Statehouse roundup, 3.24.23: Two more library bills head to Senate floor, and could be amended

Lawmakers were meeting before daybreak on Friday.

After an emotional early-morning committee hearing, the Legislature’s library debate took one more turn Friday.

On a party-line vote, the Senate State Affairs Committee advanced two companion bills focused on “harmful” materials in school and public libraries. The bills were sent to the Senate’s 14th order, where they might be amended on the floor.

The moves came as the Legislature concluded its 11th week. Lawmakers did not wrap up the 2023 session on Friday — legislative leaders’ self-imposed target date for adjournment. The Senate will reconvene Monday morning. The House will return Tuesday morning.

The first of the library proposals, Senate Bill 1187, requires libraries to adopt policies “to protect minors from harmful materials,” and calls for citizens’ panels to review materials. Senate Bill 1188 sets up the legal framework for a court to review, and possibly remove, obscene or offensive library materials.

Both bills are necessary, according to their sponsor, because library materials are fundamentally different than they were years ago, and librarians haven’t taken public concerns seriously.

“The libraries can try to stand behind the First Amendment,” said Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise.

Librarians said the bills are a dangerous legislative overreach.

If the bills pass, the Meridian Public Library could be forced to rescind all library cards for minors, and only allow children to visit the library with a parent, trustee Jeff Kohler said. “We can’t risk the legal liability otherwise.”

Kohler focused on one section of SB 1188, which sets up the legal framework to seize and destroy harmful materials. “Seize and destroy sounds exactly like book burning to me.”

Idaho Library Association President Lance McGrath called SB 1188 draconian. “It is a sledgehammer being wielded by a gardener in an attempt to smash a mosquito.”

Lynn Laird of Meridian spoke in favor of the bill, citing the controversy surrounding her hometown’s library. Citizens have petitioned to Ada County commissioners to dissolve the Meridian Library District, she said, because they felt they had no other recourse. “The people have really run up against a brick wall in Meridian.”

Committee Democrats pushed back against both bills. Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said the bills could force librarians to remove materials on LGBTQ+ and racial issues. Sen. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, accused colleagues of appeasement.

“We have people that just won’t take no for an answer, and this Legislature won’t tell them no,” he said. “Minors are not the problem here. It‘s the adults.”

Both bills are headed to the Senate’s amending order, and Winder said he was open to removing restrictions to college and university librarians. But lawmakers are not obligated to amend bills that are sent to floor for possible amendment. Earlier this week, the Senate took a bill to create the Idaho Launch postsecondary incentives program out of the amending order, without making any changes to it. The Senate passed the unamended bill two days later.

Lawmakers have floated several bills addressing harmful library materials. But no bill has passed both houses.

The House passed a library bill Monday, but it hit a roadblock in the Senate. On Wednesday, Senate State Affairs balked at language in House Bill 314, subjecting libraries to a possible $2,500 civil fine.

The committee also sent HB 314 to the Senate floor for possible amendment, but the Senate hasn’t taken it up.

House panel sends new Idaho Launch bill to floor

The Idaho Launch “trailer bill” is headed to the House floor.

Senate Bill 1167 takes several steps to tighten Gov. Brad Little’s proposal to encourage high school graduates to pursue high-demand careers.

Among other things, the bill limits the incentives to $8,000 per student — and requires students to pick up at least 20% of the cost of community college or workforce development programs.

The bill also requires the Workforce Development Council to file annual reports on Idaho Launch, tracking use and student outcomes, and gives the program a six-year expiration date.

The tighter language won over at least one critic, Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield. In February, Miller voted against the first version of the Idaho Launch bill, which passed the House on a 36-34 vote.

“I’m a great fan of outcome-based funding for education, and I think these are great measures,” Miller said during a House Commerce and Human Resources Committee hearing Friday morning.

The committee voted to send SB 1167 to the House floor on a voice vote.

It won’t get a House vote until Tuesday at the earliest.

Senate passes Permanent Building Fund bill

The Senate passed a state buildings budget that includes $72.9 million for higher education projects.

Here’s the breakdown of higher education’s cut of the $185.1 million Permanent Building Fund budget:

  • Boise State University: $17.9 million.
  • College of Western Idaho: $15.7 million.
  • College of Southern Idaho: $11.5 million.
  • University of Idaho: $9 million.
  • Idaho State University: $8.4 million.
  • College of Eastern Idaho: $8 million.
  • Lewis-Clark State College: $2.4 million.

Senate Bill 1197 passed the Senate on a 24-10 vote. Opposition came from Republican Sens. Cindy Carlson, Riggins; Dan Foreman, Moscow; Phil Hart, Kellogg; Scott Herndon, Sagle; Brian Lenney, Nampa; Tammy Nichols, Middleton; Doug Okuniewicz, Hayden; Ben Toews, Coeur d’Alene; Chris Trakel, Caldwell; and Glenneda Zuiderveld, Twin Falls.

The budget bill now goes to the House.

CTE, State Board budgets head to governor’s desk

Continuing to check off end-of-session budget work, the House passed a pair of budget bills Friday morning.

Career-technical education. House Bill 363 provides $103.3 million for CTE, a 22.6% increase.

Much of the increase comes in the form of a $15 million line item to add CTE programs at the high school and postsecondary level. That money comes from the in-demand careers fund, created during a one-day special legislative session in September.

After the House’s 48-15 vote, the budget now goes to the Senate.

State Board of Education “special programs.” Senate Bill 1177 is a catchall. The biggest chunk of the $34.9 million goes into the Opportunity Scholarship for Idaho college students. The budget also contains $1.25 million for the rural educator incentive program, which teachers can use to pay off student loans or continue their education.

The bill passed 48-17. Since the Senate has already passed this budget, it now heads to Gov. Brad Little’s desk.

Senate passes prayer, abstinence bills

Working through a long calendar of bills Friday morning, the Senate passed a couple of hot-button proposals.

Prayer. House Bill 182 would reaffirm the rights of students or staff to pray on school grounds. The bill is based on the case of Joseph Kennedy, a Washington state high school football coach, who was fired after leading players in prayer on the playing field. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kennedy’s favor in 2022.

“Your religious liberties don’t expire once you leave the 50-yard line,” said Sen. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, the bill’s sponsor.

Sen. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said the bill opens the door to proselytizing in school. “Prayer’s important … but this is about conspicuous vocal prayer during school hours.”

The bill passed 26-8, with Sen. Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home, joining Democrats in opposition. The bill goes back to the House, which will consider the Senate’s amendments to the bill.

Abstinence. House Bill 228 would formally define abstinence as “the absence of any sexual activity prior to marriage.” The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Cindy Carlson, said the definition is meant to offset sex education curriculum, which sometimes defines abstinence in terms of preventing pregnancy or STDs.

Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, argued that sex education needs to demystify sex, or young girls are left at greater risk of sexual assault.

The bill passed 23-11, and now goes to Gov. Brad Little’s desk.

Senate spikes bill requiring cash admissions at sporting events

On a narrow 16-18 vote, the Senate rejected a bill requiring schools to accept cash at sporting events.

Under House Bill 220, schools would have faced a fine of $100 for every spectator denied admission to a sporting event.

The bill had passed the House on March 2 on a 59-9 vote.

Dinosaur bill roars through the House

On Day 75 of the 2023 session, the House cast a vote 95 million years in the making.

The House passed a bill naming the oryctodromeus the state’s dinosaur.

The student-sponsored Senate Bill 1127 recognizes a burrowing herbivore found almost exclusively in Idaho. The bill’s sponsor touted not just the oryctodromeus, but the Eastern Idaho fourth-grade students who spent a school year immersing themselves in studying the dinosaur and preparing their talking points to lobby on its behalf.

“They had not learned these facts and stories because they took a standardized test,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls.

The floor debate was punctuated with a few tongue-in-cheek questions, and at least one groaner.

“These kids have really dug into this,” said Rep. Jerald Raymond, R-Menan.

The students didn’t win everyone over. In lighthearted debate against the bill, Rep. Bruce Skaug noted that Idaho is home to six dinosaurs. “And what about those other five dinosaurs?” said Skaug, R-Nampa. “Are we not picking winners and losers here?”

The bill passed 61-2, with Skaug and House Speaker Mike Moyle voting no. It now goes to Little’s desk.

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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