Welcome to the BVSD Legislative Update, which will be provided throughout the 2017 session of the Colorado General Assembly. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Schools drawn into fracking debate

A bill introduced at the Capitol this week would reset the buffer zone between schools and energy production sites – and spark a fresh round of controversy in the legislature. Rep. Mike Foote's House Bill 17-1256 would make a significant change in state rules about how far production sites and wells have to be from schools.

Current regulations require oil and gas facilities to be at least 1,000 feet from school buildings and other high-occupancy structures. Foote's bill requires that new production facilities be at least 1,000 feet from a school's property line.

That could make a big difference. For example, take a look a Google aerial view of Monarch High School in Louisville. The school buildings are ringed by large playing fields and parking lots on three sides, areas not included in the current setback rules. To visualize 1,000 feet, think of the length of Norlin Quad at CU, or about three blocks on the Pearl Street Mall.

A Lafayette Democrat and a Boulder County deputy district attorney, Foote is a veteran of the statehouse fracking wars. He carried an unsuccessful 2016 bill to give local governments more control over energy operations. Despite regulatory and court decisions, local control remains a lively issue statewide, as highlighted by this week's anti-fracking demonstrations in Boulder.

Foote told the ColoradoPolitics website, "Just six weeks ago a well near Hudson blew out of control for two hours, spewing 28,000 gallons of oil, gas and drilling waste in an area 2,000 feet long and 1,000 feet wide. In 2016, 112 spills occurred within 1,000 feet of an occupied structure.  Does anyone really think we should have these dangerous heavy industrial operations just 1,000 feet away from a school or child care center?"

For now Foote is the sole sponsor of HB17-1256. That's usually not a good sign for a bill's chances of success, but it will draw opposition nonetheless. Dan Haley of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association told ColoradoPolitics that the current 1,000-foot setback has been thoroughly debated and vetted and that no further adjustment is necessary.

Charter revenue sharing bill moves to House
The bill that would require school districts to share mill levy override revenues with their charter schools passed the Senate on a 22-13 vote earlier this week.

Senate Bill 17-061 is the most contentious education measure of the 2017 session, and it was amended in the Senate in an effort to gain more support. Under those changes district would have a three-year period to phase in sharing with charters, and districts could ask voters if they wanted to opt out of the sharing requirement.

Opponents of the bill argue that the financial arrangements between districts and charters are best left at the local level so they can be tailored to district circumstances and needs.

A similar measure passed the Senate by the same vote but died in the House last year. The new measure's prospects in the Democratic-controlled House are unclear, partly because support and opposition crosses party lines. The bill has bipartisan sponsorship in both chambers, and five Democratic senators voted for it while one Republican voted no.

Each year, the BVSD Board of Education sets BVSD's legislative priorities for the session. The Superintendent's office directs the lobbying work of BVSD's legislative consulting firm, Policy Matters, LLC. BVSD also works with other PK-12 policy organizations such as the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB), the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE), the Colorado Education Association (CEA), and Great Education Colorado, a nonpartisan organization advocating for the benefit of Colorado's more than 800,000 public school students. Addressing Colorado's chronic shortfall in school funding is always on BVSD's legislative agenda along with other issues that could impact classrooms. If you are not yet on the email list and would like to be, please email BVSD Communications at communications@bvsd.org with your email address and you will be added to the distribution list.