Family values? Colorado Republicans killed this parental leave bill two years in a row
Distressed mother with her child (Shutterstock)

The first time Nicholas Rodriguez found himself in trouble at school, his mom Nicole was just down the hall working as a food service manager for the Cherry Creek School District.

She was told she needed to talk to the principal about her son immediately, but her boss wouldn’t allow her to leave the cafeteria for the meeting.

When she didn’t show up, Nicholas thought she didn’t care.

He found himself in trouble again. With his mother unable to attend another meeting with the principal, Nicholas was suspended.

Nicole was a single parent who had raised her son by herself since his father died. She had nobody else to cover meetings with the principal when her son was in trouble and she had to work. So she walked off the job and out of the cafeteria to “put my child first,” she said.

She was fired.

Her boss had the right to under Colorado law since Republicans allowed a measure to protect employees in her situation to expire last year.

Nicole pleaded with lawmakers on the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Wednesday to pass a bill that would allow parents like her to attend their children’s important school functions, like parent-teacher conferences and emergency requests like the one involving her son.

Her pleas, and those from other working parents who struggle to show up for their children, did not move the Republicans leading the committee who killed the measure on a 3-2 vote.

Committee Chair Sen. Ray Scott, a Grand Junction Republican, praised Nicholas on his testimony. But Scott said to Nicole he wouldn’t agree with her “all the time,” a sign he would vote against the bill.

Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican on the State Affairs Committee who also voted against the measure, said Thursday Republicans campaign on reducing the red tape that plagues small businesses. This bill, he told The Independent, would place yet another regulatory burden on those businesses.

House Bill 16-1002 would have required businesses of up to 50 employees to give parents 18 hours of leave to attend their children’s academic activities including both routine parent-teacher conferences and meetings about discipline, dropout prevention and truancy.

Starting in 2009, Colorado protected working parents from being fired for attending their children’s academic activities. But that law expired in 2015. Democrats tried to save it. Republicans shot it down, based on long-standing concerns that such bills would hurt Colorado businesses and result in job losses.

According to sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, a Lakewood Democrat, the 2016 bill mirrors the 2009 act, which allowed a parent up to six hours of leave per month or no more than 18 hours in an academic year. He also pointed out that in the five-year history of the law, no businesses complained the law hurt their bottom line.

HB 1002 passed through the House almost exclusively because of Democratic support. Rep. Kit Roupe of Colorado Springs was the lone Republican to vote for it.

When the bill was in the House Education Committee, a hearing was postponed because Rep. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, had to skip it to take his child to the doctor.

Democrats pounced on Priola’s absence, noting that Priola, who opposed the bill, was able to take time off work to take care of his children.

RELATED: Lawmaker postpones vote against unpaid parental leave to take child to doctor

The bill was doomed to be shot down by the Republican-led Senate. It was assigned to the Senate State Affairs Committee, a Senate “kill” committee where Democratic bills Republicans loathe go to die.

The bill was the only item Wednesday for the all-male Senate State Affairs committee, and Kerr tailored his remarks on the bill to appeal to the fatherhood instincts of those five committee members.

He spoke about how allowing dads to go to their children’s school activities would be better for the kids.

When parents are involved in school, the children do better and the school does better, Kerr said. Positive results include fewer absences, better behavior and improved academic performance.

Kerr’s strategy didn’t persuade the committee’s Republicans. Nor did the fact that there were no small business owners or trade associations to testify against the measure.

The Senate GOP Twitter account put out the following after the hearing:

“Many of my constituents work hourly jobs that don’t give unpaid leave, and they can’t afford to just walk away from their jobs,” Kerr said in a statement later in the day.

“If the Colorado Senate GOP really believes most hardworking Coloradans can just pick and choose their jobs at will when they have to provide for their families, it really shows just how out of touch they are,” Kerr added.

By Marianne Goodland, The Colorado Independent