Statehouse roundup, 1.24.24: Republicans advance bill to arm school staff

(UPDATED, 1:53 p.m. Wednesday, correcting a reference to a school district that allows teachers to have weapons on campus)

Despite fervent opposition from school trustees, administrators and teachers as well as concern from law enforcement officials, Idaho Republicans advanced a bill that would grant school employees the right to carry guns in classrooms and give them legal immunity if they engage in a gunfight on campus.

After a tense public hearing Wednesday, in which most testimony strongly opposed the proposal, the House State Affairs Committee voted along party lines to advance House Bill 415. 

The National Rifle Association-backed legislation would grant school employees — from teachers to secretaries to bus drivers — the right to carry guns on public school campuses, as long as they have an enhanced concealed weapons permit. 

“These select school employees will provide an armed force to protect children in the first minutes of an attack,” bill sponsor Rep. Ted Hill said. “We don’t want to have a stack of 20 kids dead in a classroom because we didn’t do anything.”

Rep. Ted Hill, R-Eagle

The statewide teachers union and groups representing school boards and administrators slammed the proposal for sidestepping trustees and parents. Neither an elected school board nor parents could stop guns from being in their district’s classrooms “and that is really troubling,” said Paul Stark, executive director of the Idaho Education Association.

“As far as we can see, no educators are actually asking for this,” Stark told the committee. “There has been some testimony this session about not trusting librarians with books, but this trusts librarians with a Glock.”

Current Idaho law makes it a misdemeanor to bring a gun on a school campus. But school boards can authorize teachers to carry, and some do. The bill would take that decision out of trustees’ hands and fine school districts if leaders try to make their campuses “gun-free zones.” 

Under HB 415, enhanced concealed carry permit-holders who intend to carry on campus would have to inform their principal, and the principal would need to maintain a list of campus carriers to share with the police. Those lists would be kept secret and exempt from disclosure under Idaho’s public records law. 

Quinn Perry, deputy director of the Idaho School Boards Association

Quinn Perry, deputy director for the Idaho School Boards Association, said the legislation would be “completely impractical” to implement, and she questioned the lack of training required for employees who intend to carry on campus.

To get an enhanced concealed weapons permit in Idaho, one must complete eight hours of firearm training and give their fingerprints to Idaho State Police. But school districts that currently allow teachers to carry guns, like Mountain View, require active shooter training, Perry said. 

“They do this groundwork to make sure that parents, staff, community members have the buy-in before they authorize their staff to carry,” she said. 

Idaho law enforcement officials did not testify Wednesday, but they have raised similar concerns directly with the bill sponsors. Jeff Lavey, executive director of the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association, said his members worry that the training required for an enhanced concealed weapons permit is “not adequate to carry (a gun) in a school environment.” And even if it was adequate, the training is “one and done” as long as the permit doesn’t expire, he said. 

“There is a reason law enforcement trains yearly on active shooter scenarios,” Lavey told Idaho Education News by email.

The Sheriffs’ Association also opposes a provision in the bill that grants “absolute immunity” from civil or criminal legal action if a school employee chooses to use their weapon and is “wrong in their perceived threat,” Lavey said. The Association has yet to take an official stance on the bill but could vote on it later this week. 

“Our sheriffs are not opposed to guns in schools,” Lavey said. “We just believe it needs to be done right, and what works in one community does not necessarily work in another.”

The State Affairs Committee’s two Democrats grilled Hill on the legal immunity provision and the fact that school volunteers, not just employees, would be granted a right to carry guns on campus. The Republican from Eagle was noticeably peevish during one exchange with former Boise School District superintendent Don Coberly, who is filling in for Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise. 

Coberly started to ask about sidestepping school board authority. “It would seem to me that, especially in a small district, it would make sense for the school board to have knowledge…” he began, before Hill cut him off.  “Why do they need to know?” Hill snapped. “This comes down to the principal, who’s protecting the school, not the superintendent, somewhere else.”

Don Coberly, former Boise School District superintendent. Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho EdNews

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, repeatedly asked whether Hill or the NRA has surveyed educators and parents about the proposal, particularly in the Boise area. 

“A survey here is not necessary, a survey was not taken,” said Aoibheann Cline, Idaho state director for the NRA. “Here, where we have the school boards that are not authorizing this, it’s for a reason…They think the gun is the problem.”

Aside from the NRA representative, one person testified in support of the bill: Robert Gillis, of Idaho Tough on Crime, a group that advocates for harsher sentences for child predators and fentanyl traffickers. Gillis said he’s a retired police sergeant who was on the scene of a 2019 school shooting in Southern California that left three students dead, including the shooter.

“We have to do something drastic to protect our kids, because nothing has been done so far,” Gillis said.

Gannon moved to delay a vote on the bill, which was introduced Monday, to allow more people to read it. All 11 Republicans voted down that motion and supported a separate motion to send the legislation to the full House, recommending that it pass. 

Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, said she had received dozens of emails in support of the bill during the committee meeting. “I think I’d be hard pressed to think that folks haven’t had the chance to be aware.”

Teachers could get funds for out-of-pocket classroom expenses

A new bill would help public school teachers finance classroom expenses like books, cleaning supplies and technology. 

Teachers often pay, out-of-pocket, “hundreds of dollars or more” to equip their classrooms, said Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle. Herndon’s bill would give teachers a to-be-determined amount in state funds for buying paper towels, posters, arts and crafts and other supplies.

The Idaho Department of Education would oversee the purchasing system, according to the bill. And the funds could not be used on administrative expenses, only classroom supplies.  

Herndon sponsored a similar bill last year. It had unanimous support in the Senate but didn’t get a hearing in the House. The new version removed professional development as an eligible expense, and added that the allowance could be rolled over for one year before it expires. 

The bill leaves it to the Legislature’s budget committee to decide how much each teacher would get. Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, asked Herndon to bring a “ballpark” estimate of what the program would cost to a forthcoming public hearing on the bill.

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]

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