Politics: Legislative Battles Underway

by Judy Ferro

Our legislators, toiling away in Boise for over a month now, have introduced more than one bill each—90 in the House and 45 in the Senate.

Four new license plates are under consideration.  (We have 50 already.)

The new abortion bill merely requires a doctor’s examination before and after RU-486 is administered.  It aims to curtail on-line sales and relies on civil suits for enforcement.

The new gun-rights bill would extend legislators’ rights to carry concealed weapons without a permit to every “law-abiding” Idaho citizen.

And “Add the Words” got its first public hearing, one which allowed 186 voters to speak.  Although the bill was defeated in committee, there is now recorded testimony on discrimination in Idaho.  Legislators can no longer say we don’t need a law because no one has complained.

And, perhaps, others were as touched as Rep. Linden Bateman.  “I’ve gotten to know you,” he said, “and I know from this point on — forever — I will be kinder and I will be more compassionate to those who bear a heavy burden.”

The big battles loom ahead now, and many, if not most, concern education.  Five Idaho colleges want $3.7 million to cover the cost of implementing the new guns on campus law.  Junior colleges have asked for more than the 1.5% requested by the Governor, who proposed a 4.4% increase for the universities.

And Superintendent Ybarra and Governor Otter are squaring off over whether the new plan tying teacher pay to student test scores gets a pilot program in six schools or is rolled out throughout the state.  Educators who remember new math and wall-less classrooms believe in pilot programs.

The fight I am glad to see, though, is Senator Jeff Siddoway’s declaration that he will not allow any tax cut bills out of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee until teacher starting pay is increased 25% to $40,000 a year.

I was speechless when I saw this, because I thought all the Republican leadership was aiming to destroy public schools.  I mean, they cut teacher’s salaries, increase their work loads, insult their abilities, question their motives, ignore their input, and then are disappointed when teachers leave the state or the profession?

I’m now considering that Siddoway may have actually believed statements by the American Legislative Exchange Commission, which designed many of the changes Idaho Republicans have fought for.  Its mission statement for education includes phrases like “promote excellence,” “parental choice,” “efficiency” and “opportunity to succeed.”

Dozens of other entities have looked at the ALEC proposals, however, and concluded that the organization’s real mission is to siphon public education money to private K-12 corporations and drive down wages. Get rid of the professional and bring in the minions. That’s been the direction in Idaho.

Looking at the Koch brothers other school interventions in states like North Carolina and Kansas, however, suggests they also want to prevent the middle class and the poor from socializing and developing inter-class ties.  A permanent sub-class makes the middle class more scared and obedient.

But now Siddoway, undeniably a strong Idaho Republican, is alarmed by teacher shortages in his district and sees that public schools are in danger?  He really wants to see public education serve the counties he represents?

I am both flabbergasted and hopeful.  Could there be others in the Republican leadership more interested in serving Idaho than in impressing ALEC and the Kochs?

Will Siddoway succeed in improving morale–and bank accounts–for our teacher corps?  Or will the Republican leadership instead decide that the Transportation Committee can now handle tax cuts?