Three rewritten labor bills resurface

Maybe three is the magic number for a trio of collective bargaining bills that have divided supporters and opponents.

The House Education Committee on Tuesday introduced three new Idaho School Boards Association bills after the legislation was written, rewritten and rewritten again.

The labor bills mirror elements of the repealed Students Come First Proposition 1. After earlier versions failed to gain traction, ISBA leaders and stakeholders held a series of meetings to change language and attempt to build consensus.

At this point, it appears there is consensus for one new bill.

The new bills pertain to leaves of absence, deadlines for contract negotiations and criteria used in reductions in force.

Karen Echeverria, executive director of the ISBA, said officials attempted to break the bills into smaller elements, rather than combining multiple policy changes into single bills.

Karen Echeverria
Karen Echeverria

Idaho Education Association Executive Director Robin Nettinga said members of the statewide teachers’ union support the reworked reduction-in-force bill, which includes a “sunset clause” that will phase the law out after one year – if it is approved.

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The bill specifies that seniority can no longer be used as the lone factor when district officials reduce staff sizes due to dropping enrollment or budget constraints.

“What we’re trying to do is in the future is clarify seniority cannot be the only factor used when considering a reduction in force,” Echeverria said.

After the hearing, Nettinga said that bill is based on ideas that the IEA had originally proposed.

“It’s our language, we certainly support that with the one-year sunset,” Nettinga said.

Echeverria also added a one-year sunset clause to a bill to allow district officials to impose their last, best contract offer if no agreement is reached by June 10. The bill also stipulates that teachers and district officials can turn to mediation if negotiations reach an impasse, but the June 10 deadline still applies.

Echeverria said the “sunset clauses” are designed to allow officials to determine whether the bills work.

Nettinga said her organization continues to oppose efforts to allow districts to implement their last, best offer.

“We don’t support that; we don’t support the concept,” Nettinga said.

The final bill allows districts to place employees on unpaid administrative leave if a court order prevents them from meeting their contract obligations.

House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said he thinks the rewrites and additional scrutiny will pay dividends.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

“I agree that what we are going to see here today is better legislation because of the effort that has been put forward,” DeMordaunt told committee members.

Four other ISBA labor bills are up for introduction at 8 a.m. Wednesday in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Early retirement repeal advances

In other action Tuesday morning, House Education voted along party lines to send Senate Bill 1089 to the floor with a recommendation it pass. The bill – which passed the Senate 29-6 on Feb. 26 – repeals the early retirement incentive program for teachers.

The sponsor, Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, said the incentive is no longer working because it does not actually persuade teachers to retire early. The idea behind the original program, Bayer said, was that older teachers who earn more money would retire and be replaced by younger teachers who make less money.

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Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise

“This is unique in the public sector — it does not apply to (someone) working for the water department or the DEQ or Fish and Game,” Bayer said. “The budget implications are a significant consequence as well.”

Nettinga opposed the repeal, saying the program was vital to teachers who stayed home to raise children and were unable to accumulate the years of service necessary to retire without penalty under state guidelines.

She also disputed that the program did not save the state money, telling lawmakers that 51 percent of teachers who have retired since 1996 have utilized the benefit.

The bill cleared the committee 13-3. Voting no were Democratic Reps. Hy Kloc and Janie Ward-Engleking of Boise and Donna Pence of Gooding.