Otter vetoes charter administrators’ bill, as 2018 session adjourns

On the 80th and final day of the 2018 legislative session, Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a bill to relax hiring criteria for charter school administrators.

“Asking educators to follow a leader who shares neither experience nor educational preparation in the field undervalues the teaching profession,” Otter wrote Wednesday, in explaining his decision to veto House Bill 566.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale

The House did not attempt to override the governor’s veto. Instead, lawmakers agreed to return the bill to the House Education Committee, killing the bill for the year.

The end-of-session development on the charter school bill was one headline from the final day of the 2018 session. The House of Representatives formally adjourned for the year at 5:19 p.m., just over an hour after killing the charter bill. The Senate followed suit at 5:56 p.m.

Sponsored by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, HB 566 was touted as a way to encourage charter school innovation, by allowing the schools to hire leaders who meet their unique needs. Legislative critics said the bill watered down hiring requirements — even after the Senate amended the bill to add a few additional hiring criteria.

Twice this week, Otter has vetoed an education-related bill. On Tuesday, the House upheld Otter’s only previous veto of the session — on House Bill 501, a proposal to remove the state’s reading test from a list of metrics that can be used to determine teacher pay raises.

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian

The HB 566 override never came to a vote, although the bill’s Senate sponsor, Meridian Republican Lori Den Hartog, was seen on the House floor Wednesday afternoon trying to rally support.

After the House dropped the override, Den Hartog said it was unclear whether supporters had the two-thirds supermajorities needed to thwart Otter.

HB 566 backers seemed to be operating on a tight margin. The amended bill passed the House Thursday on a 58-11 party-line vote. The Senate vote on March 19 was tighter, with the bill passing 23-10.

But Den Hartog hinted that some support for HB 566 might have wavered, similar to what unfolded on the House floor one day earlier. On Tuesday, the HB 501 override received only 29 yes votes — on a bill that had originally passed on a 66-1 vote.

Den Hartog said charter school advocates would come back with another bill in 2019, as part of an effort to push for innovation. “I think we have lost our way of what charter schools were intended to be.”

Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise

While Den Hartog expressed her frustration, Otter’s veto drew praise from an unlikely source, Democratic legislative leaders.

“We think it was a responsible veto,” said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, at an end-of-session news conference Wednesday. “He made a fantastic decision.”

The 80th day of the session started slowly, and action was sporadic at best. The Senate convened briefly Wednesday morning and reconvened at 1:30 p.m. Senate Republicans promptly adjourned into a closed-door afternoon caucus.

The House finally came into session at about 4 p.m. Wednesday, an hour after its scheduled starting time. Lawmakers were in session for only a few minutes — long enough to let Otter’s veto stand without a floor fight.

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder started Wednesday morning with an optimistic message to colleagues.

“This is our last day,” Winder said. “I see some of you wearing your sine die (adjournment) ties and have that optimistic look on your face.”

The Legislature wrapped up the vast majority of its year’s business last week. But legislators adhered to new adjournment procedures this year, staying in town long enough to ship every bill to Otter’s desk and allowing him time to act on those bills before calling it a year.

Suicide prevention

Otter held a signing ceremony Wednesday morning to applaud a bill that promotes suicide prevention training in schools.

House Bill 634 instructs the State Board of Education to adopt rules supporting suicide awareness and prevention training for public school personnel each year. The training will be incorporated into State Board and State Department of Education professional development.

Idaho Suicide Prevention Coalition Executive Director Shannon Decker said bringing suicide prevention training to Idaho has been a long time coming.

“This is a crucial first step, but it’s only a first step,” Decker said. “It will take a lot more voices and ideas and words and people stepping up to make this really come to fruition in our state.”

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, said the bill’s passage is all the more important in the wake of former Coeur d’Alene High School principal Troy Schueller’s apparent death by suicide last week.

“We have to fight even harder now to explain to students how to deal with life’s problems,” Souza said.

Wednesday’s bill signing ceremony was ostensibly about suicide prevention, but it felt a little like a campaign rally. At one point, an Ada County coroner candidate inexplicably took to the podium to shill for her campaign when Otter asked if anyone wanted to speak about suicide prevention. All told, three of the five people who spoke at the ceremony are running for office in 2018, including Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Souza and the Ada County coroner candidate.

Before Otter signed it into law, HB 634 passed both houses unanimously.

The law hits the books July 1, the first day of the state’s new fiscal year, and will be in effect for the 2018-19 school year.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this report. 

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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