School districts would be able to pass bond issues to build schools with a 60 percent vote instead of the current two-thirds majority, under a bill that won initial approval Monday.
But there’s a catch: The districts would receive the easier standard only if they schedule bond elections on one of four designated dates - the same dates as other types of elections are held in Idaho.
“It would be two-thirds if they choose to have an election in September at Open School Night,” said Ray Stark, a lobbyist for the Boise Area Chamber of Commerce who presented the bill.
Stark said two southern Idaho districts have used that ploy successfully, passing large bonds after repeated failures in more conventional elections.
His group wants school bond elections to get a broader voter turnout.
Idaho’s rules make winning passage of bonds to build schools tougher than in any other state. Three other states share Idaho’s two-thirds majority requirement for school bonds, but Idaho is the only one of the four that also requires local property-tax payers to foot the entire bill for school construction.
Seven states have 60 percent requirements, while 35 states require only a majority vote to pass a school bond.
Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Twiggs, R-Blackfoot, said, “I’m pretty protective of that two-thirds majority to pass a bond.” His rural school district has won passage of bonds when they really were needed, he said. “We have to have a pretty proven need to get it done, but it is possible.”
Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, was the only other member of the Senate State Affairs Committee to oppose the measure, which was sent to the full Senate on a 7-2 vote.
Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d’Alene, said, “We did have a general-election school bond fail. I think the school districts will not pursue the general dates without some kind of incentive.”
She added, “I think this is a novel way to address the problem.”
The bill, SJR 104, is a constitutional amendment, so it needs two-thirds approval from both the House and Senate plus majority approval by Idaho’s voters to become law.
“This is an uphill battle all the way,” Stark said.
Republican Sen. Mary Hartung, assistant majority leader, said she favors sending the bill to the full Senate “just for a good exercise and debate, if nothing else.”
The measure also would lower the required vote from two-thirds to 60 percent for city and county bond elections. Cities and counties already are limited to the four dates for their elections.