Rep. Ron Nate is once again pushing a bill designed to encourage school districts to offer elective gun safety courses in public schools.
The House Education Committee voted Jan. 29 to introduce Nate’s bill. These courses would not be mandatory if the bill becomes law.
Nate’s new bill would encourage districts to establish and maintain firearms safety elective courses. The courses would be developed by a law enforcement agency, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, or a national firearms association, such as the National Rifle Association.
Nate introduced a similar bill last year, which House Education later killed.
This year’s bill encourages gun safety classes in elementary and secondary schools. Last year’s bill applied specifically to secondary schools.
Committee members only briefly discussed the new bill before voting to introduce it. Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, suggested that Nate should have introduced a nonbonding resolution, not a bill adding a new section of Idaho law.
Syme said he supports gun safety courses for all children.
“I don’t care what age they are,” Syme said.
But Syme said Nate’s bill contains weak language such as “may” and “is encouraged.”
“It doesn’t really direct anybody to do anything,” Syme said.
Nate said a new section of law would remove any confusion about whether school districts could offer gun safety courses.
Last year, Republicans and Democrats joined forces to kill the bill before it could reach the House floor. Several committee members pointed out that semester-long elective courses would require about 60 hours of instruction, and schools would have a hard time finding teachers to develop and offer such a course for free. Other committee members also wondered how schools would find certified teachers who are also certified firearms instructors, law enforcement officials or Fish and Game officers.
Nate says the bill would not cost the state any money, because the courses are optional. Last year, committee members took issue with that claim.
“Implementing (these courses) into schools isn’t going to be cheap,” Rep. Patrick McDonald, a Boise Republican and retied law enforcement official, said last year.
House Education’s vote clears the way for the bill to return for a full hearing. House Education Committee Chairwoman Julie VanOrden said she is planning to hear the bill Feb. 26 and accept testimony over videoconference through the Legislature’s remote testimony pilot program.
House Education kills resident tuition benefit bill
In other action on Jan. 29, House Education continued its early-session theme of killing bills. This time, the committee put the sword to a bill to encourage high school graduates who have moved away from Idaho to return to The Gem State to finish their education.
The committee returned nonpartisan House Bill 367 to its sponsor, killing it for the year.
HB 367 would have given Idaho high school graduates more time to return to Idaho and still claim resident tuition benefits. The bill would have extended that timeframe from six years to seven.
Tracie Bent, the State Board of Education’s chief policy and planning officer, said the bill was designed to give students with deep ties to Idaho an incentive to return home and complete their studies or enroll in graduate school.
The incentive would benefit students who graduate from an Idaho high school and then move away for their undergraduate studies, work or a religious mission.
Recently, Bent said a small number of students approached the State Board saying the four- to six-month gap between a spring graduation and classes beginning in the fall forced them to miss out on taking advantage of the resident tuition incentive. Bent said an extended timeframe would cover the gap between spring graduations and fall enrollment.
The bill arrived at a time when Idaho policymakers and education officials pushed back their signature education goal of having 60 percent of young adults hold a college degree or postsecondary certificate. Only about 42 percent of Idahoans meet that goal today, and state leaders are considering several strategies to reach that goal by the new target of 2025.
This bill could have have helped encourage a small number of young adults to return to Idaho and continue their education while broadcasting an overall message of flexibility, but a divided committee killed it.
Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, argued that Idaho should go even further and welcome all graduates of Idaho high schools back at any time in the future with resident tuition benefits.
Others, such as Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, feared the bill amounted to a slippery slope.
“Last year it was six (years), now it is seven,” McCrostie said. “Is next year going to be eight, or if we pass this now are we going to stop at seven?”
Other members did not seem to understand what residency is or how it is established. By law, students or their parents or legal guardians must maintain a domicile, or primary residence in Idaho, for 12 months prior to the opening of the academic term in which the student enrolls, unless the student graduated from an Idaho high school within the previous six years or meets one of a small number of exceptions.
According to committee agendas and minutes, House Education has considered just eight bills this session. Committee members have killed two bills, or 25 percent of all legislation they have seen in 2018.
Earlier this month, House Education killed a nonpartisan bill designed to clear up confusion about documents relating to teacher evaluations.