Statehouse roundup, 4.3.24: Library bill heads to governor’s desk, as Legislature recesses

Idaho public libraries and schools could soon be liable for lawsuits stemming from book challenges. 

On Wednesday — possibly the last full day of business for the 2024 session — the Senate passed House Bill 710, the latest of several attempts in recent years to restrict library books accessible to children. Senate Republicans overwhelmingly supported the bill, and it passed on a 24-11 vote. 

On Wednesday afternoon, the House passed the amended bill, sending it to the governor’s desk.

“The issue has created great division in our state,” said co-sponsoring Sen. Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins. “This legislation creates a process that is fair for both sides. One side may want kids to have access to certain material and the other side does not.”

The bill creates a process through which public school and library patrons can challenge books they deem “harmful to minors.” If library or school officials don’t remove the book or relocate it to an adults-only section within 60 days, the complainant would have a cause of action to ask that a judge weigh-in on whether the bill is harmful. Libraries would be liable for $250 in statutory damages along with uncapped actual damages — a monetary award to compensate for loss or injury. 

Earlier in the session, conservative hardliners joined Senate Democrats to shoot down a similar bill. The conservatives argued Senate Bill 1289 didn’t go far enough to restrict access to “harmful” books.

Just four Republicans joined all seven Senate Democrats in opposing HB 710. Sens. Treg Bernt of Meridian, Linda Wright Hartgen of Twin Falls, Abby Lee of Fruitland and Julie VanOrden of Pingree voted “no.”

Lee said the cause of action could incite activists, “trying to create a distraction…trying to create protests, trying to make sure that other people can’t see materials that they deem as inappropriate.”

It’s now up to Gov. Brad Little to sign the bill into law, let it become law without his signature or veto it. Last year, Little vetoed a comparable bill with more severe penalties, and the House failed to override the veto.  

It’s unclear whether the House and Senate could override a veto on HB 710. The initial House vote on HB 710 last month notched two-thirds of favorable votes — 47 — but on Wednesday, support dipped to 45 votes, two short of a supermajority.

One Republican, Rep. Rick Cheatum of Pocatello, switched from a “yes” to “no” between the votes. Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, who previously supported the bill, was absent during the latest tally.

The Senate needs 24 votes for a supermajority.

Little has five days, not including Sunday, to act on the bill once it reaches his desk.

The library votes came during a fitful and confrontational 87th day of the 2024 legislative session, as lawmakers sought to wrap up their business for 2024. But two of Wednesday’s high-profile showdowns are not education-related.

The House and Senate were at odds over a budget for the Idaho Transportation Department. Meanwhile, budget-writers grappled with a $4.7 million shortfall in the state’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, a crisis that came to light Wednesday morning. (Details from Clark Corbin of the Idaho Capital Sun.)

At about 4:30 p.m., the House recessed until April 10, after approving the ITD budget. That means the Vocational Rehabilitation budget and any other last-minute bills will be on hold until next week.

At 8 p.m., the Senate also recessed, after clearing the ITD budget by one vote. The Senate also plans to return April 10 while they await potential vetoes that lawmakers can address when they return.

Launch sideboards go to governor

A bill amending the criteria for workforce training programs that qualify for Idaho Launch is heading to the governor. 

The Senate late Wednesday approved House Bill 741 on a 25-10 vote, after no debate. The House had already approved the bill on a tighter 38-31 vote. 

Launch is a $70.8 million program giving Idaho high school students $8,000 scholarships for in-demand career training. The current definition of in-demand hinges on job openings and industry growth. HB 741 would create a more narrow definition that incorporates economic output and growth. 

The bill focuses the criteria away from “generic job openings and potential growth” to a matrix that “actually measures the quality of the jobs being considered,” said sponsoring Sen. Dave Lent. 

Senate leaders initially planned to amend the bill, to address potential stress on counties that subsidize the costs of students attending community college in another county. When a student from outside a community college taxing district attends a two-year school elsewhere in the state, their home county must pay a $500 fee. 

Launch is expected to surge enrollment at community colleges, and Senate Assistant Minority Leader Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, said Tuesday the enrollment increase could put tension on these county funds. 

Lent, R-Idaho Falls, told Idaho Education News Wednesday that the Legislature could instead take up that issue next year. “It’s a bigger issue than we could solve today.” 

Early estimates show it won’t be a “significant” strain on the counties, Lent said.

Senate approves K-12 discretionary dollars, other education budgets

The Senate Wednesday snugly approved a bill providing K-12 schools with $63.6 million in discretionary dollars along with raises for school administrators and classified staff.

The “student support” budget — House Bill 763 — covers 1% across-the-board raises and 2% merit-based hikes. The discretionary money is one of five funding tranches designed to fill a gap left by this year’s reversion to attendance-based funding.

The Senate endorsed the bill on a 25-9 vote after no debate in opposition.

The Senate also endorsed these education budgets Wednesday: 

  • House Bill 757 directs about $215 million to school districts for property tax relief. The money comes from a pair of tax bills designed to offset school building costs: House Bill 292, passed last year, and House Bill 521, passed this year. Districts must use the money first to pay down existing bonds and levies, then for new facilities costs. The Senate passed the bill on a 33-1 vote. 
  • House Bill 761 gives school districts $36.1 million in discretionary funding. This is one part of a five-pronged approach to giving public schools $145 million to account for funds lost due to this year’s reversion to an attendance-based funding formula. The budget passed the Senate on a 28-7 vote.
  • House Bill 762 provides about $27.6 million for state and federal programs administered by the Department of Education. That includes $20 million for the Career Ready Students program, $2 million for the Disability Innovation Partnership and $350,000 for suicide prevention, among other programs. The Senate voted 25-10 to approve the budget.

All four budget bills now head to the governor’s desk.

Trailer to facilities bill also heads to Little’s desk

The Senate passed a bill tweaking an omnibus school facilities law.

But not without a couple of complaints about the process.

House Bill 766 – a “trailer’’ bill to the newly passed facilities law – puts several repairs under one roof. It eases restrictions on four-day school districts that seek to spend a share of the $1 billion in facilities funding. It guarantees charter school facilities funding, at $400 per student. It provides a fix for the Oneida School District, which stands to lose state funding under the new law. And it allows the Senate to confirm the next director of the State Board of Education.

None of those disjointed parts came up in the Senate’s brief debate. Instead, one senator aimed a few barbs at House Bill 521, the law the Legislature is trying to fix. The 30-page HB 521 makes a historic state investment in local school facilities, but it also cuts income tax rates and eliminates the August school election date, among other items.

Since then, the Legislature has vetted at least eight HB 521 trailer bills.

“(That’s) a prime example of why we should start rejecting these Christmas tree bills,” said Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, one of only 17 legislators who voted against HB 521 in the first place.

The Senate unanimously passed the trailer bill, as the House did on Tuesday. It now goes to Gov. Brad Little.

Senate passes state buildings budget

A $174.8 million state buildings budget bill is also on its way to Gov. Brad Little’s desk.

The Senate passed House Bill 766 Wednesday afternoon.

If it becomes law, HB 766 provides close to $40 million for a variety of projects at Boise State University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University, Lewis-Clark State College and the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Without debate, the Senate passed the budget on a 25-9 vote.


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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