Idahoans pressing on, but legislative hurdles persist

Coronavirus changed our world this week. Gatherings from children’s school concerts to national basketball finals were cancelled, toilet paper and hand sanitizers became precious commodities, and a deepening plunge in the stock market seemed a footnote compared to the tragedies we anticipate.

And, yet, people pressed on, doing what they felt needed done.  

On March 10 over 225,000 Idaho voters went to the polls to support their preferred presidential candidates. They passed 39 of the 41 school levies up for a vote, authorizing over $170 million in taxes including a whopping 10-year levy for more than $80 million for Pocatello-Chubbuck. Only Middleton and Swan Valley saw levies fail.  

And by the cutoff time last Friday, 219 candidates had filed for Idaho’s 105 legislative positions. 

Legislative races require a thick skin, hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars, especially for challengers. Running is an act of bravery. 

Over 40 seats will see primaries among Republicans, but none will top Nampa’s six-way race for House Seat 13B.

Fifty-eight seats in 26 districts have both Democratic and Republican challengers.  Forty-seven seats have no Democratic contenders.    

And the legislature moved into high gear; more bills were enacted on March 9 and 10 than in the previous nine weeks.  With Idaho’s first coronavirus patient just across town and primary challenges just nine week away, members were motivated to adjourn.   

Some disputes were settled.          

The Senate State Affairs committee voted to let school districts continue to decide whether employees should carry guns. Members voted down SB 1384 which would have allowed employees with enhanced concealed carry permits to carry guns in schools. The majority felt that the permits were too easy to get, and untrained individuals with guns were dangerous.   

Some weren’t.   

The House Health and Welfare committee killed a bill to claim $8.5 million that counties previously paid for medical indigency and Catastrophic Health Care programs to help pay for Medicaid expansion. Members worried that changes to the law would mean some coronavirus victims would not get treatment. Within hours, however, a new bill was introduced that would take $12 million from the counties.  

And other disputes heated up.  

Both the House and Senate want to do something to relieve property taxes; the House favors freezing rates and requiring counties to cut their budgets; the Senate wants to increase the exemption for homeowners from $100,000 to $125,000. They’ve been engaging in parliamentary one-up-manship rather than compromise. 

And the House has recently killed four JFAC-approved budget bills.

Odds are that members rejected the Treasurer’s budget because Treasurer Julie Ellsworth has refused to move her department’s offices from the main floor of the Capitol Building so House members can have more office space. 

Budgets for the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and higher education all exceeded the Governor’s recommendations.   

The higher education budget got additional criticism from those opposing inclusion and diversity programs at Boise State University.

According to Idaho Education News, Rep. Vito Barbieri said the House must “send the message that we do have a say on what is taught and we do have a say on who they are hiring, and for what purposes they are hiring.” (Barbieri has a Republican primary challenger, but no Democratic one this year.)  

Apparently, the paradigm of colleges and universities as diverse communities of  scholars is under challenge. Will Idahoans readily accept institutions of state-controlled indoctrination? 

Will we see four new budget bills drafted, pass through committees, and be accepted by a majority of members of both houses this week?

It’s possible–but we’ll see. 

Politics has its own March Madness 

March Madness isn’t restricted to basketball–clearly not in an election year..

Just over a week ago Democrats had six strong contenders for

president–four men and two women, four old and two young, four moderate and two progressive.

In a matter of days, four contenders dropped out. Now, many Democrats are trying to work up enthusiasm for Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, even as they mourn what ‘might have been’ with Pete or Amy or Michael or Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus continues to spread, particularly in western Washington. Fortunately, Congress has rushed through fundin

g which includes $4 million for Idaho programs. Bring on the experts–please.  

 And the legislature is on a roller coaster going from wise to foolish and back again.

Wise. Tuesday House Democrats joined with moderate Republicans to defeat a bill which would have limited who may be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to report child abuse.

Where does such a bill come from? Has anyone complained that too many people are being charged?

Foolish. But Democrats couldn’t stop the House from passing HB

 525 blocking all state agencies from funding any services from Planned Parenthood–cancer tests, birth control, counselling, whatever. (Three gutsy Republicans did vote against the bill._  

Wise. Then Thursday the House passed a bill sponsored by Ilana Ruble requiring landlords to give tenants at least 30 days notice before raising the rent or not renewing a lease.

Foolish. The House defeated a second bill that would have required landlords to give tenants a list of charges made against their security deposit. Apparently, repairmen of all stripes may itemize for over half a dozen customers a day, but such transparency is too onerous for landlords.

And the House Education Committee came up with a double whammy.  Firs

t, it sent a letter to the Department of Education detailing the changes they want in curriculum standards, e.g. more ‘uplifting’ literature and more pros about fossil fuel consumption. I don’t think they’ll be happy until standards of the 1950s are revived.

Worse, the committee submitted–and the House passed– a bill to allow nonpublic colleges and universities to offer minimal teacher preparation programs. HB599 would force the Department of Education to grant teaching certifications to graduates of any nonpublic education program requiring a bachelor’s degree and ‘content and pedagogical’ training, whatever that entails.

Former legislatures have passed bills allowing charter schools to use non-certified teachers and college graduates with only six-weeks as a teacher’s aid to be treated as the equivalent of educators with master’s degr
ees. Now HB 599 will allow Ricks College to graduate certified teachers even if its program doesn’t measure up to that required of Boise State. (I don’t think NNU or the C of I have asked for changes.)
And the madness isn’t over.
 Next week the Senate will hold hearings on HB 487 which would require a ‘negotiated rulemaking process’ to set penalties for misuse of pesticides and ‘chemigation.’ Who is to negotiate is unclear, but the Marsing Agricultural Labor Sponsoring Committee sounds certain that workers aren’t being included.

“If this bill passes, we are shouting to our work force that we do not care about them as human beings.  We must do everything possible to make sure Idaho agriculture is safe for everyone involved.”

Now that we’re using faster-acting chemicals than ever, we’ll regulate them less?

 

 This is the final week of filing for legislative seats. By Saturday every incumbent will know if he or she will be challenged from the right or the left–and the pace of legislative voting will speed up.

Transgender issues complex

I know just enough about being transgender to know I may never understand it. 

I have three transgender friends–a trans female of my generation and two trans males of my grandchildren’s–and they are creative, fun, and sincere. We talk. Somehow, it’s been enough to know being transgender is part of their core.

 I certainly never planned on writing a column on the subject until three bills were introduced in the House–HBs 465, 500, and 509–that the Idaho American Civil Liberties Union has labelled “the most offensive and unconstitutional” of those being considered by any state. 

 And HB 509 has passed the State Affairs Committee and is going to the full House. 

This bill forbids changes in sex on a person’s birth certificate after the first month.  Rep. Julianne Young, the bill’s sponsor, has argued, “Biological sex is real. It never goes away. And it matters.” 

Ironically, the bill itself isn’t so adamant. It  recognizes that a baby’s biological sex cannot always be determined at birth from “externally observable reproductive anatomy.”  It allows amending the physician’s best guess later “based on the appropriate combination of genetic analysis and evaluation of the individual’s naturally occurring internal and external reproductive anatomy.” 

A little research into “genetic analysis” reveals that we are not all XX (female) or XY (male). Individuals may also be XXY, XYY, and even XXYY–most of whom appear to be male.  But some X chromosomes have Y characteristics, so some XX women with naturally high testosterone levels.  

And there are even ‘mosaics,’ people whose genes are not the same in every cell. 

Evaluation of ‘reproductive anatomy’ can also be complex.  The Intersex Society of North America estimates that each year 1500 children are born here with some combination of  female and male sex organs.   

Much of HB 509 argues that men and women are different, and we must record the original sex of every child for medical research to be valid. But if medical research were the real concern here, supporters would be arguing for more classifications than just M and F. 

I don’t know that anyone claims a connection between these physical anomalies and gender identification. I’m not sure it would make a difference. Does anyone have the right to dictate how others should feel at their core? 

The fiscal note says HB 509 would cost about $3,000 for web changes and outreach. 

A more accurate estimate would be over $400,000.  

Idaho allows sex changes on birth certificates now because in 2018 a Federal court ruled it must. There will certainly be lawsuits and, when Idaho loses, taxpayers will end up paying attorney fees for both sides.

HB 465 is also complicated by biology. It  would make it illegal for a doctor to provide gender transitioning treatment to anyone under 18.  

Now, I have a bias against the government interfering in an individual’s medical decisions or threatening doctors with jail for sharing their professional opinion.  (What all would Republicans be doing if they didn’t have to keep up the pretense of opposing ‘big government’?)  

This issue is particularly sensitive, however, because studies indicate that results from hormone therapy prior to puberty are different than results afterward. Delay affects not only when therapy occurs, but diminishes its results. And, yes, doctors do disagree on whether minors should undergo hormone treatment.  

Somehow, many Republican legislators believe parental rights include denying life-saving medications for their children and marrying off 14-year-old daughters to men decades older. 

How can these same legislators even consider denying parents access to professional help for a child struggling with gender identity? 

House Declares War on Public Schools

Talk about micromanagement.

HB 364 would require every public and public charter school in Idaho to start classes on the first Tuesday after Labor Day.

And guess who’s sponsoring it?

The House Education Committee.

So members aren’t content with deciding the number of hours each student must spend in classes and which classes are required. They also want to dictate that all school calendars resemble those of the 1960s.

There are reasons that classes start in August. Folks like classes to start before football games do. Kids are more adapted to the heat–and more apt to survive unairconditioned classrooms–in August than June.  The less time kids have to forget what they learned the previous school year, the better. And families like the longer breaks at Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring.

HB 364 may only be a straw, but the camel’s back is pretty strained.

The House is at war with public schools.

It’s still hard to believe that the Education Committee made the outrageous move of throwing out all certification and content standards. Yes, the Senate Education Committee undid their foolishness, but House Republicans delivered three more blows against public schools last week.

The House passed HB 347, over Speaker Scott Bedke’s opposition, that would make all taxing districts wait 11 months after a bond fails before requesting a vote on another one.

Since it takes a ⅔ vote to pass a bond, districts tend to put off that first request until overcrowding and building deficiencies are not just projected, but obvious to all paying attention.

And, unlike jails, schools can’t just send kids home until adequate space opens up.

And the State Affairs Committee proposed HB 393 that would allow votes on school levies and bonds only in May and November.

Most school districts present levy elections in March. A November vote means they’d have to budget for the 2021-22 school year before the 2020-2021 was well underway.  A May vote means districts won’t know what funds will be available before the deadlines for issuing teacher contracts and pre-registering students for the next year.

Legislators know this. That’s why school districts were allowed March and August election dates when the legislature acted to consolidate dates.

You’d think some Republicans are unhappy that public schools keep functioning in spite of hurdles the legislature sets up.

Sure, charter schools survive without levies.  The legislature gives them a per pupil allotment more than twice as large as most public schools receive.

Charter school supporters didn’t even have to pass an initiative to make that happen.

 The Education Committee captured headlines again when three Republican members walked out of a presentation on recommendations from Governor Little’s  “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” task force.

Idaho’s suicide rate is fifth highest in the nation. Nearly one-fourth of students surveyed said they’d seriously considered suicide in the past year.

Montana, with a suicide even higher than Idaho’s, passed a million-dollar suicide prevention program in 2017 and saw completed suicides drop 15% the first year.

Oregon, ranking 14th, is just now implementing a $1 billion program aimed at improving students’ mental and behavioral health.

The Idaho task force recommended a $1 million program to train teachers to identify high risk students and address risky youth behaviors.

Republicans Barbara Ehardt and Tony Wisniewski argued that we should conjure up the 1960s and let such problems be taken care of at home.

They didn’t even go so far as recommending thoughts and prayers.

Are these the best legislators Idaho voters can find?

Idaho House committees attack regulations

The Idaho House declared all-out war on regulations last week.  

The House Education Committee led by annihilating existing standards for teacher certification and for curricula in English, math, and science. 

The committee didn’t just riddle the standards with holes. They killed them outright–though the Senate Ed Committee may still resurrect them.  Existing regulations need only pass one germane committee to remain in effect; they don’t go before the full House or Senate.  

I have to admit that I was totally unaware that voters were unhappy that teachers had to have credentials, especially now that we have alternative education programs that substitute a summer institute for a year of graduate credits and allow people with no credentials to teach in charter schools. I think teachers should know that parroting isn’t comprehension and should have college credits in the subjects they teach.  

Some voters do complain that the math and English standards, which closely mirror ‘common core’ standards used by most other states, cripple local control and replaced needed instruction time with expensive, time-consuming testing. 

Ed committee members, however, didn’t argue for local control or less testing. They complained that student scores have failed to rise and called for new standards that “work.”  So the Idaho science standards, written by some of the state’s best educators, got thrown out with the ‘common core’ ones.  

And the Department of Ed is now mandated to write standards that show Idaho’s ill-funded schools are doing a great job. 

    The House Agricultural Committee joined the attack on existing regulations by killing rules barring crop dusters from spraying pesticides on occupied structures, during certain wind speeds, or near hazard areas.

After all, regulations drive up costs for private companies. 

Members of the industry argued that crop dusters today are skilled and professional and that only the Federal Aviation Agency has the power to regulate items in flight. 

Never mind that the FAA has never regulated Idaho crop dusters.  And never mind that today’s pesticides are designed to be faster acting and more potent than ever.

 Idaho’s Department of Agriculture actually had the audacity to ticket a pilot after a dozen Parma farmworkers were hospitalized.  

Regulations that get enforced are the worst.  

And the House Resources and Conservation Committee joined the attack on regulations by blocking a bill that would have fined individuals up to $1000 for blocking access to public roads. A study by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership estimates that private blockades prevent Idahoans from accessing 208,000 acres of the state’s public lands. 

So what if you can no longer pick berries at the spot your family has liked for decades. Regulations are bad. And Idaho can boast of having fewer pages of regulations than any other state.  

So what do these attacks mean for Idahoans? 

The proposal to fine people for blocking roads is dead this session.

The three existing regulations will now go to the ‘germane’ Senate committees. If they pass there, they will remain in effect.  

If they don’t, the agencies involved have the right to adopt ‘temporary regulations’ which the same committees will give thumbs up or down next session.  

If both the House and Senate Agricultural committees want the state’s power to monitor crop dusting gone, the Department of Agriculture would risk cuts in funding if they reinstated the regulations. 

But the House Education Committee hasn’t said it doesn’t want standards–heaven forbid that local school districts have a say–but it hasn’t asked for specific changes. Some Republican members have said their vote doesn’t change anything at all. 

Though it does give them points with some big donors.