Statehouse roundup, 2.27.23: Parental rights bill passes House easily

The House Monday quickly passed a bill reasserting parental rights.

House Bill 163 asserts that parents are “primary stakeholders” in education. Specifically, the bill would ensure parents have access to education and health records; require parental consent for student well-being surveys; and ensure “reasonable access” for parents to visit a school.

Co-sponsored by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Sen. Ben Toews, R-Coeur d’Alene, HB 163 also has the endorsement of state superintendent Debbie Critchfield.

During brief floor debate, Rep. Barbara Ehardt said the bill would provide parents with a vehicle to be heard.

“I think too often our parents are getting painted as the bad guys,” said Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls.

But Rep. Matthew Bundy, a Mountain Home Republican and high school teacher, cautioned against vilifying schools. Many schools are already doing what the bill would require, he said, but the bill would provide “a consistent rule book” across the state.

The bill passed on a 67-3 vote, with only three Democrats in opposition: Lauren Necochea and Colin Nash of Boise, and Ned Burns of Bellevue.

HB 163 now heads to the Senate.

Library materials bill surfaces in House committee

A new bill would require school boards, public library boards and public charter schools to create policies for selecting and removing materials from libraries by Oct. 1.

With a 10-6 vote, the House Education Committee introduced the bill Monday morning.

According to the bill, a policy should outline standards for selecting library materials, standards for accessing materials (including how materials will be shelved and labeled by age group or grade level), a process for district parents and guardians to challenge materials, and a process for parents and guardians to restrict their child’s access to materials.

Rep. Jack Nelsen, R-Jerome

Under the standards for selection section, the bill requires that libraries prohibit any materials that are “harmful to minors,” which the legislation defines as a picture, image, graphic image file or other visual depiction that:

  • Appeals to a prurient interest in nudity, sex or excretion;
  • Depicts or describes sexual acts or includes a lewd exhibition of genitalia;
  • And lacks literary, artistic, political or scientific value to minors.

Each board must introduce their policy in an open public meeting, and give patrons at least 30 days to share testimony and written comment.

The bill also requires public libraries to obtain parental permission before issuing a library card to anyone under 18.

Rep. Jack Nelsen, R-Jerome, brought the bill before the committee. A former teacher and community college trustee, Nelsen said he hopes the bill will help districts avoid litigation. “This is the framework to set up local communities that work, and schools and libraries that work.”

Monday’s committee vote was split. Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale; Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene; Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene; Tony Wisniewski, R-Post Falls; Dale Hawkins, R-Fernwood; and Ted Hill, R-Eagle, voted against introducing the bill. Ehardt was absent and did not vote.

The bill now awaits a committee hearing.

House bill reflects troubles at North Idaho College

House Education introduced a bill that could change the State Board of Education’s role over community colleges.

The bill, presented by Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, grants the State Board emergency authority over a community college facing accreditation loss. Specifically, the State Board can step in if an accrediting organization threatens to revoke a college’s accreditation, has taken steps to do so, or if the State Board deems a college in danger of losing accreditation due to severe financial crisis.

Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston

The State Board would return control to the college’s board of trustees after the institution has been in good standing with the accrediting organization for two years, or within two years after accreditation is restored.

And if a community college shuts down, the bill gives the State Board control over its property and assets, in trust.

As she presented the bill before the House committee, McCann said the legislation is necessary in light of recent events at North Idaho College — the Coeur d’Alene-based community college that was threatened with accreditation loss after a series of administrative changes and board decisions. As NIC continues to navigate the turmoil, the State Board has limited ability to take action because it is not the governing body of the college, the locally elected board of trustees is.

But accreditation loss carries weight for community college students — if NIC were to lose accreditation, students (including dual-enrolled high schoolers) would be unable to transfer their credits to other schools, and would lose their financial aid.

McCann hopes the bill codifies a process to help an institution, if disaster strikes.

“The State Board will step in, not to take complete control forever, but to give the school the opportunity to get itself figured out,” she said.

But other committee members took issue with the legislation.

Rep. Judy Boyle said the bill gives the State Board “extraordinary powers.” And Reps. Elaine Price and Ron Mendive, both of Coeur d’Alene, spoke against the bill.

“There’s no appetite in North Idaho to anything even approaching this,” said Mendive.

But Rep. Mark Sauter of Sandpoint, said he’s been asked about NIC by constituents. “It very much is an issue of concern.”

After over 30 minutes of debate, the committee introduced the bill with a 9-7 vote.

Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale; Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls; Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene; Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene; Tony Wisniewski, R-Post Falls; Dale Hawkins, R-Fernwood; and Ted Hill, R-Eagle, voted against introducing the bill. Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, was absent and did not vote.

The bill now awaits a committee hearing.

House committee introduces bills to redefine homeschooling, abstinence

The House Education Committee introduced two additional bills Monday.

Defining homeschooling 

The first, brought forward by Rep. Julie Yamamoto, defines homeschooling as education provided and paid for by a parent or guardian. The definition excludes families who accept state or federal funding to educate their children at home.

Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell

Families who educate at home and accept state or federal funding would be known as families who “educate at home” rather than “homeschool.”

Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, said homeschooling families have been asking for a definition for years. Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, agreed.

When Idaho instituted its Strong Families, Strong Students grant program (now known as Empowering Parents), Clow said homeschooling parents flooded his email with concerns that the program would lead to more government oversight.

I saw more emails on that topic than on any other,” Clow said. 

Similarly, homeschoolers have been central in recent debates about education savings accounts, and other methods of funding non-public education with state money. Some testified against ESAs, out of fear the program would lead to added regulations.

The committee introduced the bill with an 11-4 vote. Reps. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint and Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, were absent. Reps. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene; Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene; Tony Wisniewski, R-Post Falls; and Dale Hawkins, R-Fernwood, voted against introduction.

It now awaits a full hearing.

Defining abstinence

Later, the committee unanimously passed a bill that defines abstinence.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls

Brought forward for a second time by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, the revised bill includes an edited section title. The bill defines abstinence as the absence of any sexual activity prior to marriage that could cause:

  • Pregnancy.
  • The spread of sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
  • Emotional risks.

The bill awaits a committee hearing.

Senate committee digs into students’ state dinosaur bill

Far from extinct, a student-proposed bill to create a new state dinosaur roared to life Monday morning.

The Senate State Affairs voted unanimously to introduce a bill honoring the oryctodromeus — a dinosaur with an Eastern Idaho connection.

Several Eastern Idaho fourth-grade classes have embraced the oryctodromeus, and classes in other grades have gotten in on the campaign too. For students, the dinosaur bill is an education in both sciences and civics, said Sen. Kevin Cook, R-Idaho Falls.

“I think it shows a lot about what our public education is doing,” he said.

According to the bill text, the oryctodromeus, or “digging runner,” was a swift herbivorous dinosaur that measured about 7 feet long and weighed in at 70 pounds. Paleontologists have found oryctodromeus fossils only in Idaho and a small sliver of Montana.

It’s not uncommon for students to propose such bills. But based on recent history, passing the dinosaur bill won’t necessarily be a walk in the Jurassic Park. It took five years for Boise student Ilah Hickman to convince lawmakers to designate the Idaho giant salamander the state’s official amphibian; the bill finally passed in 2015. In 2018, a fourth-grade class from Iona Elementary School sought to make the huckleberry pie Idaho’s official dessert. Their bill never got a full hearing.

At least Monday morning, Senate State Affairs seemed receptive to the dinosaur bill. Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, said he’s been lobbied hard by the fourth-graders, and moved to introduce the bill.

“As the oldest dinosaur on the committee, I will second,” said Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise.

The unanimous committee vote sets the stage for a full hearing at a later date.



Kevin Richert and Sadie Dittenber

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday