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Eye On Boise

Mon., April 4, 2011, 1:46 p.m.

Three emergency-clause bills advance for school reforms

The House Education Committee this morning sent HB 335 and HB 336, both "trailer" bills to add emergency clauses to the already-enacted school reform laws SB 1108 and SB 1110, to the full House for votes, and introduced a third measure to add an emergency clause to SB 1184, the just-passed school reform bill to shift salary funds to technology purchases. Luci Willits, chief of staff for state schools Supt. Tom Luna, said the emergency clauses will ensure that if a referendum to reject them qualifies for the ballot, it won't stay the laws between now and the referendum vote in November of 2012. "The state department is not taking anything for granted," Willits said. "If these laws are halted in implementation, education will be in limbo for at least 18 months."

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Lawmakers advance bills to prevent ed reform delay
By JESSIE L. BONNER,Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers appear to be taking seriously efforts to overturn Idaho's new education reform laws.

Legislation advanced on Monday would tack emergency clauses onto bills that already cleared the 2011 Idaho Legislature and will phase out tenure for teachers; restrict collective bargaining; introduce merit pay; and shift money in the public schools budget to pay for classroom technology upgrades and the changes in teacher pay.

The reform plan was crafted by public schools chief Tom Luna, who heads the state Department of Education, with backing from Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

The emergency clauses will make the education reforms go into effect immediately, not on July 1, like most new state laws. The move aims to prevent a planned referendum campaign from delaying implementation of the laws until after the November 2012 election.

Without the emergency clauses, a referendum petition could stop the new laws until after a public vote, said Luna's chief of staff, Luci Willits.

"The state department is not taking anything for granted," Willits said. "If these laws are halted in implementation, education will be in limbo for at least 18 months."

A group of parents and representatives from the statewide teachers union have taken steps to launch a referendum on the contentious new laws, which have dominated the 2011 session and triggered student and teacher protests at the Idaho Capitol. The group, which would need to collect 47,432 signatures from Idaho voters within 60 days after the end of the legislative session, is expected to decide in April whether to proceed with the repeal campaign.

And if a referendum petition is filed, Idaho statute says the laws targeted would not take effect until after a public vote.

"I think there's a sense in the general public that the voters will have a decision to make if they get the signatures and that things would go forward," Willits said. "But the law is very clear that that is not the case. The law would be stopped in its tracks, which means education is in limbo for 18 months."

But attorneys have advised the state Department of Education that an emergency clause would ensure that the legislation goes into effect and functions until voters weigh in, said Jason Hancock, who serves as Luna's deputy chief of staff. On Monday, he briefed lawmakers on the House Education Committee.

"At that point, the legislation would either rise or fall," Hancock said. "It would stay in effect or be removed from Idaho code based on the vote of the people."

The passage of the so-called emergency clauses will not impact the referendum campaign spearheaded by the teachers union, said Idaho Education President Sherri Wood.

"We always knew we were going to have to live under these bills until November 2012," Wood said. "We knew that."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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