same subject and stated her belief that any state legislation should be postponed until the federal legislation has been passed. Ms. Peeples responded to committee questions about the timing of the bill and the policy decisions inherent in the passage of this type of bill.
02:17 PM -- Christie Donner, CCJRC, spoke in opposition to the bill. Ms. Donner discussed various studies addressing the likelihood of recidivism after a specific period of time. She talked about risk assessments and mandatory disqualification from employment. Ms. Donner addressed inconsistencies that exist in current law with regard to the employment of individuals with criminal convictions and referenced the Colorado Vulnerable Persons Act (Attachment A). She asked for a comprehensive review of all state statutes that address the hiring of individuals with criminal convictions. Ms. Donner responded to questions from the committee about the sealing of criminal records.
02:32 PM -- Hattie Reed, representing herself, spoke in support of the bill. Ms. Reed expressed concern about the future of children and stated that only the best and brightest should have contact with children in a school environment. She indicated that the employment pool is very deep right now and we do not need to hire convicted felons in schools. She stated that this should not be about rehabilitation of offenders, but only about the safety of children. Ms. Reed expressed surprise that this is an issue for debate.
02:37 PM -- David Sanger, American Federation of Teachers in Colorado, spoke in opposition to the bill. Mr. Sanger stated his opinion that the bill is overbroad and unnecessary. The school districts currently have the discretion to do the things the bill legislates. Mr. Sanger responded to questions from the committee about the standards for protection of children.
02:43 PM -- Sean Hinga, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, spoke in opposition to the bill. Mr. Hinga objected to the mandatory language in the bill. He responded to questions from the committee about his opposition to the bill.
02:47 PM -- Vicki Newell, Colorado Parent Teacher Association, spoke in support of the bill. Ms. Newell explained the function of her organization. She stated that parents expect their children to be safe when they go to school. She expressed concerns about some of the misdemeanors in the bill that would disqualify an individual from employment with a school district. The other offenses are entirely appropriate for disqualification.
02:50 PM -- Jeff Casey, representing himself, spoke in support of the bill. Mr. Casey is a member of CEA and stated his opinion that the protection of children should be more important than the employment of former offenders. Mr. Casey responded to questions from the committee.
02:53 PM -- Wendi Chapin, Platte Valley School District, took no position on the bill, but answered questions posed by the committee regarding school district policies. Ms. Chapin raised the issue of the timing of the hiring process and background checks. She explained how the process works in her school districts. She responded to questions from the committee about the hiring pool in rural areas for classified positions within school districts. The committee discussed the timing of hiring individuals and how that interacts with the time it takes to receive the results of a background check.
Representative Levy adjourned the committee.