Statehouse roundup, 2.24.23: March school election date may be saved

A bill that would eliminate the March and August election dates could be amended after a split vote in the Senate State Affairs Committee Friday morning.

As written, House Bill 58 would require districts to run bonds and levies in conjunction with the primary and general elections in May and November. The bill would save over $1 million in election costs and prevent low-turnout elections, according to bill sponsor Rep. Joe Alfieri.

But Alfieri, R-Coeur d’Alene, came before the committee Friday morning with a new request — to keep the March date and eliminate only the August election.

Rep. Joe Alfieri, R-Coeur d’Alene

The utility of the March election date has been a main source of opposition to HB 58.

In recent years, the March election date has given schools a better chance to pass bond issues, which require a two-thirds supermajority to pass. And March is by far the most popular election date for supplemental levies, which account for more than $217 million in school spending statewide.

A record $1 billion will be on the ballot in this year’s March election. 

And districts tend to opt for the March election to prepare for June budget deadlines; running ballot measures in May, for some districts, is cutting it too close for comfort.

In Friday’s meeting, opponents said they appreciated Alfieri’s suggested amendment, but still opposed eliminating the August elections. Dale Layne, a representative from the Idaho Rural Schools Association and Idaho Association of School Administrators, said some rural districts opt for the August elections because most farmers and ranchers are busy in the fields in March.

And Quinn Perry of the Idaho School Boards Association said districts are running multiple bond and levy elections per year out of necessity. The elections are the only tools to help schools fund facilities, and other supplemental needs like classified staff wages.

“We want turnout in our elections…we want high community involvement…it is the least fun thing for a school leader to do to run a supplemental levy or bond election,” Perry told the committee. 

Others showed up to testify in favor of the bill — and against the suggested amendment — citing the costliness of interim elections, low voter turnout and rising property taxes.

The committee voted 5-4 to send the bill to the Senate floor for a possible amendment. Sens. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise; James Ruchti, D-Pocatello; Abby Lee, R-Fruitland; and Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, voted against the motion.

Lee said the elections are a local control issue. Ruchti and Wintrow said both election dates should be kept.

Student voter identification bill advances

A bill that would ban student ID cards as valid voter identification is headed to the Senate floor.

The Senate State Affairs Committee took up House Bill 124 Friday morning.

Sen. Scott Herndon, who is sponsoring the bill, said its purpose is to provide more security and uniformity throughout the voter identification. Student IDs, he said, don’t go through the same verification process as other valid IDs like state-issued driver’s licenses, concealed carry permits and tribal identification cards.

Herndon, R-Sagle, said the bill stems from a “broad interest in protecting election integrity.”

Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle

And he denied that the bill would discourage students from voting, since students are able to sign affidavits at the polls in lieu of an ID card. And a separate bill, House Bill 126 (which  is awaiting a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee) would create a path for students to obtain free, state-issued ID cards to show at the polls.

Secretary of State Phil McGrane testified in favor of the legislation, and fielded questions from lawmakers. He echoed Herndon’s stance on affidavits, and said his office will take a “proactive approach” to ensure students can vote.

McGrane doesn’t have evidence of voter fraud relating to the use of student IDs, but said the reason Idaho doesn’t have rampant voter fraud is because of the regulations that have been put in place.

“I don’t believe access and security have to be in competition with one another,” McGrane told the committee.

But several high school and college students testified Friday against the bill, saying it would impede their rights.

Rosaura Albizo, a student at Boise High School, spoke on behalf of herself and her brother, who used a student ID to vote before he obtained a passport. Neither sibling has a driver’s license or a car; they walk or use their student IDs to take public buses when they need to.

Albizo said she’s concerned HB 124, if passed, will target marginalized communities who already don’t have access to voting resources.

“I’m worried about my community not having access to their basic human rights,” Albizo said.

And Bishop Kelly High School student Lucina Glynn said the bill doesn’t solve any existing problems, based on the low number of students who use student IDs at the polls.

“I wonder what fraud (the bill) will be stopping,” Glynn told the committee.

Sen. Treg Bernt, R-Meridian, suggested the committee hold HB 124 until it could be heard alongside HB 126. His substitute motion failed, and the committee sent HB 124 to the Senate floor on a party-line vote.

House committee advances another election bill, introduces three bills

A bill that could change how school districts operate on election days is headed to the House floor, after a 17-2 vote in the House Education Committee Friday morning. .

House Bill 111 would prohibit in-person instruction on the May and November election dates to remove students from school grounds. Districts could opt to hold class virtually, or host other education-related activities like professional development for teachers or personnel training.

For the March and August election dates, school boards could choose to cancel or move classes online, or continue with the school day as usual.

The bill’s purpose, according to sponsor Rep. Greg Lanting, R-Twin Falls, is to ensure student safety during elections, when schools are commonly used as polling places.

The committee voted 17-2 to send the bill to the floor. Reps. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene cast the two votes against HB 111.

The House committee also introduced three bills Friday morning with a series of unanimous votes.

Community college degrees. Rep. James Petzke introduced a bill Friday morning that would allow community colleges to offer up to three Bachelor’s degrees in in-demand fields. It gives a college’s board of trustees the discretion to determine what careers are “in demand” in their regions of the state.

Restraints and corporal punishment. Rep. Marco Erickson returned to the House committee to introduce another bill on classroom restraints and corporal punishment. This bill defines types of restraints, and explicitly bans corporal punishment from schools.

Armed Forces and Public Safety Officer Scholarship. Rep. Chris Mathias introduced a bill that amends the Armed Forces and Public Safety Officer Scholarship. The bill:

  • Boosts the allocation for books from $500 to $750.
  • Increases eligibility from 10 to 19 years after obtaining a high school diploma.
  • Ensures Idaho residents are eligible for the benefits.
  • Corrects a determination of disability for members of the Armed Forces.
Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected].

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