April 25, 2012

(Denver) – Bowing to criticism from people who said it was part of a plot against parents, a bill to streamline and consolidate services to Colorado’s young children was withdrawn today by its sponsors in the House State, Military & Veterans Affairs Committee.

SB12-130, with the bipartisan sponsorship of Reps. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) and Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs), would have created an office of early childhood and youth development to oversee and coordinate a wide variety of programs geared toward young children in Colorado. Some of the major components are child care, including licensing, school readiness, and the early childhood councils; the child care assistance program; and mental health consultation for children.

“It is government efficiency working at its best to streamline and make sense of a sometimes complicated bureaucracy,” Rep. Hamner told the committee.

The bill was initiated by the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, which was appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to improve outcomes for children in Colorado. Rep. Massey read a long list of supporters of the measure – essentially the entire childhood services and family services establishment in Colorado — and thanked them for their work in pulling together support for the bill. Influential business leaders – including former University of Denver Chancellor Dan Ritchie – also supported the bill.

But all that support crumbled in the face of opposition led by a Colorado Springs church that described the bill as an effort to undermine parental control of their children. The Denver Post quoted an email from the church that claimed the bill intends to “make the state responsible for child rearing,” “stripping parental rights even in the home” and creating a “massive abuse of government power against families.”

“This piece of legislation has gotten significantly derailed by non-policy-related perceptions and politics,” Rep. Massey told the committee. “I’m sorry the policy has gotten so derailed by perceptions that this went beyond the scope of what we were trying to do.”

His request to lay the bill over indefinitely pre-empted any testimony by opponents.

Committee Chairman Jim Kerr (R-Littleton) then joined a party-line vote on a GOP motion to kill the bill. He had voted for it as a member of the Early Childhood Leadership Commission.

The death of the bill did not sit well with Reps. Nancy Todd (D-Aurora) and Lois Court (D-Denver), who sit on the State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee.

“We’ve been working on this for the eight years I’ve been down here,” Rep. Todd told the committee. “When do we quit talking and start moving?”

“I am ashamed of this body for not listening to the incredible amount of work that has been put into this,” Rep. Court told the committee.

“It’s customary to honor a cosponsor’s request to withdraw a bill,” Rep. Hamner said afterward. “But the right thing to do was to press on with this bill despite this absurd opposition. I’m just sorry that the House GOP leadership and the Republican majority on the committee didn’t see it that way.”

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