A bill that would allow teachers to take a $250 state tax deduction for school supplies and materials they pay for out of their own pockets passed the House Finance Committee Thursday on a 9-2 vote after members of both parties agreed it would be a nice gesture even if it wouldn’t make much financial difference.

Things didn’t look promising for sponsor Rep. Clarice Navarro as the hearing opened. Democrats peppered the Pueblo Republican with questions about the bill’s real impact and whether it would be better to use the revenue lost to the deduction for more K-12 funding.

Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, did some quick calculations and estimated the deduction would only save an individual teacher about $10 on state taxes. “I think it’s not a huge benefit to a teacher,” she said.

Navarro stood her ground, saying, “I absolutely do believe it’s worthwhile.”

Most Democrats eventually came around to that point of view, especially after House Bill 15-1104 was amended to eliminate an escalator clause that would have increased the deduction to $750 in a couple of years. (The legislative staff estimate for the bill projects that it would cost the state about $350,000 in lost revenue for the first year.)

As Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs put it, “This is truly a case of it’s the thought that counts.”

Only Becker and Rep. Michael Foote, D-Lafayette, remained unconvinced and voted no.

The bill goes next to the House Appropriations Committee, where it faces an uncertain future, as chair Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, noted.

If the bill passes, it would go into effect only if Congress does not reinstate a lapsed federal deduction for teacher purchases of school supplies. Teachers would be able to take the state deduction even if they don’t itemize other deducations.

Senate Education has long and ragged afternoon

The Senate Education Committee’s afternoon hearing ran for four and a half hours, and the panel didn’t even get to the most interesting bills.

Much of the hearing was devoted to Senate Bill 15-020, which would require the state’s School Safety Resource Center to provide materials and training for schools on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and assault. It also encourages districts and schools to adopt abuse and assault prevention plans.

The bill is a Colorado version of what’s called Erin’s Law, named after an Illinois woman who has made it her mission to get states to pass such laws. Erin Merryn, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, came to the hearing in person to support passage of the bill. The bill’s prime sponsor is Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, whose daughter is an abuse survivor.

Most of the hearing consisted of emotional and moving testimony from abuse survivors and advocates in support of the bill.

Before testimony started, chair Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, announced that a vote on the bill would be held at a later meeting because some amendments were in the works.

So, after testimony ended, the audience was surprised when Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, moved to pass the bill unamended. “I think not acting on this bill today is disrespectful to the people who came here today to testify, to bare their souls.” He also noted the bill still has to go to another committee, leaving plenty of time for amendments.

Kerr’s motion threw committee Republicans into confusion. Hill had to be hastily recalled from another committee where he was presenting a bill, and several Republican “passed” when their names came up in the roll call.

Ultimately Kerr’s motion failed on a 4-5 party-line vote, so the committee will consider the bill again later.

(The back story here is that Democrats suspect that Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, is going to use the bill to propose a broader rollback in state sex education requirements, an issue that prompted a hot partisan fight a couple of sessions ago.)

Marble was tight-lipped about her plans, telling her colleagues only, “The amendments being looked at are very important. … That’s all I can share with you.”

The committee also had trouble of a more technical kind with Senate Bill 15-117, which has the interesting title of “Concerning prohibiting discrimination in public financing of institutions of higher education.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, appears to be aimed primarily at the new higher education funding formula created under a 2014 law of which Lambert was a prime sponsor. That law and related formula base part of higher education funding on how well colleges perform on goals including the recruitment, retention, and graduation of minority students.

Lambert told the committee he thinks its discriminatory that the formula excludes Asian-heritage students from the group of minority students included in the formula.

The bill passed the committee on a somewhat surprising 9-0 vote, although several Democrats made it clear that they were yes votes “for now.” This is an issue that we haven’t heard the last of and which may resurface when the Joint Budget Committee decides on the higher education budget for 2015-16. The JBC is split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans, and Lambert is chair for this session.

After the committee had finished Lambert’s bill, Hill abruptly announced that the two most interesting bills of the day were being “laid over” until a later meeting. (Lobbyists and others in the audience quietly breathed sighs of relief.)

Those two measures are Senate Bill 14-072, another Lambert measure that would raise admissions standards at Metropolitan State University, and Senate Bill 15-045, the annual Republican effort to create tax credits for parents who pay tuition at private schools. Look for those on next Thursday’s committee agenda.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts, fiscal notes and more details on the measures covered in this article.