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School bus ads bill resurfaces with amendments

The House Education Committee has voted to send SB 1111, the bill to permit advertising on school buses, to the House's amending order with a series of amendments attached, designed to address concerns  raised by opponents in an earlier House debate. The concerns were so widespread that House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, pulled the bill back to committee for more work, rather than see it killed.

The measure was proposed by the Meridian School District, which estimates it could make hundreds of thousands for schools by selling the bus ads. Amendments proposed in the committee this morning would clarify that the ads can only go on the exterior of the buses, not the interior; would clarify that no political ads or ads for alcohol, tobacco or sexually explicit items could be placed; and require the placement of the ads to comply with rules for safety markings on school buses. They'd also specify that the money would go to the local school board for "appropriate educational purposes." Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said the bill is an example of "some out-of-the-box thinking" that he said "could generate some revenue that we think should go directly to the classroom."

Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, said, "I like these amendments, I think it certainly makes it a stronger bill. I haven't opposed this bill, and yet I've still felt uneasy about it since the get-go. ... We're making school districts more of a commerciall venture. ... There are a lot of ways that schools could go down this path," such as having school shop classes produce items that then are sold for a profit. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, the bill's lead sponsor, said, "I think we're all disappointed in the economic situation we're in, making the cuts. ... We could say, 'Too bad, tough luck,' or we could allow the districts to use some creative way. This is a very limited way - this doesn't open up the slipperly slope to all the things that you've mentioned. ... We've tightened it up."

Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, said, "I don't think this is setting a precedent for public schools. We've endorsed and utilized advertising for a long, long time. You just need to go to athletic fields and look at scoreboards. The only difference is this is a moving target. But all over our schools we have stationary advertising." He said, "I still think that what Rep. Cronin brought up is correct - we need to be tastefully concerned that we just don't turn our schools into a commercial area or resource for advertisers." But he said he's "comfortable" with the amendments. "I can't see this being a threat to safety if it's done appropriately on buses."

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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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