Legislative roundup 3.11.21: House passes guns-in-schools bill

The House Thursday passed a bill by Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, to allow school employees to carry a gun on school grounds, without local trustees’ permission.

Currently, Idaho school boards decide whether to allow employees to carry guns on campus. Several already do so. Christensen’s bill would bypass trustees’ permission and allow any school staff member with a concealed weapons carry permit to carry a weapon on school property.

Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona

“I know in the past this has been an issue about local control,” Christensen said. “I don’t like any government to restrict our constitutional protections. This is a Second Amendment issue. For me, the Second Amendment right doesn’t stop at the door of a school.”

Christensen, a former law enforcement officer, has pushed similar bills since 2019 — but those previous proposals had never reached the House floor for a vote.

Christensen casts House Bill 122 as a way to protect students in the case of a shooting threat at a school. He argues that armed teachers and school staff could dissuade or stop an armed intruder, especially if law enforcement couldn’t immediately respond to a threat. Christensen acknowledged that more guns in schools could lead to added risks or gun incidents, but said that was a small risk in comparison to schools being defenseless in the event of a campus shooting.

The Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Sheriffs Association testified against HB 122 in committee Tuesday.

Jeff Lavey, executive director of the sheriffs association, noted that Idaho has one of the most lenient concealed-carry laws in the nation, requiring eight hours of training. Highly trained law enforcement officers often struggle with accuracy and decision making in an active shooter situation, Lavey said, and armed but relatively untrained school employees would fare even worse.

Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, spoke against the bill on the floor Thursday, for the same reason. He said Idaho’s enhanced carry permit requires no minimum qualification standards and no retraining requirements.,

“I think that’s vital those kinds of things be included if we’re going to put guns in schools,” Gibbs said.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, questioned why the legislation would require schools to take down “gun-free school zone” signs, which could dissuade the public from bringing their own guns inside a school building. Christensen said the signs increase the risk.

“To me, that’s a target saying, ‘Come in our schools and shoot us up,'” Christensen said. “Those need to go.”

HB 122 would require armed staff members to keep their firearm concealed and on their person at all times. They would have to inform the school principal and superintendent of their intent to carry, and provide a copy of the enhanced carry license. That information would also be shared with the local law enforcement agencies in case police ever needed to respond to the school.

Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, joined the chorus in favor of the bill, saying she’d like the opportunity to carry her firearm as a bus driver.

“Somebody could jump in the back really easily. I’ve thought about this,” Hanks said. “I want to be able to protect those students.”

In a February hearing, Christensen said he believed the bill would allow staff to carry a gun when they travel between districts, like to a sports game in another district.

The bill passed 52-18, with six Republicans joining the House’s 12 Democrats in opposition.

HB 122 now heads to the Senate, and it could be assigned to the Senate State Affairs Committee for a hearing.

In 2020, Senate State Affairs rejected a similar guns-in-schools bill, on a 5-4 vote. However, four of Senate State Affairs’ nine members were not on the committee a year ago.

Further complicating the equation, Senate State Affairs also is considering a second guns-in-schools bill from the Idaho Association of School Administrators, which would update the state’s current guns-in-schools law.

House Education introduces full-day kindergarten funding bill

House Education Committee members quickly introduced a bill Thursday morning to allow districts to access funding for full-day kindergarten without having to rely on student tuition or supplemental levies.

“Disparity in kindergarten funding has led to a statewide patchwork of full-day kindergarten opportunities,” the bill’s statement of purpose says. “This bill would offer parity statewide, so if school districts and families decide that optional full-day kindergarten is appropriate for their children, funding would not be a barrier to their choice in education.”

House Bill 331, sponsored by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, amends the way kindergarten students are counted in Idaho’s complex school funding formula.

Boyle anticipates the change would cost up to $42 million from the general fund, depending on how many districts decide to provide the full-day option.

She made the case in committee Thursday that the bill would cut property taxes, since schools would no longer have to ask for supplemental levies to fund kindergarten programs.

House Education will hold a full hearing for the bill on Monday at 8:30 a.m.

Bill would mandate parental consent for students to participate in clubs

House Education also introduced a bill by Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, which would require parental consent for a student to participate in a school club.

House Bill 329 would require that school boards approve all student clubs, notify families of all club’s names, missions and purpose, and require parents to sign a permission slip for students to participate in a club or activity.

“Much like our sports our clubs and organizations need to have parental consent to participate,” Ehardt said Thursday.

Ehardt told the committee about an incident that a parent brought to her, where a student joined a service club, and was driven by a club adviser to service trips, without her parents knowing about it.

“Should anything have happened, there could have been a lot of people held liable for that,” Ehardt said.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this story.

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