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DENVER (AP) — Colorado lawmakers concluded the 2015 legislative session Wednesday by passing a major education overhaul that reduces student testing statewide, one of several substantial bills they finished hours before they adjourned.
The education bill would ratchet back testing requirements in the early grades and late high school, and give local school districts the chance to pursue writing their own exams if they prefer.
"I'm exceedingly proud of the bill that we just passed," said Democratic House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst. "I think it proves that our members listened very carefully to their constituents. I believe we reached a really good compromise."
The parties spent many hours in the final days trying to negotiate an agreement, made more difficult because Republicans control the Senate and Democrats run the House.
Lawmakers also finished work early on a measure to create felony penalties for habitual DUI offenders, sending Gov. John Hickenlooper a proposal that has repeatedly failed in recent years because of concerns about increased costs to courts and prisons.
Lawmakers also agreed early on a bill to increase annual salaries for future legislators, the governor and other members of the executive branch. State lawmakers would get pay raises of 27 percent, from $30,000 a year to about $38,000 a year. The governor would get a 30 percent pay hike, from $90,000 a year to about $117,000 a year.
The idea had its detractors, including lawmakers who say they can't justify the increases so soon after the economic downturn. But supporters pointed out that pay rates for the offices cited in the bill haven't increased in nearly 20 years.
Two bills to restrict the use of red-light and speed cameras were also sent to the governor Wednesday. One proposal would require municipalities to go to voters for permission to use the devices, while the other would prohibit issuing traffic citations with the cameras.
Supporters of the bills say the cameras are overused revenue generators. But law enforcement officials say they're important traffic-safety tools.
Eliminating some student testing has been a major theme of the session. The bill that finally passed still requires annual tests in math and language arts in grades three through nine, despite a vigorous push from some testing opponents to further roll back those exams.
Other measures that passed Wednesday:
— A measure addressing marijuana taxes could appear on ballots this fall asking voters to override a constitutional provision requiring about $58 million in new pot taxes to be refunded to taxpayers. Lawmakers also renewed a sweeping slate of expiring rules for the medical marijuana industry, including closing times for pot shops and a divisive change to allow some drug felons to work in the business.
— A bill to encourage the use of officer-worn cameras by creating a grant program for departments that want to use them. Another law enforcement bill revamps police training by adding classes aimed at improving community relations.
— A bill making it harder to petition citizen initiatives onto ballots. The measure would require the state to prepare "initial fiscal impact statements" for proposed ballot measures. Supporters say the requirement would help voters understand the possible cost of considered ballot measures, such as new limits on oil and gas drilling.
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