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Eye on Boise: House passes parental rights bill

After a fervent, hourlong debate, the Idaho House last week voted 37-31 in favor of a controversial parental rights bill that opponents said could endanger Idaho kids.

Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, sponsor of HB 113, said, “Our families are important, our parents are important, and we would like fundamental rights when it comes to decisions of the courts.” She said legal concerns about the bill raised by the Idaho Supreme Court should be discounted because of separation of powers.

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired pediatrician, said the bill “overturns a whole body of law that we have put around protecting children.” He called it “a very dangerous act for child welfare.” 

The bill would give parents the “fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, education and control of their children.”

Backers included Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, who told a story about objecting to his teenage daughter’s school health class mentioning masturbation, and being allowed to have her leave the class when those subjects were covered.

Opponents included House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, who said the measure is fraught with “unintended consequences,” and could allow a parent to demand that their child be taught Shariah law in public school, or taught only in Spanish. “Every parent could then say they want their own specific textbook for their own child,” he said. “I don’t know what the cost of that is going to be.”

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said, “Let’s not forget who brought these kids into the world. It’s their parents. And let’s not also forget who’s paying taxes for their education. It’s their parents.”

The bill now moves to the Senate.

New big legal bill

Syringa Networks has filed its request to be awarded legal fees and expenses in its successful lawsuit against the state Department of Administration over the Idaho Education Network contract award, the Idaho Falls Post Register reported Friday. The total: just under $1 million.

WWAMI boost OK’d

Legislative budget writers on Friday voted 19-1 in favor of boosting the WWAMI program by five students next year. WWAMI, which stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, allows Idaho students to attend medical school partly at the University of Idaho and partly at the University of Washington in Seattle. It’s the third year of a multiyear effort to boost the program up to 160 students in Idaho, adding five seats a year; currently, there are 95 Idaho students in the four-year program. Idaho has no medical school.

“This has been a good program for Idaho,” said Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, who noted that in addition to the five seats for next year, the boost includes the equivalent of 1.5 positions for various part-time faculty as the program in Idaho grows. Students spend their first year in Moscow, second in Seattle, and their third and fourth doing clinical rotations, which can be done in Idaho. “It benefits Idaho students primarily that they get to spend more time in Idaho,” Johnson said. “That opens up the opportunity that they will come back to Idaho to practice.”

The lone “no” vote came from Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, who noted that since 1975, 50 percent of WWAMI students have returned to Idaho to practice medicine. “I have some issues with the WWAMI program,” he said. “I think a 50 percent return rate from our Idaho kids isn’t sufficient.”

The budget also includes funding for six new residents at Kootenai Health, in addition to six funded last year and another six planned for next year; the $180,000 in increased state cost next year is being matched by more than $5 million in private-sector contributions.

Idaho ranks 49th in the nation for its number of doctors per capita.

Second elk plate

Lawmakers have narrowly agreed to send Gov. Butch Otter legislation creating a second, competing elk license plate – after Idaho Department of Fish and Game has long relied on sales of its popular wildlife plate that features an elk to raise funds for the department. The new elk license plate would benefit the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, asked the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Marv Hagedorn, whether the new elk plate might reduce revenue to Fish and Game.

“All of these organizations compete with one another for donations, whether it’s through plates or whether it’s through private donations,” responded Hagedorn, R-Meridian. “So what the impact will be is impossible to tell.”

Every elk or trout wildlife plate sold gives the state Department of Fish and Game $21; the Legislature first authorized the wildlife license plates to benefit Idaho Fish and Game in 1992. They include bluebird, cutthroat trout and elk plates. A small slice of the money from the elk plate goes specifically to wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs; the rest goes to the department’s nongame wildlife fund.