Statehouse roundup, 3.18.20: House sends transgender athletics ban to Little

After one final contentious debate, a ban on transgender school athletes is going to Gov. Brad Little’s desk.

As lawmakers hoped to wrap up the year’s business Wednesday, the House approved an amended version of House Bill 500 on a 54-16 vote, nearly a party-line vote. The vote was even more lopsided than the Feb. 26 House vote on the first version of the bill.

Dubbed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act by its backers, HB 500 would ban transgender girls and women from playing in girls’ and women’s sports. Supporters say transgender girls and women still retain physical advantages over girls and women — and could deprive girls and women of roster spots on sports teams.

The hour-long debate began with a procedural protest. Rep, John McCrostie, D-Garden City, forced a House clerk to read the four-page bill aloud. Lawmakers usually waive the reading of bills as a courtesy. On Twitter, McCrostie said he wanted the bill read “so that the public understands how horrible this bill is.”

Once the debate began, Democrats again called the bill unfair, unnecessary and unconstitutional.

“It limits opportunities for people, based on who they are,” said Rep. Melissa Wintrow of Boise.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel said the Senate’s amendments do not fix the bill’s legal flaws. The bill still discriminates against transgender girls and women, exposing them to an appeal process that could be launched by any “grumpy parent” or athletic rival. “All the logistical programs are still there,” said Rubel, D-Boise.

Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, said the bill still writes student gynecological exams into state code. “I hope this conversation makes you completely uncomfortable.”

As amended, the bill says a family doctor can determine an athlete’s sex using several possible means, including an examination of a “student’s reproductive anatomy.”

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls. Sami Edge/Idaho Education News

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, said the bill does not require a student to undergo a pelvic exam. Using a sports analogy, the former college basketball coach said her critics were trying to cast doubt on the bill by using misdirection.

“It is a great tool used when you are not prepared to meet your opponent,” said Ehardt.

Two Republicans debated for HB 500. Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, said he was changing his vote because the Senate’s amendments eased his concerns about the appeals process. Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, said the bill is a well-timed response to eligibility disputes unfolding in other states.

“We just need to get this thing taken care of, before there’s a problem,” he said.

Little now gets the final word. On Tuesday, five former state attorneys general wrote a joint letter urging Little to heed the advice of current Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and veto HB 500.

Senate makes short work of higher ed budget

It took the House eight days and three tries to agree on a higher ed budget. It took the Senate five minutes to pass it.

Voting unanimously, the Senate approved a budget for the state’s four-year institutions: Boise State University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College. It closely mirrors Little’s budget request, with one exception: a $531,000 line item to support Lewis-Clark’s career-technical programs.

Sponsoring Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, called the higher ed budget “the most traveled bill of the Legislature,” and he was fairly tepid about the bill. Crabtree pushed for slightly larger funding increases in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, but said the finished product reflects a bill that can pass both houses.

The bill provides higher ed with about $307 million from the state’s general fund, a 0.3 percent increase.

Little’s teacher pay bills pass Senate

The Senate approved the two final pieces of the teacher pay puzzle Wednesday afternoon.

They passed House Bill 523, the new five-year, $223 million teacher salary career ladder. They also passed House Bill 624, which will phase out Idaho’s master educator premium.

The two bills are intertwined, because they constitute Little’s plan to boost salaries for veteran teachers.

While Idaho’s first version of the career ladder was designed to help beginning teachers and teachers on the low end of the pay scale, the new career ladder is geared toward veteran educators. It creates a “advanced professional” pay scale for veteran teachers. In the fifth year, the state would pay up to $63,000 at the top end of the scale. Currently, the state provides no more than $50,000 for teacher salaries — leaving districts and charters to cover the difference, if they choose to pay more.

The master educator premium phaseout would also unfold over several years. The 1,300 teachers who qualified this year for a three-year, $12,000 premium would continue to get their money. And teachers will be able to apply for premiums this year. But that would be the last class of applicants. By 2024, roughly $16 million a year in premiums would come off the state’s books, an offset that will help pay for the second career ladder, said Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian.

Only one senator debated the bills: Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. He pointed to two features in the career ladder bill: the bill increases the salary scale for all teachers, not only veterans, while holding veteran teachers to a higher accountability standard. Mortimer, who is retiring at the end of this term, admonished senators to expect the career ladder to deliver results in the classroom.

“I’ll be watching,” he said.

Sen. Regina Bayer, R-Meridian, cast the sole vote against the career ladder bill. The master educator premium phaseout passed unanimously. Both bills now go to Little’s desk.

Public school budget

Without any debate, the Idaho House quickly passed the final piece of the public school budget late Wednesday afternoon.

The House voted 62-4 to pass House Bill 626, the budget for the administrators division of the public school budget.
The budget contains $102 million in general fund spending authority and pays for school superintendents, principals supervisors and the like.

The budget includes 2 percent base salary increase, and an overall general fund spending increase of 3.7 percent compared to current levels.

The House passed six of the seven public school budgets Friday but held onto the administrator’s division budget as part of the late session endgame.

House Bill 626 heads next to the Senate for consideration. The six other public school budgets have already passed both legislative chambers.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this article. 


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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