Legislative roundup, 3.9.2015: labor law, tax credits, civics, etc.

Education committees kicked off the ninth week of the legislative session Monday by voting to extend school labor laws set to expire this summer.

The House Education Committee unanimously supported Senate Bill 1088, which sets the ground rules for reducing staffing and teacher pay. Later in the day, the Senate Education Committee endorsed House Bill 169, which would eliminate ongoing and so-called “evergreen clauses” in master labor agreements.

Karen Echeverria
Karen Echeverria

The Legislature passed these laws in 2013, in the wake of the Proposition 1 repeal, but included “sunset clauses” that would cause them to expire this summer if the Legislature doesn’t intervene.

Idaho School Boards Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria said her organization relied on two years’ worth of data and input from the Idaho Education Association to rewrite the reduction in force language. Under the law, seniority cannot be the only factor considered in a reduction in force.

A reduction in force can be imposed when:

  • Curriculum or programs change.
  • A school district experiences “negative changes in the financial conditions.”
  • A district experiences decreases in enrollment – overall, by grade level, by school or by program.
  • A district experiences staffing or highly qualified teacher limitations.

Echeverria called Senate Bill 1088 “a piece of consensus legislation,” and nobody testified against it Monday. The bill, which has already passed the Senate, next heads to the House floor.

Under House Bill 169, language on salaries and benefits would need to be renegotiated annually. Other language in master agreements would need to be revisited every two years.

Democrats opposed the bill in committee; Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking of Boise said it would make the negotiation process more time-consuming for all parties that work on the process.

This bill has already passed the House. It now goes to the Senate floor.

In other Statehouse action Monday:

School tax credits. The House gave overwhelming approval to a bill that would extend an income tax credit that supports school foundations, libraries and museums.

The current law allows an individual taxpayer to take a tax credit of 50 percent, or up to $500 (or $1,000 for couples filing joint tax returns). Corporations can take a tax credit of up to 10 percent, or $5,000. However, the credits are scheduled to drop considerably on Jan. 1, if the Legislature doesn’t act.

The bill still contains one sunset clause. In five years, the Legislature would be required to review the tax credits supporting public or private school foundations.

House Bill 220 passed on a 68-1 vote, with only Meridian Republican Steven Harris opposing it. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Civics in schools. The Senate approved a bill that would require high school students to fulfill a civics requirement.

Patrick New
Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls

With the 29-6 Senate vote, Senate Bill 1071 now heads to the House.

Sen. Jim Patrick’s bill has been amended since surviving a contentious committee hearing. Students will not have to pass an online civics exam — but instead can fulfill the civics requirement through an “alternate path established by the local school district or charter school.”

Bullying. Rep. Ilana Rubel returned with a second attempt to combat school bullying.

On Feb. 25, Rubel introduced a bullying bill, which now appears dead based on lawmakers’ concerns. Rubel said she rewrote the bill to address those concerns and give the proposal a chance to pass for the year.

Rubel New
Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise

The new bill could allow bullying to be treated as a violation, not an infraction. The bill lists a series of consequences, from counseling to expulsion, but Rubel said this is now a “suggested list.”

“The purpose of this is not be punitive,” Rubel said. “The purpose of this legislation is to provide guidelines to prevent and address bullying when it occurs.”

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, again expressed concerns that Rubel’s bill could open up school employees to liability if they did not intervene. Additionally, Clow expressed concerns for those accused of bullying, worrying that a 10-year-old could have a bullying incident follow him or her throughout a student’s entire academic career.

Rubel replied by saying individual school employees would not be held liable under the new bill. She also said bullying incidents are already routinely reported today – without the new bill – and her proposal is designed to prevent bullying.

The bill is now eligible to come back to House Education for a full hearing.

Foreign exchange students. Committee Vice Chair Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, pushed a new bill designed to allow foreign exchange students to participate in concurrent enrollment advanced courses, just as traditional students may.

Committee members voted to introduce the bill.

Coming Tuesday. House Education is scheduled to conduct an 8 a.m. hearing over the proposed $125 million teacher salary career ladder bill.

In order to accommodate a larger-than-normal crowd of educators and stakeholders interested in the bill, the hearing is being moved to the Lincoln Auditorium in the Statehouse basement.

On Friday, legislators from both political parties expressed concerns about the bill and said it may not have the votes to get out of committee.

Any action on the career ladder is expected to have major implications for the 2015-16 school budget, which is scheduled to be set just two days later – on Thursday. Click here to read the 33-page bill.

Coming Friday: a committee decision on one parental rights bill. After lengthy testimony and debate Monday, the Senate State Affairs Committee took no action on a bill asserting parental rights. The committee will take up the bill again of Friday.

House Bill 113 would assert that parents and guardians “have a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, education and control of their children.” Supporters say the bill will encourage parents to be involved in their children’s education; critics say the bill’s language is too far-reaching, and could allow parents to demand individualized curriculum.

Meanwhile, a second parental rights bill awaits a Senate vote. Senate Bill 1096 would allow districts to withdraw their children from any learning activity they consider harmful, and says the school system should play “a secondary and supportive role to the parent or guardian.” This bill passed the Senate Education Committee last week, over the objections of education groups.

Idaho Education News’ Clark Corbin and Kevin Richert contributed to this report. 

 

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