Statehouse roundup, 2.22.24: Senate kills library bill

Hardline conservative senators Thursday teamed with Democrats to kill the latest library bill.

The bill would have created a standardized, statewide process for addressing library book challenges through a review committee. It also would have made schools and libraries liable for uncapped civil damages stemming from book challenges. 

Conservative senators opposed the mechanics of the review process. “This makes it too complicated for parents to protect their children,” said Sen. Glenneda Zuiderveld, R-Twin Falls. 

Democrats, on the other hand, questioned the need for a statewide process and slammed the civil cause of action provision. The latter would create “a financial incentive for people to cause additional chaos in our libraries,” said Sen. Ali Rabe, D-Boise. 

Sen. Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home, and Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, sponsored Senate Bill 1289. It’s the latest unsuccessful attempt to tackle concerns that Idaho libraries host material inappropriate for children. 

“I would have preferred that it passed,” Schroeder told Idaho Education News after a 17-18 vote in the Senate. 

Libraries have become a wedge issue among Republican lawmakers in recent years, and Thursday’s vote deepens the divide with a May primary election looming. 

“I don’t want to go home without a library bill, and I think this is the best we’re going to get this year,” said Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise. 

“This doesn’t seem like a library bill that people want,” said Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa. “I just can’t vote for a bill just for the sake of voting for a bill.” 

During a recent public hearing at the Statehouse, library officials said SB 1289 was the best effort so far at trying to restrict library content for minors. Still, many said it was unnecessary and could create a legal and financial minefield for small schools and libraries in particular. 

Just one Democrat, Sen. Carrie Semmelroth of Boise, supported the bill. Libraries already have similar book review processes in place and the bill “provides one more level of protection for the community,” Semmelroth said. 

New bill would allow school boards to shutter libraries

School boards could decommission their libraries under a new bill introduced Thursday. 

Currently, state law requires districts to “equip and maintain” school libraries. Rep. Joe Palmer introduced a measure that would give trustees discretion to close school libraries deemed “not necessary.” 

Palmer, R-Meridian, said the bill has “nothing to do” with other library bills that Idaho Republicans have floated in recent years. A school board member told Palmer that some school libraries aren’t used  “at all,” he said. Decommissioning unused libraries could save some districts millions of dollars, Palmer told the House Education Committee. 

“We could use that money to do other things, digitally or whatever,” he said. “It just gives them the tool, if they decide to do that.”

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

Bill mandating school board public comment advances

School boards soon could be required to allow in-person public comment. 

Lawmakers Thursday advanced a bill that would direct school boards to adopt “rules of order and procedure” governing meetings. Those would have to include an allowance for school district patrons to comment in-person on any agenda item, except executive session matters like hiring and firing decisions.

Some school boards aren’t allowing in-person input from patrons, said bill sponsor Sen. Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins. “We’re just qualifying what public comment is and that we want public comment,” she told the Senate Education Committee. 

Senate Bill 1361 wouldn’t preclude school boards from enforcing “reasonable standards” for public comment, including time limits.

The Idaho Department of Education helped craft the bill, and the Idaho School Boards Association provided input, Carlson said. 

The Education Committee unanimously voted to advance the bill to the Senate floor where it will be amended. 

Charter school boards are included in the current version of the bill, but it will be amended to exclude them, for now. A rewrite of charter school regulations that’s awaiting the governor’s signature prohibited a change to that statute. But the Legislature could make the public comment requirement applicable to charters next legislative session, Carlson said.

Republicans propose new state office for early childhood

Idaho would have an office of early childhood to coordinate public and private services for children 5 and younger, per a new bill introduced Thursday. 

Currently, coordination for those services “can be a struggle,” said Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, who introduced the bill that’s sponsored by Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett. “The hope is that we can bring together that collaboration and coordination that makes things easier for families and for kids.”

The state office would be a self-governing agency under the governor’s purview. The bill directs the governor to appoint a director for the office, which would be established by July 1. 

Rate of Hispanic teachers far below rate of students

Just 3% of Idaho K-12 teachers are Hispanic, far below the 19% of Idaho students who are Hispanic.

Margie Gonzalez, executive director of the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, told the House Education Committee that the Commission is working with higher education institutions on methods to better recruit and retain Hispanic teachers.

“That definitely is a significant concern to us,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said she’s not sure the reasons for the low rate of Hispanic teachers but surmised it’s related to low teacher pay, particularly lacking compensation for bilingual educators.

Idaho medical school director urges support to address doctor shortage

Idaho would have to bring in roughly 1,400 new medical doctors to reach the national average of physicians per-capita. And a third of Idaho’s current physicians will retire soon.

Those are a couple of the data points that Tracy Farnsworth, president and CEO of the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, shared with lawmakers Thursday. Farnsworth asked lawmakers to continue supporting graduate medicine education and to consider state-level tuition assistance for ICOM students.

“When people can’t get access to a physician, they don’t get access to good, timely primary and secondary care,” Farnsworth said. “It means they get sicker longer, they become more sickly in their homes, their families, their employment, in our communities.”

House passes immunization exemptions bill

A bill highlighting Idaho’s lax immunization opt-out rules passed the House.

House Bill 438 would address the notifications schools send to parents. If the schools mention one section of state law — which says, erroneously, that vaccines are mandatory — the schools must also mention the law which allows parents to ask for a vaccine exemption.

“It’s very simple. We can’t be selecting what section of code we send,” said Rep. Dori Healey, R-Boise, a registered nurse.

One of three vaccine bills before the Legislature this session, HB 438 passed on a party-line 58-10 vote. It now goes to the Senate.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

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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