Hickenlooper expects suit over school-choice language in bill for foster children

Author: Marianne Goodland - June 2, 2018 - Updated: June 7, 2018

foster childrenColorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sits for an interview in his office on Sept. 27. (Photo by Andy Colwell/Colorado Politics)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday signed House Bill 1306, which is  intended to allow foster children avoid being shuttled from one school to another. But he’s definitely not happy about it.

The bill deals with the problems foster children experience with school when they move from one placement to another. Under current law, a foster child who moves to a new placement often winds up in a different school.

Under the bill that became law on Friday, a foster child who starts at one school stays at that school, even when the child is moved to a placement in a different school district.

That part of the bill worked just fine for the Hickenlooper administration.

It’s what Senate Republicans did when the bill got to the Senate in the closing days of the 2018 session that’s caused problems and may even wind up in court –and apparently that’s what Hickenlooper expects.

Bill titles are usually written pretty narrowly, as was the case with House Bill 1306, which was titled “Improving Educational Stability for Foster Youth.” But this bill on education for foster children has a one-page section that requires school districts to pay for transportation for any pupil to attend any public school of their choice, and for the home district to pay those transportation costs.

The governor certainly isn’t pleased with it, as indicated by his suggestion in his signing statement that someone will sue the state to strike that section of the bill.

That section actually came from another measure — Senate Bill 228 — that was killed by the House earlier in the session but was tacked on to House Bill 1306 by the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee in the last few days of the 2018 session.  Senate Bill 228’s title and intent has to do with “improving school choice in traditional schools.”

The language that found its way from the killed Senate Bill 228 to House Bill 1306 requires school districts to provide students with transportation to public schools outside the district, and to reimburse parents for the cost.

The biggest change in statute from Senate Bill 228 was in striking language requiring the districts to be adjacent to each other, meaning a child could go to any other public school in any other school district, no matter how far away, and the resident school district would have to shoulder the transportation cost.

In his letter to the General Assembly, Hickenlooper complained that the language from Senate Bill 228 inserted into House Bill 1306 violates the constitution’s single-subject rule, since the 228 section has no nexus to foster children.

Senate Bill 228 was killed by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on May 2. The very next day, with less than one week remaining in the 2018 session, the Senate State Affairs Committee added the section of language from Senate Bill 228 to House Bill 1306, carrying with it a warning to the Hickenlooper administration that if the governor didn’t go along with that addition they would kill the bill.

In his letter, Hickenlooper hinted that he expects to see someone sue the state over what he said is a violation of the single-subject law, which says the subject of a bill must be clearly stated and that any amendments must fit under that title.

“We sign HB 1306 into law today because its benefit to foster children cannot be understated,” Hickenlooper wrote. “But our support ends where Section 7 [the language from SB 228] begins. Should potential Single-Subject Law violations be raised to the Judicial Branch, we expect a court of law to look unfavorably on the language treading beyond HB 1306’s title” and rule that language void, he wrote.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously said Hickenlooper allowed House Bill 1306 to become law without his signature.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.