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Students’ bill: From idea to law

Gov. Ritter signs bill SHS students helped create

STERLING — Sterling High School students were instrumental in making sure there will no longer be sales tax for items sold by schools, parent or teacher organizations, booster clubs and other groups whose primary purpose is to support a school activity.

The new law, which will affect concession booths, book sales and other fundraisers, was made possible thanks to a bill created by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, (R-Sterling, and students in Jodene Boerner’s Accounting I class and Rob Busmente’s AP Government class at Sterling High School.

Several of the students who were involved with the bill were able to go to Denver on Wednesday to watch Gov. Bill Ritter sign the bill.

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“It was a neat experience to be able to see that we were able to make a change,” said Ali Pilkington.

Lyndsey Meier, a 2007 graduate of SHS who did research for the bill, was among those who got the opportunity to see the governor sign it.

“Being there when he signed it was so neat,” Meier said.

She recalled that when they first started the project, everyone kept saying that they couldn’t do anything about the issue and they wouldn’t be able to change the requirement unless they went to the state level. However, they did go to the state level, and they were able to prove to all those people who thought they couldn’t do it that they were wrong.

Other students who went agreed. Kyle Fritzler, who testified in front of the House Finance Committee said it was “cool” to see the governor sign the bill.

The teachers seemed to feel the same way. Busmente said it was a great experience for students who took the initiative to do the work and the initiative to testify before the house committees. Boerner agreed.

“It was really special to see the governor sign the bill because the kids worked really hard,” Boerner said.

Sonnenberg calls the bill a common-sense way to encourage community support for public schools.

“This will allow the money raised by kids for educational purposes to be used by kids for educational purposes,” Sonnenberg said. “That money can now be spent on things like better classroom materials and other school improvements.”

He credits SHS students with not only creating the idea for the bill, but also pushing for its success. Members of the school’s government class testified twice as the bill worked its way through committees.

“The students came to me a year ago wanting to fix problems they face with the sales tax,” Sonnenberg said. “I think it speaks volumes that our future leaders took it upon themselves to become actively involved in the civic process and change statewide tax policy.”

An FBLA fundraiser last school year is what started the idea for the bill. Students found it unfair that parents were being charged sales tax on the items they bought. In doing research on the sales tax requirement for school fundraisers the students found that RE-1 Valley School District is one of only a few that actually follow this law.

According to an analysis by the state Department of Revenue, school groups such as Parent-Teacher Associations, Parent-Teacher Organizations and booster clubs paid a total of about $210,000 in sales tax last year.

“Many schools were following the rules and paying thousands of dollars in sales tax, while others weren’t,” Sonnenberg said.

After doing further research and finding that the only way to change the law was to go to the state level, they contacted Sonnenberg and began working on a bill that would eliminate sales tax charges for schools. The bill was introduced to legislators in early January and was sent to the finance committee.

In late January, several students went to the Capitol to testify about the bill in front of the finance committee. They didn’t get to talk very much, so in late March five students went back to testify again.

The finance committee voted 6-5 to pass the bill and it was sent to the appropriations committee. On April 14, the house passed the bill on third reading. It was introduced to the Senate on April 16. The bill passed the Senate on third reading on May 2 and was sent back to the House for reconsideration of some amendments that were made. The House passed the bill again on May 5.

With the governor’s signature on Wednesday, House Bill 1013 becomes law — an act — on Aug. 6 of this year.

The entire process was a learning experience for the students that not a lot of other students get an opportunity to have.

“It was really cool just to be a part of the process,” said Anita Ramey. “We had to do a lot of work to get it to pass, but it’s pretty cool.”

Now that the bill passed, the next step will be to go to the Sterling City Council to get the city ordinance revoked that requires sales tax on items that schools sell. Next year’s accounting class will probably work on this step.

Will they be able to get the City Council on board? Only time will tell.

Callie Jones: (970) 526-9286; cjones@journal-advocate.com

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