Lawmakers reject new ESA proposal in frustrated debate

An education savings account proposal died Thursday morning after a narrow — and contentious — House Education Committee vote. Two other ESA proposals were pulled by their sponsors before Thursday’s meeting.

The draft ESA legislation would have pumped $6,975 into accounts, allowing an estimated 2,000 low-income students to pay for tuition at accredited private schools. Bill sponsor Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, pegged the program’s annual cost at $17.5 million.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls

Clow hoped to get his proposal off the ground. But after over an hour of discussion, the committee rejected it 9-7.

And Thursday’s debate reflected the complicated future — and political theater — of ESA legislation in Idaho.

The committee called out problems with the draft legislation — including accountability and funding concerns — but votes also hinged on political uncertainty.

Rep. Greg Lanting based his vote on the possibility that, if House Education printed the bill, it wouldn’t come back to the committee for a hearing.

Bills are typically assigned to the committees they’re introduced in, but House and Senate leadership can switch around assignments. Earlier in the session, debate broke out on the Senate floor after the Idaho Launch bill was assigned to the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee, after it received a full hearing in House Education. Sen. Tammy Nichols of Middleton, who sits on the Senate Education Committee, objected to Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder’s decision.

Lanting, R-Twin Falls, voiced concerns that the same thing could happen with the ESA legislation. If printed, House Speaker Mike Moyle could assign Clow’s bill to a different committee — one where it could more easily pass.

“There is absolutely no guarantee,” Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, responded.

And Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, vice-chair of the House committee, insinuated similar moves are already being made at the Statehouse.

Thursday’s agenda originally scheduled introduction hearings on three competing drafts of ESA legislation — Clow’s, one from Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, and a third from Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa. All three were discussed in the committee on Tuesday.

But before the meeting started, Horman and Crane pulled their drafts. Obviously frustrated, McCann said the proposals might go before other committees in coming days.

“That is an extreme affront to me,” she said.

McCann and Lanting both said for every email supporting ESA legislation, they receive five opposing it. Lanting represents the same district as Clow.Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint, said voting for the legislation would be equivalent to voting against his constituency.

Others expressed concerns about the program’s potential for ballooning costs and lack of accountability for tax dollars.

“These are the hard votes we make,” said committee Chair Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, before calling for a final vote.

The proposal failed 7-9.

Thursday’s vote tally

Yes: Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls; Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene; Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls; Rep. Tony Wisniewski, R-Post Falls; Rep. Dale Hawkins, R-Fernwood; Rep. Ted Hill, R-Eagle; Rep. Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene.

No: Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston; Rep. Dan Garner, R-Clifton; Rep. Greg Lanting, R-Twin Falls; Rep. Jack Nelsen, R-Jerome; Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint; Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise; Rep. Soñia Galaviz, D-Boise; Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise; Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, was absent.

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected].

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