Statehouse roundup, 1.22.24: Republican introduces bill to arm school employees

Teachers and other school employees could carry weapons in Idaho public schools under a bill introduced Monday.

It’s not the first time Idaho lawmakers will debate arming teachers, and some school districts already allow teachers to have guns on campus. But the bill would explicitly allow a wide range of employees, who have enhanced concealed weapon permits, to carry guns at school. 

Currently, it’s a misdemeanor to bring a gun on a public school campus, but law enforcement and school peace officers are exempt from that law. When a school shooting occurs, police take five to seven minutes to respond and school security guards are cost prohibitive, said Rep. Ted Hill. 

Arming teachers would offer “an opportunity to leverage organic capability within the schools,” Hill, R-Eagle, told the House State Affairs Committee Monday. “There’s a desperate need to secure our schools against people who want to harm our children.”

Rep. Ted Hill, R-Eagle

Along with teachers, the bill allows administrators, counselors, librarians, teacher’s aides, coaches, business managers, secretaries, janitors and bus drivers to carry a weapon on school grounds. 

School staff would need an enhanced concealed weapons permit to carry a gun on campus. Permit-holders are required to give their fingerprints to Idaho State Police, and they have to complete eight hours of firearm training.

School employees who intend to carry on campus would have to inform their principal, according to the bill. And principals would need to maintain a list of armed employees that’s shared with the local police department or sheriff’s office. Those lists would be exempt from public disclosure. 

The legislation also would bar schools from posting “gun-free zone” signs. “That just basically is an advertisement that this is a sheep’s pen, come on in and take advantage,” Hill said. 

Last week, lawmakers on the House Education Committee asked officials from the State Board of Education’s School Safety and Security program to comment on arming teachers. Stu Hobson, the program’s school resource officer support coordinator, said armed teachers who engage with an active shooter could look like a threat to police in a “very chaotic” situation. 

Responding law enforcement officers might not have time to distinguish between an armed teacher and an active shooter, Hobson said, and “they’re probably going to take action to stop that threat.”

Hill’s bill requires school districts to share photos of campus weapon-carriers with law enforcement, to “assist” officers “in the exercise of their duties.”

Bill: After recall, school trustees can’t vote on board decisions

Rep. Mark Sauter on Monday introduced a bill that would block recalled school trustees from participating in board meetings. The proposal comes after a pair of West Bonner trustees last year tried to call a special meeting of the school board hours before an election to recall them was certified. 

A court order stopped that meeting from happening, but the proposal from Sauter, R-Sandpoint, would codify that recalled trustees can’t vote on board business between a successful recall election and its official certification.

Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint

“That could be 24 hours, it could be up to 10 days,” Sauter said. “You would just not be a voting member of that group.”

Sauter’s bill also would clarify that a recalled trustee is officially removed from the board when the results are certified — meaning, no board action would be required to remove the trustee. 

The new bill would allow a school board with one or more vacancies to conduct meeting business if a majority of the remaining members are present. Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, last week introduced a bill that would also clarify quorum requirements but did not include the recall elements. 

If it has a public hearing, Sauter’s proposal likely will face resistance. Three North Idaho Republicans — Reps. Elaine Price, of Coeur d’Alene, Dale Hawkins, of Fernwood, and Tony Wisniewski, of Post Falls — opposed a motion to introduce the bill.

New bill would ban diversity statements at universities

A Republican lawmaker Monday introduced a bill barring colleges and universities from using “diversity statements” in their hiring and admissions decisions. 

The bill, from Meridian Sen. Treg Bernt, targets universities that ask job candidates to explain how they’ll advance the institution’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. The bill would bar Idaho postsecondary public schools from requiring any such statement as a condition of admission or employment. 

“Hiring and admission decisions…shall be made on merit, and that is an important word,” Bernt told the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Sen. Treg Bernt, R-Meridian

The State Board of Education already barred universities from asking job applicants to sign diversity statements. And it’s unclear whether that was commonplace in Idaho before the State Board last year adopted a resolution banning the practice. 

But DEI has become a polemical issue among Republicans in recent years. Bernt’s proposal could be part of a suite of bills targeting DEI at Idaho universities this legislative session. Nampa Republican Sen. Brian Lenney recently announced that he’s working on a bill to outlaw spending on DEI programs. 

Similar legislation is moving through statehouses elsewhere. The Utah House last week approved a bill that would “unravel” DEI programs at state universities, the Salt Lake Tribune reported

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, of Boise, said she has “a lot of questions” about Bernt’s proposal, including how it will interact with universities’ census reporting requirements. 

“What’s the problem going on, and what are you trying to solve?” Wintrow said. 

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

Ryan Suppe

Ryan Suppe

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business for newspapers in the Treasure Valley and Eastern Idaho. A Nevada native, Ryan enjoys golf, skiing and movies. Follow him on Twitter: @ryansuppe. Contact him at [email protected]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday