Legislative roundup, 4.20.21: Anti-sectarianism bill abruptly yanked

It didn’t take long for an anti-sectarianism bill to die.

House Bill 375 was supposed to get a hearing in the House Education Committee Tuesday morning, but it was abruptly yanked from the agenda shortly before the 8:30 a.m. meeting time.

“It was pulled by the sponsors and they’re working on a new revision,” said Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, moments before convening a House Education meeting with but one item of business, honoring the committee’s student page.

Introduced just Monday afternoon, HB 375 was presented as an attempt to address a roiling debate over social justice and critical race theory — a Statehouse showdown that has essentially brought the education budgeting process to a standstill.

But the pushback over the two-page bill came quickly, and centered on one sentence in the two-page bill: “No educational materials advocating sectarianism shall be used or introduced in any institution of higher education, any school district, or any public school, including a public charter school.”

Critics, including House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, suggested the language would hamstring history teachers and professors, since they would not even be allowed to mention sectarian books or works.

Arguing for her bill during a House Ways and Means Committee meeting Monday, Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, cited Article IX, Section 6, of the state Constitution, which reads, in part, “No sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools, nor shall any distinction or classification of pupils be made on account of race or color.”

With this legislation on hold, at least for the time being, two huge pieces of the education budget puzzle remain in limbo as well. In the past 13 days, the House has killed a $315 million higher education budget and a $1.1 billion teacher salaries bill. In both cases, conservatives said they wanted to eliminate social justice and critical race theory instruction from Idaho classrooms — although lawmakers have offered scant evidence of the practice.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee must rewrite both budget bills. It did not meet Tuesday.

Other pieces of the education budgets are in limbo as well. The House held a morning floor session and adjourned for the day — without acting on four K-12 budget bills and a federal early learning grant bill, all awaiting a House vote.

As for the new anti-sectarianism bill, its status is unclear as well. As of midday Tuesday, House Ways and Means, House Education and the Senate State Affairs Committee have posted no meeting announcements. Sponsors would likely bring a new bill addressing sectarianism, critical race theory or social justice to one of these three committees.

Tuesday is the 100th day of the 2021 legislative session. Only two sessions in state history have run longer.

August school election survives legislative challenge

Schools will still be able to run bond and levy elections in August, after the Senate killed one final push to eliminate the summer election date.

The Senate refused to agree to House amendments to Senate Bill 1061, an elections bill. The House passed SB 1061, but only after amending the bill to add a section scrapping the August election.

But when one house amends a bill, the other house needs to concur with the changes. When the Senate refused to do this Tuesday, that effectively killed the entire bill — including the language pertaining to August elections.

Education lobbyists have spent much of this session fighting to save the August election — which gives school districts one last chance to pass a property tax levy and apply the funding to that year’s budget. The fight has taken place on multiple fronts. Earlier this session, the House passed a standalone bill eliminating the August election, but the Senate State Affairs Committee rejected it.

Tuesday’s action means school districts can still seek bonds or levies on four election dates, in March, May, August and November.

School expulsions to become more private

A bill to allow school boards to make decisions about expelling students behind closed doors passed the House unanimously Tuesday.

With no debate, the amended Senate Bill 1043 cleared the House, after the Senate gave it the green light in February. In its final version, the bill gives school boards the option of discussing and deciding to expel or deny enrollment to students in executive session. Those students would not have their names recorded in school board meeting minutes, either.

Currently, those decisions are made in public school board meetings, which has raised concern from school officials — particularly in small districts — who say the expulsion process is embarrassing for families and violates their privacy. The bill, if signed by Gov. Brad Little, would also require that decisions to extend student suspensions beyond five days be made in executive session.

Just before the school expulsions vote, the House moved quickly to approve another proposal, Senate Bill 1006, which would consolidate sections of the state’s Literacy Achievement and Accountability Act.

SB 1006 passed, also uncontested, and heads to Little’s desk.

Idaho Education News covered Tuesday’s legislative sessions remotely.

 

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