Statehouse roundup, 3.9.20: Transgender athletics bill will get a rewrite

On a party-line vote, a controversial transgender athletics bill is headed to the Senate floor.

But House Bill 500 could get a rewrite when it gets there. Sponsors have agreed to amend some of the bill’s most controversial wording.

The Senate State Affairs vote came after two days of hearings — although Monday morning’s hearing was cut off. Only five speakers were allowed to testify. All five speakers urged the committee to kill HB 500, which would ban transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ and women’s sports.

“Your testimony was heard,” said committee chairwoman Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, drawing some snickers from the audience. “And that’s why the amendments will be presented.”

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews

The amendments are still being written, the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Mary Souza, said Monday. But the Coeur d’Alene Republican said the amendments would clarify the appeals process — one recurring point of contention during the HB 500 debate.

As currently written, HB 500 would require a student athlete to undergo a three-step process to prove gender. One of these required steps is an examination of “internal and external reproductive anatomy.”

The amendments would change the mandatory wording into optional wording, Souza said.

A recent attorney general’s opinion listed several possible legal problems with HB 500 — including concerns with the appeals process.

The promised amendments should eliminate one of the bill’s “unintended consequences,” by shielding girls from an invasive physical examination, said Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett wasn’t convinced. Even if the bill is amended, she said, a student of any age could be singled out in a dispute and subjected to a physical exam.

“Where is our humanity in that?” said Stennett, D-Ketchum.

Stennett made a push to hold the bill in committee, effectively killing it for the year. That motion failed on a party-line vote. Moments later, a second party-line vote sent the bill to the floor for amendments.

Senate State Affairs held a two-hour hearing on HB 500 Friday — but the committee spent only about a half hour on it Monday. Souza and Rep. Barbara Ehardt, the bill’s House co-sponsor, were given a chance to make closing statements. The public testimony section of the hearing was truncated and tense; speakers were limited to 60-second remarks, and one speaker, a transgender woman, was gaveled down for calling Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, “heartless.”

Some testimony centered on the on-the-ground impacts on school districts and their elected trustees.

Quinn Perry of the Idaho School Boards Association said HB 500 would render districts a “guinea pig for how this policy will play out in courts.”

Souza, meanwhile, said she has heard from school officials who want the Legislature to address the issue.

“This is such a culturally hot topic,” she said. “They don’t want to make these decisions.”

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, sponsor of HB 500, speaks about her bill in front of the Idaho Senate on March 6, 2020.

It’s unclear when the Senate will take up HB 500 and try to amend it. Once a bill is put up for amendment, any lawmaker can propose changes to it. And if the Senate passes the bill in amended form, the House would have to vote again on the new version.

The House passed the original version of the bill on Feb. 26.

Driver’s education fees

Kicking off the 10th week of the 2020 session, the House Education Committee gave the green light to a driver’s education fee reimbursement bill.

Pushed by Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, and the ISBA, Senate Bill 1278 would increase the rate school districts are reimbursed for students who complete driver’s training from $125 to $150.

The money for reimbursing schools is collected from Idaho residents’ driver’s license fees.

Ward-Engelking said the rate at which schools are reimbursed has not changed since 1996, despite the fact that the cost to administer such programs has increased.

“It’s time to revisit what we give schools and school districts for those programs,” Ward-Engelking said.

The bill would only provide reimbursement for public schools that provide driver’s education. Private driving schools would not be eligible for the reimbursement.

Last year, the legislators killed a similar driver’s education reimbursement bill on the House floor.

On Monday, SB 1278 passed via a voice vote, with Reps. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, and Tony Wisniewski, R-Post Falls, voted against it.

The bill next heads to the House floor with a recommendation it passes. It previously passed the Senate 24-10 on Feb. 13.

Even though its workload is slowing down for the year, House Education will continue to meet this week and to consider a handful of Senate bills, Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said. Notably, House Education has not acted on Ehardt’s sex education opt-in bill, House Bill 539, since it was introduced Feb. 24. Meanwhile, legislative leadership is working to potentially adjourn the session for the year later this month.

A rules update

The administrative rules process still looms as another unresolved legislative issue for 2020.

On Monday, the House and Senate majority leaders unveiled a bill designed to revamp the process — and perhaps break an ongoing House-Senate impasse.

Under the bill, all agency rules would expire automatically each July 1 — as they did in 2019 — unless the Legislature acts. The houses could agree to enact rules through a concurrent resolution or an overriding omnibus rule. Neither would require a governor’s approval.

Lawmakers could pass several rules resolutions, covering specific areas of state government, said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. For example, one resolution might address only education rules.

Moyle and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, are co-sponsoring the bill. The House Ways and Means Committee introduced the bill after a brief hearing.

Online curriculum funding

In other action from a chaotic Monday, the House passed a bill that would redistribute how funding for online curriculum materials is awarded.

Currently, the state divides up about $1.6 million per year in funding based on a formula. House Bill 576 would change that system so funding is made available via an application on a first-come, first-served basis.

Sponsoring Rep. Jerald Raymond, R-Menan, said the current formula puts small, rural schools at a disadvantage because many of them only receive $2,000 or $3,000 per year. The new bill would make it so districts could request up to $50,000.

“It’s going to make it a lot easier for people to get strong, interesting, engaging curriculum in front of the kids,” Raymond said.

But because the bill doesn’t change overall funding levels, when the money is gone, it’s gone. That means that some districts may receive less money than they do now, or none at all if funding is exhausted before they apply.

HB 576 passed 60-6. It heads next to the Senate for consideration.


Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin

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