Senate Education chairman kills his own bill

The Senate Education Committee continued to play defense Tuesday, as the panel’s chairman took the unusual step of killing his own bill.

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, had been pushing for Senate Bill 1331, which relates to how state funds are placed into two reserve accounts.

Dean Mortimer
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls

Mortimer had been pushing to raise the cap on the Public Education Stabilization Fund — one of several state savings accounts drawn down during the Great Recession to soften cuts to education.

In order to bolster the education savings account, Mortimer also wanted to automatically sweep a portion of state revenues into the Public Education Stabilization Fund, if state revenues exceed the previous year’s receipts by 4 percent.

But lawmakers worried that the  automatic transfer would come at the expense of another state savings account, the Budget Stabilization Fund.

Other lawmakers worried that the move wouldn’t sit well with Idahoans who continue to struggle financially.

“Every time we’re saving extra dollars at the government level, it means you’re taking extra dollars out of somebody’s wallet that they don’t have,” said Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene. “We’re saying it’s more important for us, as the government, to hold onto this money because we can spend it better than you can.”

After no lawmakers took action to advance his bill, Mortimer intervened and withdrew it.

The move came one day after Senate Education killed two other bills, leaving a series of election reforms dead for the session.

Vice Chairman Steven Thayn, a 10-year legislative veteran, said he has never seen anyone ask to withdraw his or her own bill.

The move may have been unorthodox, but it drew praise from Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, who was appointed before the 2016 legislative session. Anthon also applauded Mortimer for taking action to order amendments to another bill he sponsored Tuesday.

“I think you demonstrated some very good leadership,” Anthon told Mortimer. “Honestly, it seems like when you draft bill and take it forward it’s like having a child, and it doesn’t matter how ugly it is. You love it. And I appreciate your honesty.”

In other Statehouse action Tuesday:

Professional-technical training. A few minutes after Mortimer killed his own bill, things got really wild in Senate Education.

Mortimer also pushed for Senate Bill 1332, designed to create an “industry partner fund” used by businesses and professional-technical colleges to provide “rapid response” training to bridge gaps in work force skills and abilities.

The fund would consist of money made available through legislative transfers, legislative appropriations and “any other government source.”

That bill also ran into trouble. With state budget-writers already making progress on the 2016-17 budget, Mortimer warned committee members that his proposal may not receive any funding this year.

And some lawmakers objected to the phrase allowing funding from any government source.

Other senators wanted to allow business and industry partners to deposit money into the fund without the need for matching dollars.

Once it came time to address the bill’s future, senators appeared anxious and proposed a series of strange competing motions.

  • First, Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene made a motion to send the bill to the floor with a recommendation it pass.
  • Then Anthon suggested sending the bill to the floor for amendments — but he didn’t quite follow parliamentary procedure and was forced to stop and start over again.
  • Next, Nonini took the unusual step of withdrawing his original motion.
  • Next, Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, revived the motion to send the bill to the floor with a recommendation that it pass — only to have Mortimer tell him he would prefer to have his bill sent to the floor for possible amendments.

In the end, the committee voted to do just that.

Advanced opportunities. Senate Education still wasn’t done sending bills out for possible amendments.

This time it was Thayn’s turn to ask the committee to send his own bill out for changes.

Thayn said House Bill 458 needs changes because it may unintentionally exclude seventh graders from participating in the advanced programs he has backed for years.

The bill was designed to streamline separate programs designed to allow students to complete advanced coursework and earn college credits before they graduate high school.

The committee honored Thayn’s wishes, and sent the bill out for changes. However, the bill had previously cleared the House 67-0, meaning the House will have to consider the bill all over again if any changes are made.

College advising. The House Education Committee advanced a bill designed to implement a task force recommendation for college and career advising.

Senate Bill 1290 would build on existing advising laws by calling on school districts and charters to develop plans for delivering college and career advising to eighth- to 12th-graders. Those plans should take the form of annual reports specifying the type of programs implemented and student outcomes that indicate the programs’ effectivenes.

It also differentiates between traditional academic advisers and college and career advisers.

The Idaho Association of School Administrators, Idaho Rural Schools Association, Idaho Business for Education backed the bill, as did Jerome High School Principal Keelie Campbell.

The college and career advising bill next heads to the House floor. It passed the Senate 34-1 on Feb. 23.

Mastery. House Education also passed a bill designed to clean up laws relating to mastery-based education.

Senate Bill 1267 clarifies that up to 20 school districts or charter schools will be able to participate in a pilot program to roll out mastery initiatives beginning in 2016-17.

Mastery is another recommendation of Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education. Under a mastery-based system of education, students would no longer advance from year to year or subject to subject based on sitting in class for the duration of an academic turn. Instead, students would advance only once they have demonstrated they mastered a subject — which would allow some students to advance more quickly while other students may need more time.

The mastery bill next heads to the House floor for consideration. It cleared the Senate 34-0 on Feb. 23.