Statehouse roundup, 3.16.23: Revamped library bill heads to House floor

A revamped library bill is headed to the House floor, after a previous version failed to make it out of committee. 

House Bill 314 seeks to prohibit obscene materials from public and school libraries. The bill defines “harmful materials” in detail. It also paves a path for aggrieved parents to sue their school or library district for up to $2,500 in damages — a decrease from the $10,000 fine written into the previous bill. 

Bill co-sponsors Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa and Sen. Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins, say the intent is to prevent minors from being exposed to pornographic materials, which they argue are abundant in Idaho libraries.

HB 314 comes after a tense House Education Committee meeting on March 1, when the committee killed one library bill (brought forward by the same co-sponsors) and punted on another, which was backed by the Idaho Library Association. Neither bill was brought back to the committee.

But the March 1 meeting resulted in an informal discussion between co-sponsors Crane and Carlson, representatives from the Idaho Library Association and other lawmakers. Crane characterized the discussion as “good,” but said it did not result in a collaborative piece of legislation. Crane said the librarians mostly opposed the $2,500 fine written into the bill.

“We agreed to disagree,” said Crane.

And librarians showed at the Statehouse Thursday to oppose HB 314.

Idaho Library Association President Lance McGrath said the bill poses a threat to first amendment rights and intellectual freedom. He repeatedly told lawmakers that libraries don’t have pornographic collections, and characterized concerns about obscene materials in libraries as a “perception issue.”

“Libraries do not contain materials that are, by law, defined as obscene,” McGrath said, sending snickers through the packed committee room.

Erin Kennedy, the ILA’s intellectual freedom committee chair, said libraries are meant to offer diverse collections. Removing materials based on one group’s values could compromise the needs of other community members. The beauty of libraries, she said, is that they have something for everyone, including materials that may be controversial or unpopular.

“If you don’t like or agree with the ideas in a book, there is a breathtakingly simple solution — don’t read it,” said Kennedy.

By large, the librarians denied that their collections contain pornographic content. At least six others testified in support of HB 314.

One man displayed pornographic magazines from a local sex shop as he testified before the committee. He compared them to scans of a book he allegedly found in the Meridian Library.

Rathdrum parent Nina Beesley (who previously testified in the House Education Committee) said her local library has a “plethora” of obscene materials that haven’t been removed after over two years of pushback.

“The state has institutionalized harm to kids,” said Beesley.

After over an hour of testimony and discussion, the House State Affairs Committee sent the bill to the House floor on a party-line vote.

Feminine hygiene dispenser bill heads to House floor

After hearing nearly an hour of personal testimony — from students and health care professionals — the House Education Committee endorsed a proposal to provide free feminine hygiene products in schools.

House Bill 313 would require schools to install feminine hygiene dispensers in girls’ and unisex restrooms. Some schools already have such dispensers, installed and stocked by volunteers. In other schools, girls have to go to a nurse’s office or a principal’s office for feminine hygiene products.

Supporters say HB 313 will improve attendance, since many girls miss classes or school days during their menstrual period, and protect students’ privacy.

“It’s about respecting our young women and trying to do something to help them with their struggles,” said Rep. Lori McCann, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby.

Testimony Thursday was unanimously in favor of the bill.

“Let’s solve this problem with policy and instead of the inconsistent donations,” said Avrey Hendrix, founder of the Idaho Period Project, a group advocating for access to feminine hygiene products in schools.

“Supporting this bill is supporting the young people of Idaho,” said Alison Russell, a junior at Eagle High School.

Jennifer Lingle, a Boise school nurse, said students will stay home from school to avoid the “terrifying possibility” of a menstrual accident, and will only reluctantly go to a school office for feminine hygiene products. “It can be embarrassing and overwhelming to do that.”

The committee’s debate was also emotional at times.

“As women we have taken care of each other, and still do,” said Rep. Soñia Galaviz, D-Boise, a teacher. “It’s time that we have some responsibility in our state and in our schools.”

“I feel embarrassed I didn’t take care of this myself,” said Rep. Greg Lanting, R-Twin Falls, a retired middle school principal.

Several committee members were reluctant, or opposed.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, voted to send the bill to the House floor. But she said she was frustrated with terminology from supporters, terms such as “period poverty,” which she described as “wokeism.”

Other lawmakers balked at the statewide mandate. Rep. Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene, questioned the cost of the program, when education leaders are worried about the cost of building maintenance.

HB 313 carries a projected cost of $735,000 for dispensers and supplies. A 2022 state report estimated the cost of repairing or replacing aging schools at more than $847 million.

HB 313 passed the committee on a voice vote. Voting no were Price and fellow Republicans Lance Clow of Twin Falls; Dale Hawkins of Fernwood; Ron Mendive of Coeur d’Alene; and Tony Wisniewski of Post Falls.

HB 313 goes to the House floor.

Fast-tracked property tax overhaul clears another hurdle

A property tax overhaul bill — one with high stakes for Idaho schools — is headed to the Senate floor.

House Bill 292 would provide some $100 million a year to schools, on the condition that the money goes to property tax relief. Schools can use the money to pay down bonds or levies, put the money toward future building needs, or bond against their share of the money.

But that money comes with a tradeoff. HB 292 also would eliminate the March school election  — the most commonly used election for ballot measures. On Tuesday, school districts sought $1 billion in bonds and levies, although most of the big-ticket proposals failed.

The March election date was again a talking point Thursday, as the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee took up the bill.

Sen. Ali Rabe, D-Boise, made a motion to send the bill to the Senate floor for amendment, hoping to delete the language eliminating the March election date. That motion failed, with Republicans noting that the House had already passed a bill that would eliminate the March and August elections.

When that motion failed, the committee sent the bill to the Senate floor for a final vote.

Health education budget moves forward, despite abortion training concerns

Despite a testy debate, a health education programs budget cleared the House floor Thursday morning. 

Senate Bill 1147 would appropriate $27,215,100 to support medical residency programs in Idaho, and support four higher ed programs:

  • University of Idaho: The Washington-Idaho-Montana-Utah Veterinary Education Program.
  • University of Idaho, University of Washington: The WWAMI Medical Education Program.
  • Idaho State University, Creighton University: The Idaho Dental Education Program.
  • University of Utah: The University of Utah Medical Education Program.

But the seemingly simple budget is entangled in the national abortion debate. 

WAAMI (the University of Washington’s multi-state medical training program) offers elective courses on female healthcare and abortion.

Idaho students can take the courses, but they would have to pay out of pocket. 

Under 2021 legislation, Idaho students cannot use their WWAMI scholarship funds to pay for abortion-related classes. This prohibition is made clear to the Washington and Idaho program leaders, students and others who help distribute the funds, according to budget bill sponsor Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg. 

But a string of conservative lawmakers said the budget needs to outline those restrictions separately, as an extra measure of precaution. 

Rep. Josh Tanner, R-Eagle, said language of intent would ensure colleges and universities aren’t “skating the line” of Idaho statute. 

Raybould disagreed. Doing so, she said, would set an unnecessary precedent based on no evidence. “The statute says it. It is already illegal,” Raybould said. 

Other lawmakers said revising the bill would send the wrong message to Idaho’s already dwindling community of medical professionals. Idaho needs to attract and retain doctors, not discourage them, said Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby. “This could be dangerous.” 

With a 44-25 vote, the budget bill advanced out of the House.

Bathroom bill quickly clears the House

Without debate, Senate Bill 1100 passed the House in a 59-10 vote.

SB 1100 would require school patrons to use the restrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms that correspond with their gender assigned at birth. The bill does allow students who are “unwilling or unable” to comply with the legislation to seek accommodations from their school district.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

More from the House

The House passed three additional bills Thursday.

  • A bill allowing community colleges to receive appropriations for bachelor’s degree programs cleared the House unanimously.
  • A ban on in-person instruction during election days for schools being used as polling places also passed the House, but not quite as easily. Lawmakers expressed concerns about government overreach, and said the bill sends a message to young students that Idaho voters are “not safe.” The bill narrowly passed, 37-32.
  • A bill raising the cap on a well-used charter school financing tool passed the House. Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, cast the sole vote against the bill.

More from Senate Ed

Senate Ed voted on two more pieces of legislation.

  • A bill requiring schools to accept cash for athletic games passed the committee 7-2. The bill would impose a $100 fine on school district who don’t comply with the legislation.
  • Committee Chair Dave Lent brought forward a bill that would require school districts to provide career exploration courses to students in 7th or 8th grade. The committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the amending order. Fred Birnbaum of the Idaho Freedom Foundation testified against the bill.

Kevin Richert and Sadie Dittenber

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