Republican lawmakers want to prohibit Colorado teachers from striking, with potential fines and jail time for violators

Jeffco Public Schools teachers are planning to walk out Thursday, while Denver Public Schools teachers are planning to demonstrate on Friday
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Two Republican state lawmakers have introduced a bill seeking to prohibit Colorado teachers from striking and make it so they would face firing, fines or even jail time if they do so anyway.

Senate Bill 264 was introduced on Friday and comes amid a broader conversation across the state about education funding and educator pay, and as teachers gear up later this week for a second round of demonstrations at the Capitol. Classes have been canceled in a host of Denver metro school districts as a result, including in Jefferson County and in Denver where school officials plan an early release.

The measure’s chances of becoming law are minuscule — with the Democratic-controlled House unlikely to support it and some GOP lawmakers weary themselves — though it has injected another level of debate and controversy into the already simmering issue.

“I started thinking about the bill when I saw the news about teacher strikes in West Virginia,” said Sen. Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican who is one of the measure’s prime sponsors. “… It’s a wise thing to do, in some shape or form, in the state of Colorado because we have one district that’s already voted to strike. We have others discussing a strike. Strikes are not good for children.”

He called the assertion from some that he is trying to hinder teachers’ free speech rights “absurd,” saying the bill does not take away their right to speak or assemble.

“I’m not sure how far it makes it,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City. “I’m not sure it has 100 percent support in the Republican caucus.”

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, said she thinks it should be left up to teachers to decide if they want to strike or not. Colorado Senate Democrats went a big step further, calling the bill “anti-worker trash.”

Colorado Senate Dems@COSenDem

This bill is anti-worker trash. Republicans would rather pay to throw teachers in jail than pay them to teach. http://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/384420-colorado-bill-would-punish-teachers-who-go-on-strike-with-jail-time 

Colorado bill would punish teachers who go on strike with jail time

Colorado state senators are considering a bill that would punish teachers with jail time if they went on strike,

thehill.com

The legislation specifically seeks to prohibit public school teachers and teachers’ organizations from directly or indirectly being involved in a strike and would bar districts from paying an educator for any day they participate in a demonstration.

Under the bill, school districts would be able to seek an injunction to stop a strike in court. Any educator who doesn’t comply would be in contempt and therefore face fines or up to six months in jail, or both.

Furthermore, the measure would allow a school district to be able to immediately fire a teacher — without a hearing — should they violate a court order prohibiting a strike. If a teacher organization is found in contempt, any collective bargaining agreement they worked on would be rendered null and they would be barred from collecting dues.

Gardner said he is looking at softening, or at least altering, the penalties for teachers who strike despite a court injunction. “It’s probably most important the union that sponsors that strike be penalized,” he said. “I’m open to some changes in the penalty.”

Democrats have been rallying around teachers in Colorado as they push at the legislature for increased school funding and pay.

 

“Last week was really phenomenal,” said Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, of a teachers’ demonstration at the Capitol last week. “Most of the teachers just want to be heard.”

Republicans have said educators’ demands are misplaced since individual districts set what educators are paid, and point out that state lawmakers this session have set aside millions to bolster school funding.

“These aren’t new discussions,” said Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. “Now what we are seeing is a teachers’ union that is pressuring teachers in school districts to converge on the Capitol.”

It wasn’t clear Monday when Senate Bill 264, sponsored by Gardner and Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, will get its first hearing.

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