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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Amid confusion, House panel tries again to delete part of school science standards

Rep. Julie VanOrden, chair of the Idaho House Education Committee (State of Idaho)
Rep. Julie VanOrden, chair of the Idaho House Education Committee (State of Idaho)

Amid much confusion, the House Education Committee voted along party lines last week to introduce a concurrent resolution repeating its earlier call for deleting portions of Idaho’s proposed new school science standards, even though the Senate Education Committee already has voted to approve the standards – which means they’ll take effect.

“It’s just a formality,” said committee Chair Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree. “It’s just codifying the fact that we rejected this rule in committee. … We have to send a concurrent resolution forward on it.”

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said, “Unless we have an agreement with the Senate to also concur in this, I don’t see why we’re doing this. If they already agreed not to reject the rule, I don’t see why we have to go through this step.”

Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, the committee vice chair, said, “I think because of the verbiage in the resolution it’s a little bit confusing. I think it’s proper. All we’re doing is just confirming what we did.”

Committee members asked state Administrative Rules Coordinator Dennis Stevenson to explain, and he said if the House passes the concurrent resolution, it goes over to the Senate, where it would be up to the Senate committee chairman whether or not to give it a committee hearing. If he did so, and that committee approved the concurrent resolution and it passed in the full Senate, that would reverse the earlier action of the Senate committee. If the Senate committee doesn’t take up the House concurrent resolution, “this action dies,” Stevenson told the panel.

The one question lawmakers didn’t ask Stevenson: Do they have to take this step? Asked afterward, he said “no.”

The science standards have drawn widespread support across the state, in hearings held over the summer by the state Department of Education and also in legislative hearings in both the House and Senate.

VanOrden told the committee, “I did not put this forward. This came from LSO (the Legislative Services Office) onto my desk upstairs. … My understanding was this is a formality that has to happen when we reject a rule.”

Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, asked if the plan was to then hold a full committee hearing on the resolution, and following that, have another debate in the full House. “Is that what we’re expecting?” she asked.

VanOrden responded, “Yes. Concurrent resolutions … have to do with our rules process. And leadership is well aware that we have them.”

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said, “The good chairman is following the will of the committee. So the majority voted to reject this, she’s simply following what the committee wanted. … This isn’t an end-run. The Senate already rejected it. It’s not like we can force them to do anything that they don’t want to do.”

Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said, “I think this is a formality and I’m perfectly comfortable taking this step. … I don’t see an end-around or game or anything besides a formality.”

Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise, moved to return the proposal to the sponsor rather than introduce it. “As I’ve listened to Mr. Stevenson, it would seem that the action that the Senate has already taken with regard to our action on the science standards, they’ve already made their decision in approving the entire rule. I think that this action would attempt to supersede that. … Whatever action we take, even if this gets all the way through the House, the Senate will either hold it or they’ll vote it down – at the end of the day this will be futile.”

McCrostie’s motion was rejected on a party-line vote with only the panel’s three Democrats supporting it; the original motion from Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, then passed, also on a party-line vote, to introduce the concurrent resolution rejecting portions of the science standards.

Clow said, “I agree that (the resolution) represents the actions of the committee. I think it’s a futile motion, so I have mixed emotions about dragging this thing out again. I know the committee voted to reject this rule, and I’ll support that decision, but I think it is a futile motion.”

Stevenson said after the meeting that a committee action to reject an administrative rule, like the House committee’s earlier vote on the science standards, automatically triggers the drafting of a concurrent resolution, which would ask the other house to concur – in this case, the Senate. But there’s no requirement for the committee to pass the concurrent resolution; it can do so if it wants to.

Asked about the issue, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said, “I have not had anyone from the Senate tell me that they are likely to reconsider their position, so it is likely futile. However, we’re still in session, and therefore, the committee has the prerogative of trying again.”

‘Not a radiator cap, but…’

The Idaho Senate on Thursday approved amendments to a controversial House-passed bill to forbid local communities from adopting any residential building code or energy code provisions that are more up-to-date or more stringent than those adopted by a state board. “This bill had some pushback,” Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, told the Senate. “The amendment provides more flexibility for local governments than the original bill in terms of snow loads, wind loads, geologic and seismic uniqueness, that kind of thing.”

“This may have the appearance of being a radiator cap, but actually it’s just replacing the heater hoses and the thermostat,” Guthrie said to chuckles.

In Idaho legislative lingo, to “radiator cap” a bill is to remove its entire contents, leaving only the bill number, and turn it into an entirely different bill. The analogy is to pulling a car into the shop for work, removing the radiator cap, driving a different car in in its place, then screwing back down the radiator cap and calling it the same vehicle.

To become law, the amended bill still would need passage as amended in both the Senate and the House and the governor’s signature.

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