Statehouse roundup, 3.2.20: Guns-in-schools bill unveiled

A bill allowing teachers and employees to carry concealed weapons in schools made a quick debut Monday.

Without discussion, the Senate State Affairs Committee introduced the concealed weapons bill — a move that might set the stage for a full hearing later in the session.

Under current state law, school districts and charter schools can allow employees to carry firearms, and a handful of schools have adopted such policies.

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa

Sen. Todd Lakey’s bill would allow employees who hold enhanced concealed weapons permits to carry a firearm on school grounds. An employee would have to maintain “immediate control over the firearm or deadly weapon,” and provide administrators with a copy of his or her concealed weapons permit.

The bill would prohibit schools from posting any signs “indicating that school property is a gun-free zone.”

Carrying a concealed weapon would remain voluntary, according to the bill. “No school employee shall be required to carry a concealed weapon on school property without his consent.”

Monday’s hearing was only a “print” or introductory hearing, and Senate State Affairs took no public comments. Five members of Everytown for Gun Safety — a group advocating gun-control legislation — sat in the front row of the hearing room, wearing matching red “Moms Demand Action” T-shirts.

The bill would have to come back to a Senate committee for a full hearing. That hearing would likely take place in State Affairs, a committee comprised of Republican and Democratic Senate leaders.

But time could work against this bill. Legislative leaders are hoping to wrap up the 2020 session by March 20 — and committees are beginning to finish their business for the year.

House Education: the beginning of the end?

The firehose may be about to be shut off for the year in the House Education Committee.

At the end of Monday’s meeting, on the 57th day of the 2020 session, Chairman Lance Clow announced his committee will be slowing down in the near future.

Clow, R-Twin Falls, said the committee will shift its focus to concentrate on Senate bills that have already passed that chamber.

That means House Education will be less likely to introduce new bills of its own or debate lingering House bills during the coming days.

Monday also represented the non-binding deadline to move bills between the House and the Senate.

Notably, House Education has not acted on House Bill 539, Rep. Barbara Ehardt’s sex-education opt-in bill, since it was introduced Feb. 24. Clow didn’t specifically address the sex education bill during his comments Monday, but so far that bill has yet to receive a full hearing.

The committee slowdown is also likely to shift the session’s emphasis away from debate in committees toward action on the House and Senate floors.

Before the inevitable slowdown, House Education did introduce a new bill for good measure.

Rep. Jerald Raymond, R-Menan, is taking another shot at changing the way schools receive funding for digital curriculum materials.

Raymond pushed a new bill to create a first-come, first-served application process for districts and charters wishing to receive a share of the budget earmarked for content and curriculum.

Currently, money is distributed via a formula.

If Raymond’s bill passes, the formula would be scrapped and replaced with the application program, with funding being capped at $50,000 per request.

For the current budget year, the state has earmarked about $1.6 million for digital curriculum.

Raymond has worked on the bill since last summer.

Currently, four districts receive more than $50,000, while most districts receive less than $5,000 based on the formula, Raymond said. Raymond’s bill would cap payments at $50,000. With a cap, the money would be spread around more and smaller districts wouldn’t be limited by the formula’s constraints.

“It makes funding truly meaningful for districts and charter schools,” Raymond said.

Making this change could also lead to a situation where funding is exhausted because of the first-come, first-served application process. That led Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, to oppose the bill, saying he couldn’t support shifting existing funding around.

Passing the bill won’t increase funding for digital curriculum. As is currently the case, funding would continue to be subject to appropriation by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

Raymond’s new bill is designed to replace House Bill 481, his previous effort to create a block grant to award content and curriculum money.

Introducing the new digital curriculum bill clears the way for it to return to House Education for a full hearing and likely kills HB 481 for the year.

Higher education funding interim committee

Even if the legislative session adjourns for the year in a few weeks, some lawmakers could find themselves with a summer assignment.

That’s because the House passed House Concurrent Resolution 34 on Monday, which is designed to create a legislative interim committee to study higher education funding and return with recommendations in 2021.

Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, is pushing the resolution as a way to help address the cost of higher education.

“This is an opportunity for us to have a say in that, how do we make our colleges and universities more affordable for our individual students,” Amador asked.

However, several House members were divided. The State Board of Education and a working group are already studying higher education funding. Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said a whole new interim committee is likely unnecessary because House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, is already a member of the working group.

Amador responded by saying he envisions the legislative interim committee complimenting the working group, not competing with it or duplicating efforts.

Having passed the House 43-25, HCR 34 heads next to the Senate for consideration.

 

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