Statehouse roundup, 3.8.24: New bill to arm teachers surfaces in Senate

A Senate committee Friday introduced a new bill that would allow school staff to carry guns on campus. That’s after a similar bill, from Rep. Ted Hill, easily cleared the House but stalled in the Senate. 

The new version — co-sponsored by Hill, R-Eagle — still gives school staff with enhanced concealed carry permits the right to have a weapon on school grounds. But it has additional training requirements, and it gives local school boards some discretion to regulate guns on campus.

“This provides for local control,” co-sponsoring Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, told the Senate State Affairs Committee. 

The previous iteration, House Bill 415, faced vigorous opposition from groups representing school trustees, administrators and resource officers over its lack of training requirements and local discretion. But House Republicans overwhelmingly supported it. 

The new bill requires school boards to develop policies authorizing staff with concealed carry permits to possess a gun on campus. Those policies would have to be implemented by July 1, 2026. 

To get an enhanced concealed carry permit, applicants must complete eight hours of classroom training and fire a minimum of 98 practice rounds. 

Guthrie and Hill’s bill would add annual requalification training along with active shooter training. School boards could impose additional training requirements. But Guthrie told Idaho Education News that lawmakers could limit that discretion in the future if local boards are too stringent, like requiring staff to be a “green beret” to qualify. 

“We’ve dealt with this for a lot of years, but we think that, maybe, this is the right balance,” he told the Senate committee. 

The bill could return for a public hearing in the coming days or weeks.

Committee kills school flag display bill

After emotional testimony, technical concerns torpedoed a bill on school flag displays.

The House Education Committee killed Senate Bill 1362 — which would have prohibited schools from displaying flags “that represent a political viewpoint.”

The definition of a political flag — specifically, flags focused on sexual orientation or gender — dominated the testimony.

Liliana Rauer, a transgender student at Boise High School, talked about going to schools where LGBTQ students were treated with contempt. Pride flags at Boise High are a “unifying symbol” that signal and foster a welcoming environment. “What an incredible difference a few flags have made.”

Kuna High School teacher Julia Sharkey said she has seen the impact of flag restrictions. Sharkey is adviser for Kuna’s Gay Straight Alliance — which cannot post a flag because it is not a sanctioned student club. The absence of a flag makes it more difficult to get the word out about GSA — which offers a meeting place for students who are victims of “rampant” assaults, bullying and slurs.

“A space cannot speak,” Sharkey said. “It needs a symbol.”

Kristi Hardy, a Kuna resident who ran unsuccessfully for district trustee in 2023, said the flag bans are needed to keep teachers from playing an “activist” role. “Where is the flag for white, straight Christian boys?” she asked.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chris Trakel, R-Caldwell, described a local incident surrounding a Pride flag. Removing the flag was a drawn-out and controversial process — despite a district policy banning it.

But Trakel and his House co-sponsor, Rep. Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene, said their goal was to create a nonpolitical school environment. “This is an equal opportunity for all students to feel safe in the classroom.”

The bill ran into bipartisan opposition from the committee.

Rep. Jack Nelsen, R-Jerome, said the bill was overly broad, and it would inevitably lead to a lawsuit. Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, said she understood the goal of removing flags that might make some people uncomfortable — but said the bill’s wording was unclear.

A former teacher, Rep. Greg Lanting, R-Twin Falls, and a current teacher, Rep. Soñia Galaviz, D-Boise, said the bill would hamstring instructors, despite the lengthy exemptions written into the bill.

“It’s hard to capture and flag or any banner that can be used for instructional purposes,” Galaviz said.

The committee voted 10-5 to hold the bill, effectively killing it for the session. Friday’s committee action came only four days after the Senate overwhelmingly passed SB 1362 on a 31-4 vote.

House passes State Board budget, but not comfortably

Without debate, but with considerable opposition, the House passed a State Board of Education budget bill.

An enhancement to a base State Board budget, House Bill 698 provides $1.7 million for a string of line items, including $250,000 for school arts grants and $119,700 to hire a safety and security analyst for colleges and universities.

The spending bill passed on a 39-28 vote. It now goes to the Senate.

House passes bill restricting sex ed materials

On a party-line vote, the House passed a bill that would restrict where schools receive sex education materials.

Specifically, House Bill 666 would prohibit abortion providers from furnishing such materials to schools.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business. Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism.

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday