DENVER—Lawmakers delayed a vote on an overhaul of strict school punishment policies adopted after the Columbine High School shootings, saying the bill has become too complicated and they didn't have time to make changes Thursday.

The bill seeks to give educators more discretion over expulsions and police referrals and eliminate zero-tolerance policies that lawmakers say have led to mandatory expulsions for bringing a fake gun to school or getting into a minor scuffle.

But some lawmakers on a Senate committee hearing the proposal said the bill tries to do too much, is too prescriptive on schools and asks for too many reporting requirements.

A vote on the bill is expected to happen at a later date.

Supporters of the legislation say the Columbine shootings and other high-profile cases of youth violence caused lawmakers and school administrators to overreact. About 100,000 students in Colorado have been referred to police during the past decade.

"Colorado needs to stop getting tough and instead get smart about school discipline," said bill sponsor Sen. Linda Newell, a Democrat from Littleton, home to Columbine High School.

A committee of lawmakers, community leaders and law enforcement officials met over the summer to review school discipline trends and policies in Colorado and around the country to determine whether legislation was warranted.


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Members of the committee said zero-tolerance policies are often applied inconsistently and inappropriately, resulting in students being sent to police for behavior that before would be handled by teachers and administrators.

One case that was cited involved a student who got in trouble from bringing a wooden replica or a rifle to school. Students who spoke to lawmakers over the summer said they also heard of an 11-year-old student who was ticketed for harassment and third-degree assault for accidentally hitting his teacher with a beanbag chair.

"Sometimes accidents happen, such as a knife ends up in their lunch box and schools, because of our state law, have been forced to expel those children," said Arvada Sen. Evie Hudak, who is co-sponsoring the bill.

Colorado Springs Republican Sen. Keith King, who was on the committee that crafted the legislation, said he supports the idea of eliminating zero-tolerance policies, but disagrees with other components of the bill.

"If they do a lot of 'shalls' for school districts instead of giving school districts options, I'm not going to be in favor," he said.

King said the bill has lawmakers have "tried to put too many components in this bill and it's too complicated."

Boulder Democratic Sen. Rollie Heath expressed concerns about reporting requirements aimed at helping schools spot disciplinary trends.

"I want to vote for this bill," he said. "I'm not going to vote for it with all this reporting in it. I think we're getting away from solving the problem."

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