August 5, 2021

Happenings at the Statehouse – March 3, 2021

Things have been getting much more contentious these last couple of weeks. And there’s no sign of it ending any time soon.

Education

Yesterday House GOP members voted to reject a $6 million grant from the federal government that would have allowed communities around Idaho to expand early childhood education offerings at no cost to the state budget. One opponent of the bill (HB226) argued: “Any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.” Others vilified the administrator of the grant as a liberal proponent of “social justice ideology”. The upshot is that this money would have expanded programs to boost literacy and school readiness, and that opportunity was turned away.

HB215, a voucher bill, is awaiting a vote on the House floor. This bill would allocate $35 million to provide scholarships of approximately $6,000 each to qualifying families to use for private school tuition or homeschooling. My concern is that there are many accountability metrics applied to public schools as a condition of receiving taxpayer money, but none that would apply to these private recipients of tax dollars. And, when Idaho is 51st in the nation in public education funding, I question whether it makes sense to funnel tens of millions of dollars into private schools.

HB221 is also awaiting a floor vote. This bill seeks to address our teacher shortage by allowing districts to hire teachers who do not have a state-recognized teacher certification. This one also concerns me – I would rather see us address our teacher shortage by paying a wage that entices qualified teachers rather than by dropping standards for qualification.

Vote Suppression

S1110 makes it twice as difficult as it currently is to collect enough signatures for a ballot initiative. Given that under the current standards, there has only been one successful initiative in the past decade, this bill would essentially drive a stake through the heart of the ballot initiative process in Idaho.

This bill passed the Senate last week and is headed to House State Affairs. If you’d like to speak up for your ballot initiative rights, you can send an email here.

HB223 passed the House this week. It would make it a felony to deliver someone else’s ballot for them, even if you are faithfully carrying out their request. A similar law was recently struck down in Montana because it unduly suppresses the votes of those living in tribal areas where neighbors often pick up and deliver each other’s mail. Another similar law in Arizona is now being litigated in the Supreme Court. I am concerned both that this law criminalizes innocent behavior, and that it will unduly suppress the votes of the elderly, disabled, Native Americans living in remote tribal areas, and others who depend on friends or caregivers for assistance and mail delivery. If you have a couple of minutes, here’s my debate against it, and if you want to speak out on this bill, you can email here.

The vote suppression efforts continue with HB255, a bill that would prevent the use of student IDs or even passports for voter registration. This would significantly decrease student voting, as many students don’t get a driver’s license issued for a dorm address where they’ll only be living for a short time, and they rely on their student ID’s. I would like to see us encouraging young people to vote, not throwing obstacles in their path. Idaho has an excellent election system currently with no sign of fraud, and I see no justification for efforts that make it much harder for legal voters to vote. If you want to send an email on this bill, you can do so here.