Statehouse roundup, 2.21.24: Constitutional amendment would lower school bond threshold

House lawmakers Wednesday introduced a second proposal aimed at helping K-12 schools afford facility upgrades. The latest is a constitutional amendment that would lower the threshold for passing bond measures every two years. 

Currently, school districts must get approval from two-thirds of voters for a bond measure to pass, per the Idaho Constitution. A proposed constitutional amendment, introduced by the House Education Committee Wednesday, would lower the threshold to 55% in even-numbered years. 

Lowering the bar in years when there are statewide and/or presidential elections would increase voter participation on school bond measures, said Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby. “The idea is that we will know the will of the people.” 

A supermajority still would be required in odd-numbered years. 

The proposed amendment comes the day after a bill sending $2 billion to schools for facilities cleared the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. School leaders told lawmakers Tuesday that House Bill 521 is a step toward alleviating districts’ reliance on bonds but it wouldn’t eliminate that need altogether. 

Furniss pointed to recent data showing the two-thirds requirement makes it more likely a school bond will fail than pass. A recent Office of Performance Evaluations report showed that 71 of 120 Idaho school bond measures between 2011 and 2020 failed. 

Two-thirds of the House and Senate must agree to a constitutional amendment. Then, a majority of Idaho voters must agree to adopt it.

Senate passes ban on diversity statements

A bill banning campus “diversity statements” is headed to the House.

The Senate passed a bill prohibiting written diversity statements in the hiring or admissions process. The prohibition applies to all public colleges and universities.

“We need to focus on the advancement of the most qualified individuals,” said Sen. Treg Bernt, R-Meridian, the bill’s sponsor.

Senate Bill 1274 isn’t entirely new. The State Board of Education approved a policy last year banning diversity statements. But this policy applies only to hiring, not admissions.

Only one lawmaker spoke against the bill: Sen. Melissa Wintrow, who cited her 15 years working at Boise State University. “We hire people based on the best person for the job,” said Wintrow, D-Boise.

The bill passed 27-8, with Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, joining the Senate’s seven Democrats in opposition.

Senate to amend bill that bans flags in classrooms

A bill to limit the types of flags that can be displayed in public schools will be amended to add more exceptions. 

Senate Bill 1362 would bar public school employees from displaying “any flags.” For instance, it would prohibit teachers from displaying flags that represent LGBTQ+ Pride, said bill sponsor Sen. Chris Trakel, R-Caldwell. “Somebody of religious origin would find that offensive … and they have to sit in the classroom and be offended the entire time.”

However, the bill includes exceptions for official national, state, municipal and military flags. That means school officials could display Old Glory or Idaho’s state flag in front of a school or in a classroom. 

The list of exceptions is growing. The Senate Education Committee agreed to advance the bill to the Senate floor where it will be amended to add Native American tribal flags and banners recognizing educational achievements. 

Trakel deflected public testimony suggesting the bill would infringe on free speech and hinder efforts to promote diversity. Public employees in their official capacity are not shielded by the First Amendment, Trakel said. “These are government buildings. When a teacher flies (a flag) in a government classroom, she is saying that that school, that government entity is supporting this thing.”

Amended school board vacancy bill clears Senate

The Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would ensure school boards can operate amid trustee vacancies. 

The legislation would define a board quorum as a majority of currently filled school board seats — rather than a majority of board seats — for 120 days after a vacancy. 

An earlier version of the bill more broadly redefined a quorum to mean a majority of filled seats at any time. The bill was amended to narrow the allowance to a roughly four-month period after a vacancy occurs. 

Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, said the bill was inspired by a “very unusual situation” last year when West Bonner School District voters recalled two of five trustees. The board struggled to meet the required three-person quorum to fill the vacancies. 

The bill heads to the House.

Resolution urging Holocaust teaching heads to House 

The House Education Committee on Wednesday unanimously validated a resolution that encourages state education leaders to bolster teaching about the Holocaust. 

The resolution urges the state department to consider adopting “age-appropriate” curriculum, professional development and guidance that helps schools effectively teach about the Holocaust. 

“We all know what’s happening nationally, that sometimes we have people that deny certain things existed,” Rep. Stephanie Mickelsen, R-Idaho Falls, said during a previous hearing. “If we don’t learn from the past, we’re bound to repeat the same mistakes.”

The resolution now goes to the House floor.

New bill would increase fines for illegally passing school buses

Working early and quickly Wednesday morning, a House committee introduced a new bill to increase fines for illegally passing school buses.

Currently, drivers can get a $200 fine for the first offense, with fines increasing to $400 and $600 for subsequent violations.

House Bill 610 would increase the fine to $300 for a first offense. A second offense within five years would be a misdemeanor — subject to fines of $600 to $1,000, and a jail sentence of up to six months.

The House Ways and Means Committee introduced the bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, and Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz.


Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business. Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism.

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