Legislative roundup, 2.15.21: New labor negotiations bill introduced

A divided House Education Committee introduced a bill Monday that would allow school districts to decide whether to participate in labor negotiations with the local teachers union.

Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, pushed House Bill 174, saying the decision should rest with school boards.

Rep. Dorothy Moon, file photo

“The choice should rest with locally elected school boards instead of the state requiring it,” Moon said. “School boards would be able to make the decision based on each district’s individual circumstances and the desires of the elected boards and its constituents.”

As things stand now, school districts and their local education association or teachers union meet annually to negotiate salaries and benefits.

Without getting into details, Moon said she is bringing the bill because parents in several districts said they didn’t feel like they were properly represented during the past year.

Although it was only an introductory hearing and the bill was ultimately introduced, several legislators spoke out with concerns. Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, said the bill revives Proposition One from the Students Come First laws that Idaho voters overturned in November 2012.

McCrostie, a public school music teacher, said standing up for teachers during the Students Come First debates was the reason he got involved in Idaho politics.

“At the end of the day, this is an anti-teacher bill,” McCrostie said.

Proposition One dealt with labor relations and limited bargaining and negotiations. It originated with Senate Bill 1108 from the 2011 session before voters repealed all three propositions in 2012.

House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said passing the bill could weaken the relationships teachers and school boards have nurtured for years.

“I also believe that the short- and long-term impacts of this change would be detrimental to our students, the parents, teachers and taxpayers,” Clow said.

Legislators did not take any public testimony on the bill Monday. Introducing House Bill 174 clears the way for it to return the committee for a full public hearing in the coming days.

Although he voted to introduce it, Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, said he would vote against the bill when it receives a hearing.

Ybarra revives in-person learning bill

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s in-person learning bill proposal is back in play after House Education introduced a rewritten version Monday.

In response to widespread school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, the new bill would ask schools to provide in-person learning to the greatest extent possible when safety requirements can be met.

A week ago, the committee voted unanimously to kill an earlier version of Ybarra’s bill. In that time, she made changes incorporated in the new bill, House Bill 175.

Ybarra pushed for the bill in person last week at the Statehouse. This time, Marilyn Whitney, deputy superintendent for communications and policy, made the in-person pitch to legislators.

“You gave us very constructive input and feedback so you will see that feedback reflected in this,” Whitney told legislators.

Whitney said Ybarra made several changes to the bill. It now defines virtual instruction, as well as blended learning or hybrid instruction and in-person instruction.

Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, said she likes the changes.

But Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, pointed out that a group of regional school superintendents signed a letter opposing the bill after Ybarra briefed them on it earlier.

The superintendents said the bill takes away local decisionmaking and could force schools to open in unsafe conditions.

“I would like you to pass that (letter) out as well,” Boyle told Whitney.

Whitney said Ybarra later held a virtual meeting with the regional superintendents to go over their concerns.

Introducing House Bill 175 clears the way for it to return to the committee for a full public hearing.

Removal of August election date

In other action Monday, the House passed a bill that would eliminate the August election date from Idaho’s calendar of four possible election dates.

The House passed House Bill 106 on a 45-24 vote. If the bill passes, elections could only be held in March, May and November.

Sponsoring Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said eliminating the August election would allow the state to provide training for county election workers and update voter registration rolls.

But the Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators and many school leaders oppose the bill. They said the August election date is an important tool for schools to pass bonds or levies to stave off midyear spending cuts.

“This is part of the democratic process,” said Clow, who voted against the bill.

But Barbieri and other supporters said the bill isn’t even about the August election. Instead, they said it is about the integrity of the voting system.

“This isn’t about kids, this isn’t about the budgeting, this is about elections,” Barbieri said.

Opponents disagreed, saying there are only four possible election dates in Idaho each year anyway, leaving plenty of time for training and making sure registration records are current.

House Bill 106 heads next to the Senate for consideration.

More new bills surface

House Education introduced two other new bills during a busy Monday at the Statehouse.

House Bill 172 has to do with extra credit. Sponsoring Reps. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, and Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said school boards should create a process for students to get extra credit for activities outside of the traditional classroom, such as organized sports, music lessons, internships or military service. Students would also be able to get credit for prior knowledge to test out or get credit for a course.

The other new bill, House Bill 173, would move the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security under the State Board of Education. As things stand today, the Division of Building Safety provides oversight of the Office of School Safety and Security.

Introducing both new bills clears the way for them to return to committee for a full public hearing.

Senate Education fires up the printer

It was deadline day — and time for the lightning round — in the Senate Education Committee Monday.

Without debate or discussion, Senate Education quickly voted to introduce, or “print,” four bills.

Details were scarce Monday afternoon, since none of the bills are posted online yet. But here’s a summary:

  • One bill would create a “K-3 technology-based program,” sponsored by Senate Education Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett.
  • One bill would separate the Idaho Public Charter School Commission from the State Board of Education. The commission would instead operate as a separate agency, under the State Board. Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, and Boyle are the co-sponsors.
  • One bill would align state law with the Federal Gun-Free Schools Act. It would allow school trustees “to consider appropriate disciplinary action” for a student firearms violation, as opposed to an automatic expulsion. The Idaho School Boards Association and Sen. Kevin Cook are co-sponsoring.
  • One bill would create a “quality educator loan assistance program,” in hopes of addressing Idaho teacher shortages. The co-sponsors, Toone and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, have supported teacher loan forgiveness bills in past sessions.

Senate Education moved quickly, because Monday was Day 36 of the session, and the deadline for most committees to introduce bills.

Any or all of these bills could come back to the committee for a full hearing in the future.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News covered Monday’s hearing remotely.

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