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Eye On Boise

It’s the law: Turns out teachers will get first merit-pay bonuses, regardless of election result Nov. 6

Here's a new wrinkle in the ongoing dispute about timing of the first merit-pay bonuses to teachers under the new "Students Come First" school reform laws, in which the Idaho Education Association has been accusing state schools Supt. Tom Luna of holding the bonuses hostage, to be paid out only if the reform laws are upheld; and Luna has been insisting he's constrained by timelines and can't send the bonuses out before the election. Turns out, it actually doesn't matter. Teachers who earned the bonuses last year will get them this fall regardless of the outcome of the referenda vote on Nov. 6. Here's why:

State law requires the bonuses to be sent out on or before the Nov. 15 state payment to school districts. Because the reform laws all had emergency clauses added to them making them take effect immediately - even if they're later overturned by referendum - they're in effect now. If voters turn down the referenda, voting no on the propositions and repealing the reform laws, that move doesn't take effect instantly on the day of the election. Instead, under Idaho Code 34-1813, the repeal of the laws would take effect when the state Board of Canvassers certifies the results of the election, and the governor issues a proclamation declaring those results. The law says the measures would be "in full force and effect as the law of the state of Idaho from the date of said proclamation."

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, asked about the process, said the Board of Canvassers, which consists of himself, the state controller, and the state treasurer, is scheduled to meet Nov. 21st to certify the results of the Nov. 6 election. "I think everybody was wondering that," Ysursa said. "We would prepare this proclamation for the governor to sign, and it's prepared for the same day."

Ysursa said all the questions about the timing likely are arising because Idaho's law really was written with initiatives in mind, which are citizen-initiated laws, rather than referenda, which are citizen-initiated votes on whether or not to accept laws passed by the Legislature. Typically, the filing of a referendum would "suspend it from ever going into operation," until after the voters had their say, he explained. But under Idaho Supreme Court precedent, an emergency clause trumps that, allowing a referendum to take effect in the meantime, and then be either upheld or repealed. You can read my full story here at

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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