Statehouse roundup, 3.28.23: House overrides property tax veto, as showdown escalates

House Republicans dug in Tuesday, in an escalating late-session Statehouse battle over property taxes, school funding and school elections.

On nearly a party-line vote, the House overrode Gov. Brad Little’s surprise veto of a far-reaching property tax bill that had sailed through both houses. Earlier in the day, the House voted along party lines to reject a Senate attempt to scrap the original property tax bill, in favor of a rewrite designed to assuage Little’s concerns.

Public schools have high stakes in this showdown. Lawmakers are debating whether to provide $100 million, or more, that schools can use to pay down bonds or levies or cover future building projects. They are also debating whether to eliminate the standalone March school election — the most commonly used date for bond and levy requests.

The debate came to a head Monday, when Little vetoed House Bill 292, a property tax overhaul promising $355 million in immediate relief. Little said he decided to veto the bill, in part, because it eliminated the March school elections. The Senate moved quickly Monday afternoon, rewriting a second House-passed tax bill to incorporate many pieces of HB 292, while addressing the concerns raised in Little’s veto. For instance, the Senate rewrite left the March school elections intact.

Cardboard boxes are usually a harbinger — a sign that lawmakers are preparing to pack up and adjourn for the session. Empty boxes lined a hallway outside House chambers Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday, the House made its moves.

In the morning, representatives quickly voted down the Senate’s attempt to fashion an unrelated tax bill, House Bill 198, into a reimagined property tax proposal. And Rep. David Cannon, R-Blackfoot, reminded colleagues that the Idaho Constitution gives the House the unique power to write revenue-generating legislation.

“The amendments are hostile,” Cannon said. “The bill has come back in a form that is unrecognizable.”

Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, urged colleagues to accept the Senate’s rewrite. “It’s a fantastic property tax bill.”

By mid-afternoon, the House upped the ante.

First, the House passed a quickly drafted bill designed to address another one of Little’s concerns with HB 292.

In his veto message, Little had said HB 292 stymied $400 million in transportation projects because it jeopardized the state’s ability to use sales taxes to bond for the roadwork. The House passed House Bill 376, which earmarks at least $80 million of sales tax revenue that the state can use for bonding purposes.

Then the House turned its attention back to HB 292, and Little’s veto.

“It was a good bill when we voted on it before,” said Cannon, urging colleagues to override the veto. “It is a good bill now.”

The debate was brief — and much of it centered on the March elections, and the impact on schools.

“We are permanently taking away a tool from them,” Necochea said. “The state has a very poor track record of adequately funding our schools.”

Rep. Barbara Ehardt argued that low voter turnout plagues the standalone March school elections.

“We’re giving people the ability to raise property taxes with only a few people showing up,” said Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls.

The House voted 58-12 to override Little’s veto. Rep. Greg Lanting, R-Twin Falls, joined the House’s 11 Democrats in opposition.

The House’s actions now turn the focus back to the Senate. Eight days ago, the Senate passed HB 292 on a 32-3 vote, a margin that would exceed the two-thirds threshold needed to override a veto.

After the House’s override vote, Senate Republicans promptly went into a closed-door caucus. They met until early Tuesday evening, but did not take up a possible veto override.

The property tax staredown has slowed activity at the Statehouse. Legislative leaders had hoped to wrap up this year’s session last week. Now, it’s unclear when the 2023 session will adjourn.

And amidst the impasse, several high-profile education issues are on hold.

Running through a long list of pending legislation, the Senate skipped two remaining K-12 budget bills, proposals that must pass both houses. The House skipped over a Senate-passed bill to tweak “Idaho Launch,” Little’s proposal to provide cash incentives to high school graduates seeking to pursue in-demand careers.

Senate leaves school election dates bill in limbo

In another scene in the drama over school bonds and levies, the Senate rejected an attempt to amend a bill narrowing school election dates. 

The Senate’s vote leaves House Bill 58 in limbo, possibly for the session. 

As originally written, HB 58 would eliminate both the March and August school elections. But after hearing pushback from the state’s prevailing education organizations, bill sponsor Rep. Joe Alfieri, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked that the bill be sent for amendment, preserving the March election, while eliminating the August election. 

But the requested amendment failed Tuesday, amidst the larger debate over property taxes and school elections. 

Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, pointed out “strong movement” against the March date, as evidenced by HB 292. 

“I’m a little bit at a loss as to what we should do here, but I think there’s too much at stake to move forward before we know the results of other things that are happening right now,” said Lent, speaking against the proposed amendment, but in favor of keeping both election dates. 

The amendment failed in a split vote. HB 58 has yet to receive a full Senate vote, and it now appears unlikely that the Senate will act on it.

Senate approves CTE funding

The Senate approved funding for state superintendent Debbie Critchfield’s career technical education plan Tuesday morning.

The spending bill appropriates $45 million for the Idaho Career Ready Students Program — Critchfield’s new capital fund for CTE projects and partnerships in school districts across the state. It will be administered by the State Department of Education. The bill allocates another $5 million to the Division of Career Technical Education for added-cost CTE funding.

With a 28-6 vote, the spending bill will now head to the governor’s desk.

And the Senate didn’t stop there.

House Bill 363 — the annual budget bill for CTE — also passed late Tuesday afternoon. The $76 million Division of Career Technical Education budget covers employee compensation and benefits, and funds six additional full-time CTE positions, and four-and-a-half new postsecondary staff positions.

The bill quickly passed the Senate, 27-7.

Idaho Launch ‘trailer bill’ passes Senate

On a 20-15 vote, the Senate approved a $5 million spending bill tied to one of Gov. Brad Little’s top priorities.

The bill allocates $5 million to the Workforce Development Council for administrative costs related to the Idaho Launch program — the governor’s controversial incentive plan for high school graduates who pursue in-demand careers. Senate Bill 1212 would allow the council to add six full-time employees.

The original Idaho Launch bill, House Bill 24, was delivered to the governor’s desk. But another trailer limiting the scope of the program is on hold in the House, where SB 1212 is headed next.

More from the Senate

Health insurance. A bill amending the public health insurance participation fund got approval from the Senate. House Bill 203 would remove the $4,500 per-support unit cap on the fund. It also extends the fund’s sunset date to 2025 — giving schools another year to participate. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

Trustee elections. House Bill 240 would allow an elected school board trustee to carry out their term in office, even if zone boundaries are redrawn in the middle of an election cycle. The Senate passed the bill 34-0.

Restraints and seclusion. In a 21-12 vote, an amended bill outlining parameters on restraint and seclusion techniques in schools passed the Senate. House Bill 281 bans corporal punishment and chemical restraints in schools, and allows the use of certain restraint and seclusion methods only in situations when a student or staff member is in “imminent danger.” The bill was amended by the Senate Monday to remove private schools from the regulatory language. The amended version of the bill will head back to the House for approval.

More from the House

Before overriding Gov. Brad Little’s veto of the property tax relief bill, the House wrapped up two other education bills.

The House approved the Senate-amended versions of bills that had passed the House earlier in the session.

Prayer. House Bill 182 would reaffirm the rights of students or staff to pray on school grounds. The Senate amendments delete references to “silent” prayer, and that has been a sticking point in the debate. Critics say the bill would sanction proselytizing. The House passed the amended bill on a party-line 57-11 vote.

Career exploration. House Bill 269 lays the groundwork for a one-time career exploration class in seventh or eighth grade. The Senate added opt-out language, and the House passed the amended bill 52-16.

Both bills go to Little’s desk.


Kevin Richert and Sadie Dittenber

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