Statehouse roundup, 3.9.22: ‘Harmful materials’ bill is likely dead; kindergarten bill comes back to life

A bill that could open school, library and museum employees up to a maximum $1,000 fine and a year in jail for “disseminating material harmful to minors” is unlikely to get a hearing in the Senate, President Pro Tem Chuck Winder said Wednesday.

Without a hearing in the State Affairs Committee, where it now sits, House Bill 666 would die.

Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise

“I do not see the chamber picking this one up,” Winder, R-Boise, said at a virtual press event Wednesday. “I think it’s very appropriately numbered 666 — if you understand the symbolism of the number. … I think it’s mischief and something that doesn’t need to happen.”

“I’m just extremely happy to hear that,” responded House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, who strenuously objected to the bill before it passed the House Monday.

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, is chair of Senate State Affairs and will have the final say over whether the bill is heard. EdNews asked Lodge about her plans for the bill Wednesday morning and is yet to receive a response.

HB 666 passed over the objections of librarians and at the urging of Republican lawmakers, who decried books and movies they consider obscene.

Winder cited proponents’ inability to identify where such “harmful materials” are prevalent in detailing his opposition to the bill.

The bill wouldn’t have banned “harmful” content from entering schools or library shelves but would have made it a criminal act for employees at K-12 schools, colleges and universities as well as museums and libraries to “disseminate” that content to children.

Quickly and quietly, Senate Education passes all-day kindergarten bill

On Tuesday, an all-day kindergarten bill was in limbo.

On Wednesday, the bill is back on the move.

With little discussion — and no fireworks — the Senate Education Committee approved a bill that would encourage schools to launch optional all-day kindergarten.

Senate Bill 1373 is a companion to a K-12 budget bill that would boost Idaho’s early literacy budget from $26 million to $72 million. Schools can use this literacy money for many programs, including all-day kindergarten — and numerous schools have already used the money for that purpose.

Gov. Brad Little has proposed the $46 million increase in literacy spending, in hopes that it would expand all-day kinder programs.

Senate Education discussed the bill for nearly 90 minutes Tuesday, without voting on two competing motions. Committee chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, abruptly adjourned the meeting, amid a debate over the bill’s funding formula.

SB 1373 would distribute much of the $72 million to schools based on the number of students who score proficient on the Idaho Reading Indicator, or the number of students who show improvement on the IRI.

Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, pushed for a formula much like the existing approach to literacy funding — awarding dollars based on a school’s number of at-risk readers, based on their IRI scores.

Senate Education left off Tuesday with two motions on the table: Crabtree’s motion to send SB 1373 to the floor for amendment, and Thayn’s motion to send the bill to the floor as is.

Picking up Wednesday, the committee unanimously passed Thayn’s motion.

A Senate vote on SB 1373 could come in the next few days.

A long agenda in Senate Education …

After making short work of the all-day kindergarten bill, Senate Education worked its way through a long list of legislation.

Here’s the rundown:

Enrollment-based funding. The committee unanimously supported House Bill 723, which will carve up Idaho’s K-12 budget dollars based on student enrollment, not student attendance.

The state shifted to an enrollment-based model during the pandemic — shifting schools from the up and downs of an attendance-based model. HB 723 keeps the enrollment-based model in place through June 2024.

The idea is to keep school funding stable for the next two years, said House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, a co-sponsor. In the meantime, the Legislature will set up another committee over the next two years to again study the funding formula; a similar committee studied the issue for three years pre-pandemic.

The enrollment-based formula carries an increased price tag. It will cost an additional $23.8 million a year to fully fund it.

The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

Campus free speech. The Senate will amend a bipartisan bill addressing free speech on college campuses.

The hangup: Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, objected to language in House Bill 684, which could allow students or groups to seek compensatory damages over a free speech dispute. The committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the Senate’s amending order.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors said she was surprised by the move, but said it was important to pass something this session.

“I think this is good legislation,” said Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls. “I think there is a need.”

Co-sponsored by Ehardt and Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, HB 684 passed the House last week on a 63-2 vote. If the Senate passes the bill after amending it, it would have to go back to the House for another vote.

Curriculum committees. A bill to establish school district “curricular materials adoption committees” will get a facelift.

House Bill 650 will also go to the Senate floor for amendments. The idea, said Sen. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, is to tweak the requirements for the size of the committee. Districts would not have to come up with a 12-member committee — but the committees will have to include parents, and no more than half of the members can be trustees or teachers.

The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, supports the change, VanOrden said Wednesday.

If the Senate amends and passes the bill, the House will have to approve the changes.

Career exploration. The committee OK’d Senate Bill 1374, calling for a eighth-grade career exploration course. That bill now goes to the Senate floor; if it passes there, it would next go to the House.

Postsecondary scholarship. Senate Education quickly endorsed Senate Bill 685, which tweaks requirements for Idaho’s $2 million-a-year Postsecondary Credit Scholarship. Currently, the scholarship requires an industry match that includes an academic merit component. The bill would remove the academic merit language.

Push to create civics-specific standards moves forward

With vocal support from state superintendent Sherri Ybarra, the House Education Committee passed a resolution calling for academic standards that outline the civics education that Idaho students should receive.

Ybarra said the resolution wouldn’t add to requirements for teachers and schools but would instead advocate moving standards for civics education out from under the umbrellas of social studies, economics and other subjects into their own location in state administrative rules. That would make it easier for schools to show parents what their students will learn in class, she told the committee.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 115 would simply voice support for Ybarra’s State Department of Education developing new standards, and for the State Board of Education adopting them.

SCR 115 passed unanimously and heads to the House floor.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.


Kevin Richert and Blake Jones

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