Statehouse roundup, 3.11.13

Initiative and referendum reform: The Senate voted 25-10 to support Senate Bill 1108, which would tighten the initiative and referendum process. Under the bill, groups would have to collect signatures from 6 percent of registered voters — and meet this 6 percent threshold in 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts.

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Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton

Supporters said the move was unrelated to Propositions 1, 2 and 3, which overturned the Students Come First laws. “This is a bill of inclusion,” said Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, a rancher who said he is concerned by repeated threats of initiatives from animal-rights groups.

Voting no were the Senate’s seven Democrats and three Republicans: Cliff Bayer, R-Boise; Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens.

Charter facilities: A bill to provide stipends for charter school facilities in on hold, for the time being. The Senate Education Committee resumed a hearing on House Bill 206, but did not vote. Committee chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he had questions about the bill, which would siphon $1.4 million for charter buildings, and provide a fee to parties that authorize a charter schools. Lawmakers and charter school advocates will meet Tuesday morning, Goedde said, and a committee vote could come as early as Tuesday.

Charter governance: Same story in Senate Education on House Bill 221, the lengthy and complicated bill revamping charter school governance. This bill dominated discussion at a two-hour hearing, but the committee didn’t vote.

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Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene

This bill would allow universities and some nonprofit groups to authorize charter schools — a responsibility that now falls only to school districts and Idaho’s Public Charter School Commission. And under the companion HB 206, these authorizing groups would be allowed to collect fees for this work. This prompted Goedde to ask whether these bills would essentially allow the state to use public dollars to subsidize nonprofits; Ken Burgess, a lobbyist for the charter school groups, said the fee is simply designed to cover the cost and the work of authorizing a charter school.

Collective bargaining: After weeks of meetings and a second round of rewrites, another labor bill has advanced out of committee.

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The House Education Committee voted unanimously to send House Bill 261 to the House floor with a recommendation it pass.

Under this bill, seniority would no longer be the only factor considered when districts downsize their staffs in response to enrollment or funding changes. Districts would be able to recall employees should positions later become available. The legislation includes a “sunset clause” making the bill expire on July 1, 2014.

The bill was sponsored by the Idaho School Boards Association, but was tweaked to include language proposed by the Idaho Education Association — which now supports the bill.

Group homes: House Education voted unanimously to send Senate Bill 1097 to the floor with a do-pass recommendation. This bill, which already has passed the Senate, prevents school districts from using taxpayers’ money to educate students who were sent from other states to live in group homes or treatment facilities.

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Linda Clark

Linda Clark, superintendent of Meridian Joint School District No. 2, said her district includes 13 such group homes. She noted the cost to educate those students – some of which have special needs or even require a home-bound education – is prohibitive.

“This really comes down to the issue of fairness and the use of limited Idaho resources,” Clark said.

When the bill was originally introduced in the Senate, Idaho State Department of Education Chief Deputy Superintendent Nick Smith relayed a powerful anecdote about a student from Alaska who was supposedly sent to a Meridian group home after attempting to choke a teacher.

After listening to the story, Idaho Education News’ Kevin Richert dug into the account and found that Smith heard the anecdote second- or thirdhand. District officials said they couldn’t verify the account.

On Monday, there was no mention or allusion to the student from Alaska.

Transportation: House Education advanced Senate Bill 1093, which would write into law the state policies to allow school districts to keep a greater share of transportation cost savings. The Senate has already passed the bill.

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Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise

School security: Senators amended Senate Bill 1133 — which would require school districts to consult with sheriffs to draw up safety and security plans. One amendment drew some heated debate: a bid to give teachers a seat at the table. Said Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, “They know what the potential vulnerabilities are in the classroom.” The amendment was defeated, and the amended bill now awaits a Senate vote.

Tax credits for scholarships: Nonini was back before the House Revenue and Taxation Committee this morning, with yet another bill that would grant an income tax break to donors who contribute to private school scholarship accounts. Nonini said he rewote the bill after consulting at length with the State Tax Commission and the State Education Department.

The tax breaks could total $10 million, but the state and school districts could realize $5.8 million in savings — savings Nonini said he would explain in greater detail at a full hearing. On Monday, Democrats voted against printed the bill.

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