In a bold expression of rebellion, several Republicans on the House Education Committee skipped Monday’s meeting, blocking their surprised chairman from holding an introductory hearing on a new funding formula bill.
Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said he expected a couple of absences, but did not anticipate losing eight members of his own party, forcing him to adjourn the meeting early without taking any votes.
“I’m not sure; I can’t really answer that,” Clow said when Idaho Education News asked about the absences and lack of quorum.
“Somebody said they were going to be in State Affairs, and somebody said they were going to have a meeting with the governor. The others I can’t speak to,” Clow continued.
The eight GOP legislators who skipped the meeting are the same eight who voted a week ago to block Clow from introducing an earlier draft of a funding formula overhaul, adding intrigue to Monday’s meeting.
The eight absent Republicans were Reps. Judy Boyle, Midvale; Tony Wisniewski, Post Falls; Gary Marshall, Idaho Falls; Dorothy Moon, Stanley; Barbara Ehardt, Idaho Falls; Jerald Raymond, Menan; Bill Goesling, Moscow; and Gayann DeMordaunt, Eagle. By late morning, all eight Republicans were present for the House’s floor session.
Immediately after Clow adjourned the meeting for lack of a quorum, Boyle, Moon and Raymond were seen leaving House Speaker Scott Bedke’s office.
At least one no-show Republican had a conflict. DeMordaunt spent nearly an hour in a House State Affairs Committee hearing, presenting a bill on using schools as election polling places. The State Affairs meeting began at 9 a.m., at about the time House Education adjourned for lack of a quorum. DeMordaunt said she had informed Clow of her scheduling conflict, and did not know in advance that fellow Republicans were planning to walk out.
Bedke confirmed several of the absent lawmakers were in his office expressing concerns over Clow’s funding formula draft while House Education was meeting.
“From what I heard secondhand, then, they would rather have the Senate bill get over here and take up that,” Bedke said.
When asked whether skipping the meeting met the Legislature’s standard of decorum, Bedke said he was not going to condemn their actions.
“One thing about the Legislature is they are all free agents,” Bedke said. “You can’t conduct business without a quorum. If they chose to be there, maybe there are better ways to make a point than what they did. But it was certainly within their prerogative.”
It’s unclear what Monday’s rebellion means for the prospects for a funding formula overhaul this year. On Monday afternoon, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on its version of the funding formula bill, Senate Bill 1196.
Whatever happens next, a majority of House Education’s 15 members would somehow need to work with Clow to pass the Senate funding formula bill — if it even makes it that far.
House Education normally meets four or five times a week. Monday was the first time the committee did not have a quorum all year.
The protest appeared to lay bare dysfunction and rancor that had been simmering within the committee all year. It’s rare that a committee would block the introduction of a bill pushed by its chairman, as happened last week. What’s even rarer is for a bloc of members from one party to skip a meeting without informing the chairman.
Under normal circumstances, committee members who oppose the introduction of a bill would simply show up to the meeting on time and vote against it.
In that regard, Monday’s protest appears to be a mutiny.
“There obviously needs to be some fences that are mended there,” said Bedke, “(but) I don’t think it’s the end of the world.”
Unusual and unexpected, the Republican walkout became the subject of Statehouse scuttlebutt Monday morning. But Statehouse insiders and lawmakers said little — at least, on the record.
Boyle and Moon declined comment after leaving their meeting in Bedke’s office.
Ehardt also declined comment.
“I came in sick last night,” she said. “I probably shouldn’t even be here.”
Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, criticized his Republican committee colleagues.
“If you’re going to protest, you should inform the chair,” he said.
Marilyn Whitney, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s legislative adviser, did not comment directly on the House Education standoff.
But she said Ybarra is hearing a recurring concern from local school superintendents and business managers; they don’t know the details of this end-of-session overhaul. The committee’s refusal to print bills doesn’t make it easier for local officials to get up to speed.
“They don’t have a lot of time to spend right now looking through a complex formula and a 60-plus page bill,” Whitney said.
Clow said the bill he hoped to introduce Monday was nearly identical to the SB 1196, except for two paragraphs that deal with experience and what to do with state funding after it is capped. He said he chose to run a new draft bill after Goesling lamented Friday that the committee didn’t have a way to weigh in on funding formula legislation.
As for his next move, Clow said, “Theoretically, I could bring it back every day.”