Statehouse roundup, 1.30.23: Blaine Amendment repeal introduced

It took the Senate Education Committee only a couple of minutes to kick off what could be a long debate.

Without discussion, the committee Monday introduced a proposal to repeal Idaho’s “Blaine Amendment” — a longstanding and controversial clause banning public spending on religious schools.

The attempt to repeal the amendment falls under a larger rubric of a debate over “school choice.” Conservative lawmakers last week floated language for a bill that would create education savings accounts, which could allow parents to use public money for  private school tuition. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, is scheduled for an initial hearing in Senate Education Tuesday.

Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, speaks at a town hall meeting on school choice earlier this session. Sadie Dittenber/Idaho EdNews

But on Monday, the Blaine Amendment was the topic of a brief hearing. Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, pushed for repeal, calling the Blaine Amendment “a dead letter” and “a relic of religious bigotry.”

No lawmakers argued in favor or against Lenney’s proposed repeal, and it was printed on a unanimous voice vote. The proposal will come back for a full hearing at a later date, committee Chairman Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, told Idaho Education News after Monday’s afternoon meeting.

The Blaine Amendment is a far-reaching prohibition, covering all public agencies and banning any public support for religious enterprise. But the prohibitions in education — involving “any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution” operated by a church — have drawn the most scrutiny.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have called the Blaine Amendment into question. In 2020, the court ruled that a scholarship program in Montana must be made available to students in all private schools, including religious schools. In June, the court said religious schools cannot be banned from accessing public funding simply because they are religious.

Multiple Supreme Court rulings have rendered the Blaine Amendment null and void, Lenney argued Monday.

Idaho’s amendment dates back to statehood, and is one of 37 such amendments on states’ constitutions, according to Ballotpedia, a digital encyclopedia of American politics.

Amending the Idaho Constitution — or, in this case, striking language from the Constitution — is a daunting proposition. Proposed amendments must pass both houses by a two-thirds majority. Voters then must ratify an amendment by a simple majority.

New bill would ban use of student IDs as voter identification

Student IDs would no longer be a valid form of voter identification, under a bill introduced in a House committee Monday morning.

Currently, voters can use several forms of photographic identification, including an ID from any Idaho high school or institution of higher learning. But Rep. Tina Lambert, R-Caldwell, said her constituents are concerned that out-of-state students can use their school ID to vote in Idaho, while also voting absentee in their home state.

The House State Affairs Committee voted unanimously to print the bill, but after some discussion. Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, questioned whether the bill would square with language in the Idaho Constitution, which states, in part, that no student “of any institution of learning” shall gain or lose their residency status for purposes of voting.

The bill will likely return to House State Affairs for a full hearing at a later date.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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