Legislative roundup, 2.19.21: Ybarra’s in-person learning bill sidetracked

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra suffered another legislative setback Friday as she tried to get her rewritten in-person learning bill through the House Education Committee.

Sherri Ybarra (Idaho Ed News file photo)

After legislators spent about an hour asking questions and sharing concerns, the committee voted to hold Ybarra’s House Bill 175 until Feb. 25.

Although a majority of the committee is on the record vocally supporting opening schools for in-person learning, Ybarra’s bill has run into barriers.

House Education voted unanimously to kill the first version of Ybarra’s bill during a Feb. 8 introductory hearing. That vote came after several Idaho school superintendents voiced concerns about the bill, saying they worried it would usurp local control and could force schools to remain open during unsafe conditions.

That led up to the rewrite. Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Marilyn Whitney guided the new bill through an introductory House Education hearing Monday. Meanwhile, Ybarra met remotely with superintendents who opposed the first version of the bill, and she said they agreed to remain neutral on the rewritten version.

On Friday, Ybarra took criticism from a political challenger.

Republican state superintendent candidate Branden Durst argued that Ybarra’s bill needed improvement and should be sent out for amendments.

Ybarra sat just a few feet away as Durst (who also favors in-person learning) stumbled through a list of what he described as major issues that look innocuous with the construction of language in the bill.

“I think it’s about nine months late. I wish we would have done this during the special session,” said Durst, who announced his campaign in January.

Ybarra, who has not announced her plans for the 2022 election, shot back and defended herself, “saying we should have done this nine months ago is Monday morning quarterbacking. We are here now.”

For the record, Gov. Brad Little did not include school reopening on the agenda for August’s special session. Ybarra and House Education do not have the power to bring the bill because only the governor can set the agenda for the special session.

The action to hold the bill sidetracks Ybarra’s proposal for a week, but keeps it alive. House Education could also take action to bring it back sooner.

Disclosure: In a 2013 guest opinion, Durst called Idaho Education News “pseudo journalism” and a “propaganda page.” He has disagreed with and criticized EdNews reporters online several times since then. 


Clark Corbin

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