Republicans and Democrats were on friendly terms Wednesday as they set the terms for a debate about school safety in Colorado's upcoming legislative session.
The state legislature’s new school safety committee wrapped up months of work and moved forward with five proposals to protect students. Notably absent was any discussion of gun policy.
“This is not about left or right. This is about Colorado children,” Democratic state Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet said.
School violence is a topic that the state government has tried to address for years. The latest attempt began in the wake of the deadly shooting this May at STEM School in Highlands Ranch.
The bipartisan committee put five proposals on its shortlist with votes on Wednesday. They still must go through the regular legislative process in the upcoming session, but the seal of a bipartisan committee may help.
The proposals are focused on mental health, and they would total about $2.5 million for the first year.
- Require school boards to allow behavioral health as an excuse for student absences
- Study kids' mental health needs
- Improve the Safe2Tell hotline
- Create a working group of major agencies focused on school safety
- Use state education money to offer a “train the trainer” program
The training program was by far the most expensive of the approved ideas, with about $2.3 million in anticipated costs next year. It could train about 1,500 people in mental health and behavioral services per year.
The money for training also was the cause of the sharpest division in the bipartisan meeting. Republican state Sen. Paul Lundeen said it was a “laudable” idea, but he wanted the new working group of state agencies to weigh in.
Democratic state Sen. Rhonda Fields said there was no time to wait, arguing a potential delay of up to 18 months would be “absolutely reckless.” Another Republican, state Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, proposed a compromise: a 2024 expiration on the money. That was enough to get it approved 6-2, with Lundeen and state Sen. Bob Gardner dissenting.
The legislators already have made more progress than a previous committee made. In 2016, a school safety group disbanded without making any legislative recommendations.
But the new group also has started small. The committee didn’t vote on its costliest proposal, which would have added $5 million of school money to upgrade school buildings and communications. Van Winkle said he would bring it forward in the legislative session.
And they didn't take on the most divisive question: guns.
“So, there has to be a better approach,” Fields said. “And I think, at some point, we did not talk about it, but we do need to make sure that we talk about guns.”
The legislative session begins Jan. 8.