A bill proposing to put a 5-cent deposit on many beverage bottles – and to give part of the expected revenues to education – was killed 5-4 Wednesday afternoon by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

Rally in support of bottle bill
Beverly Ingle, president of the Colorado Education Association, promoted the proposed bottle bill at a Capitol rally Feb. 23, 2011.

It was a case of youthful enthusiasm meeting economic analysis and political might, and the latter two won.

The idea behind House Bill 11-1247 came from students at the Denver Green School and the Crest Academy in Salida, and a large contingent of students showed up in the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chambers to urge passage of their bill, flanked by piles of trash bags filled with empty bottles.

Earlier in the day, the students rallied for TV cameras with Democratic sponsors Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver and Sen. Gail Schwartz of Snowmass, along with Beverly Ingle, president of the Colorado Education Association.

A legislative staff fiscal analysis of the bill estimated it would raise $79 million in the first year, with some $28.8 million flowing to the State Education Fund.

Students from Denver Green School
Students from the Denver Green School testified in favor of the bottle bill at the Capitol Feb. 23, 2011.

The more than three hours of testimony and committee discussion started with the students pitching the bill and ended with industry representatives opposing the measure.

In between all of that, Massachusetts economist Kevin Dietly, testifying on behalf of one opposing group, dispassionately dissected the bill as a bad idea economically.

A repeated criticism of the bill was that it would undermine curbside recycling efforts, which Dietly said are much more economically efficient than a bottle deposit system. Ten states have bottle deposit laws, some of which were passed before the advent of curbside recycling.

The potential costs to retailers and consumers, plus fears about “smuggling” of out-of-state empties into Colorado and concerns about sanitation at recycling sites and grocery stores, seemed to worry Republican members of the committee, who all voted against the bill in the end.

Education funding wasn’t mentioned except briefly by the students, who praised the bill as good for the environment, good for education and good for their futures.

The kids left long before the vote and before Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, accused bill sponsor Pabon of using the students.

Trash bags
After the bottle bill was killed, trash bags full of empties that had been used as props ended up in a Capitol hallway.

“I am incredibly disappointed that we would bring Colorado schoolchildren into the state Capitol and use them the way we used them today. … To teach our schoolchildren one side of this issue without helping them understand the whole issue … I believe is incredibly irresponsible.”

Pabon didn’t rise to the bait, but three other Democratic representatives – Claire Levy of Boulder, Lois Court of Denver and Nancy Todd of Denver – chastised Waller.

“I think it is very unfair to suggest that Rep. Pabon is somehow cynically exploiting innocent students to advance his bill,” Levy said in her usual clipped manner.

The rest of the committee members sat silent, discomfort obvious on some of their faces.

The bill likely was doomed from the start, given the feelings of most House Republicans about government programs and mandates and given the heavyweight business opposition. Those opponents included Safeway, Nestle Waters, Waste Management Inc., the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Retail Council and the Colorado Beverage Association, on whose behalf Dietly testified.

Charter management bill slenderized

Sen. Evie Hudak’s original version of Senate Bill 11-069 would have required Department of Education licensing of educational management organizations, the growing group of companies and non-profits that run charter and other kinds of schools.

That approach gathered resistance, and the Westminster Democrat on Wednesday proposed an amendment that assigns to the Charter School and Charter Authorizer Standards Review Committee, an existing group that is studying charter school standards, to also study the management issue.

The amended bill also would require the Department of Education to post information about active educational management organizations on its website starting in 2012. The Senate Education Committee passed the revised bill 7-0.

Higher ed finance study advances

The House Education Committee on Wednesday approved a proposed study of how to finance the state’s college and universities, which now rely much more heavily on tuition than they do on tax support. The panel would include eight legislators, four representatives from the departments of education and higher education, and a large cast – 34 – of institutional representatives, students and business people. Total membership would be 46.

Sponsor Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, defended the size of the group, saying representation from every institution is important. The committee amended the bill to slightly reduce the size of the body.

The bill passed 9-3 but now goes into hibernation for a while. Because it proposes a study, it must be approved by the Legislative Council, a group of legislative leaders. Those decisions usually are made near the end of a session.

The committee also voted 9-2 for House Bill 11-1069, which would allow college police to share information about potential threats and threatening individuals with deans’ offices, campus threat assessment teams and other administrators.

In other action

The House gave 64-0 final approval to House Bill 11-1155, designed to allow Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia to also serve as director of the Department of Higher Education.

Two education bills originally on Wednesday committee calendars didn’t come up after all. House Bill 11-1048, which would allow tax credits for private school tuition, was taken off the House Finance Committee’s calendar. House Bill 11-1089, the bill to give charter schools greater autonomy in seeking some state and federal grants, was transferred from the Senate State Affairs Committee to the Senate Education Committee.

House Bill 11-1115, which would change certain financial arrangements for public construction projects, was passed by the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee but now goes to Senate Finance.