Legislative roundup, 1.19.2016

The Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee approved a rule that would ease fire alarm requirements in a host of buildings — including smaller schools.

Under the rule change, fire alarms would be required only in school buildings with 50 students or more. The current threshold is 30 students or more.

The state’s Division of Building Safety proposed the fire alarm language, saying it would bring Idaho into compliance with the latest — but still unadopted — version of the International Building Code. The language was part of a larger rule that included, among other items, language pertaining to fire-resistant walls in townhouses.

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Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow

But it was the language on school fire alarms that caught the eye, and ire, of Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, who called the change “bizarre.”

The change wouldn’t affect existing schools; in other words, schools with 30 to 50 students would likely keep their fire alarms in place. The State Department of Education is unlikely to take a position for or against the rule, said Jeff Church, a spokesman for state superintendent Sherri Ybarra.

Generally speaking, a rule goes into effect unless it is rejected by both a House and Senate committee. (To read the rule, refer to pages 4 through 13.)

In other rules activity Tuesday:

Alternative teacher certification. The Senate Education Committee signed on with some controversial language allowing districts to use a non-traditional route to fill teaching vacancies.

Under the rule, districts can hire teachers who have “demonstrated content knowledge,” but not a conventional teaching certificate. The alternative certificate would be in effect for one year, and could be renewed annually for two more years.

Republicans on the committee said the alternative route could help combat teacher shortages.

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Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls

“This isn’t just an Idaho issue, this is a national issue,” said Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls. “We’re not going to fix this in the short-term. We’re going to have to work through it.”

Matt Compton of the Idaho Education Association conceded that districts “are desperately seeking teachers.” However, Compton testified against the rule, calling it a shortcut to certification.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said the language would allow districts to use alternative certification — even when they weren’t facing a real shortage of applicants. The rule would allow any college graduate to go straight into the classroom, without having to attend a college of education. “That’s very scary to me.”

The rule passed, with only Ward-Engelking in opposition.

The House Education Committee passed the rule Monday.

House Education. A House Education subgroup picked up where the Senate left off a day earlier.

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Rep. Ryan Kerby

Five members of the panel, led by Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, recommended that the full committee approve three rules, dealing with physical education standards; timelines for individualized education programs for special-needs students; and updated teacher certification standards in several academic disciplines.

Kerby’s subcommittee will bring their recommendations back to the full House Education Committee. On Monday, the Senate Education Committee voted unanimously to approve the same three rules.

Idaho Education News’ Clark Corbin contributed to this report.