By Brian Murphy
After more than three hours of bill reading and debate, the Idaho House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 1108 by a vote of 48-22. SB 1108 is the first of school superintendent Tom Luna's "Students Come First" education-reform bills and deals with contracts and labor negotiations between local school boards and teachers' unions.
All 48 yes votes came from Republicans. Nine Republicans joined all 13 Democrats in opposing the legislation.
The bill passed the Senate by a 20-15 vote earlier this session and the legislation now heads to Gov. Butch Otter's desk for his signature. Otter is a co-sponsor of the legislation.
The full House will consider SB 1110, which implements a pay-for-performance plan, Wednesday.
Read below for a full recap of the debate.
Idaho House Democrats will make Republicans read Senate Bills 1108 and 1110 in their entirety during Tuesday's floor debate, said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.
The Senate also read the entire bills, which are part of schools superintendent Tom Luna's "Students Come First" education-reform plan.
Rusche said the bills have no support in the 13-member House Democrat caucus and they will debate "vigorously" against the bills, which are expected to pass easily.
SB 1108 deals with teacher contracts and negotiations between local school boards and teachers' unions. SB 1110 implements a pay-for-performance plan.
You can watch the debate here.
The reading of SB 1108 began at 9:15 a.m. It is 25 pages long. Chief Clerk of the House Bonnie Alexander is reading the bill. She is reading pretty quick, but after 13 minutes is definitely slowing down.
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, is now reading the bill. Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, has taken over the reading. Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, has taken over the reading. Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, took over the reading and now Alexander is back to reading.
We're more than 45 minutes into the reading.
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, is now opening debate on the bill.
"This bill returns authority and accountability to school boards," Nonini said. "For too long school boards have been shackled to agreements made 10, 20 or even 30 years ago."
Said Nonini: "If we trust them enough to elect them, we should trust them enough to do their job."
He says the bill calla for "streamlining collective bargaining" and "phases out continuing contracts."
"This bill is a bill whose time has come," Nonini said.
Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Boise, asks about liability insurance. The bill states that districts have to advise teachers of their insurance options. Higgins asks how that improves student achievement.
Nonini says that "some parts and provisions of the bill that we need to get into that don't necessarily put students first."
Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, questions whether the bill runs afoul of the Idaho Constitution.
Democrats question Nonini on several fronts, including why the bill removes the financial emergency language that legislators and stakeholders worked to put into law two years ago.
"School districts are more strapped and I believe in the last 30-plus years the negotiations have swung quite a ways to one side and this legislation tries to bring that back to center so to speak," Nonini said.
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, is now discussing unions. Her father was a union member, who worked for the newspaper in Spokane as a typesetter. Ringo says it is important that people get to negotiate for working conditions as well as pay.
SB 1108 would not allow negotiations for anything other than pay and benefits.
Ringo is a former schoolteacher.
"Why should you throw away everything you've agreed upon in the past rather than discuss the things you agree need solving at the time. That's the way it works," Ringo said, adds it's beneficial to everyone to have a problem-solving system that works.
Ringo says she heard Luna say that people who don't like his plan don't like it because they don't understand it. "I understand it quite well and there are parts of it, I definitely don't like," Ringo said.
Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, is now debating. Starts with anecdote about his favorite teacher. He says some teachers do not belong in the classroom. Says process for getting rid of bad teachers is "laborious."
Bateman taught for 37 years in public schools. Says inability to remove poor teachers has led to home-school movement. Bateman says the process has been difficult for him.
"I’m losing some lifelong friends. People I’ve taught with for 30 years won’t talk to me. Fears are unwarranted," Bateman said.
Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, is now debating. He says he resents being told he doesn't understand the legislation and says Luna's analogy to medicine is wrong.
"One person's medicine is another person's Kool-Aid. And I refuse to drink it," Cronin said.
Cronin says no one can tell him what problem this bill is trying to address. Says legislation "is flawed 17 ways from Sunday."
"Let's stop pretending SB 1108 has anything to do with education reform or the classroom or, and this is the part that offends me the most, children. My children," Cronin said. This bill is to "ensure that teacher voices are effectively silenced."
Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, just used the gavel to silence the gallery. Said he will clear it.
Cronin says the legislation "makes teachers and the (Idaho Education Association) our adversaries rather than our collaborators." He calls it a "slap in the face."
Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, is the first Republican to speak against the bill.
Rep. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, quotes Ronald Reagan supporting unions and Hitler bashing unions.
"Teachers are extremely vulnerable under this bill," Lacey said. "Teachers need to be respected. ... It could be, at its worst, a reign of terror."
Lacey says that if "we continue on this course, it will be on our heads that history will place the blame."
"Do we have the courage to say no to this legislation?" Lacey said.
Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, is now debating. Says "children are being held hostage to a labor management relations tiff."
"I have read the plan. Luna begins by saying the reason for the plan isn't that there is something wrong with our schools, it's because we can't afford the system of education that we have and the people of Idaho aren't going to step up to pay for the system of education we have," Burgoyne said.
Burgoyne says he doesn't think that's true, given that taxpayers approved more than $113 million in local levies for school districts. Says that Boise School District is opposed to the legislation.
"We like the contracts that we negotiate," Burgoyne said.
Burgoyne has touched on a number of topics, including the recent court decision to allow Republicans to close their primaries and the "disinvestment" in higher education by the state of Idaho.
Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, is now debating. Pence is debating against the removal of the 99-percent protection, a sticking point for many critics of the bill. Current law protects school districts that suffer student population loss by funding them at 99 percent of the previous year's enrollment.
Luna has acknowledged that the removal of the 99-percent protection for districts is a tough situation, but says the state can no longer afford to double fund students.
Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, is now debating. She says removing collective bargaining will "explode the school's culture."
King says the bill "will, I believe, bury" small districts in the state.
"Will good teachers leave Idaho teaching? Absolutely," King said, adding that she knows of several teachers who have signed out-of-state contracts.
Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, is now debating against the bill. Says she believes SB 1108 "strips due process." Calls the bill "mean spirited."
Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, is now debating the bill. Says she finds it "disrespectful."
She asks that lawmakers "seriously consider the legacy we will leave because of the action we take."
Nonini says the bill will save more than $9 million per year. That figure comes from %5.4 million from the removal of 99-percent floor and $4 million from the removal of the early retirement education program.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, calls the "Students Come First" plan "one of these flavor of the month reforms."
"What’s bothered me about this process is we have not involved the people on the ground," Jaquet said.
Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, is now debating. He says the bill is "totally unnecessary" and that it is "predicated on the premise that school boards are at the mercy of the teachers' unions and unable to manage their districts."
Killen says constituents are overwhelming opposed to this bill.
Killen likens bill to an "unripened fruit."
Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Boise, is now debating against the bill. Says she works for the people and "we ought to listen to them."
Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, is now debating. Now she is citing a study that asks whether unions affect student achievement and says it found that there was a robust response and it was a positive one.
Chew said it found that states that had good healthy membership of teachers in their unions and associations had very good student outcomes.
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said teachers in his district are applying in Washington already.
Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, is debating in favor of the bill. He is the second representative to speak in support.
"Does this bill really vilify teachers? I think not," Shirley says.
He says media campaigns by the critics of the legislation have done more to harm morale than the legislation will. Shirley is a former teacher and administrator.
Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, is debating in favor of the legislation. Bayer says he has "seen a lot of colleagues ... that have opposed anything that changes the status quo."
Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, is now debating the bill. She said a yes vote on the bill is "a vote of hope."
Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, says "the lack of tenure does not threaten good teachers."
Rep. Reed DeMourdant, R-Eagle, wanted to debate, but since he has a "pair slip" for his vote, he was not allowed to debate. Pair slip means someone who is voting yes casts a vote for a lawmaker who is voting no but can't be there to cast their vote (or vice versa).
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, is now debating for the second time. She says there is nothing in Idaho law that gives teachers "tenure." It has been a serious point of contention in this debate — the use of the word "tenure" vs. "continuing contract."
Nonini is making his closing statements. Says he doesn't like the term bad or poor teacher, prefers ineffective. Says master contracts have gotten "phenomenal," in terms of what details have made it into master contracts.
Nonini says he remembers his good teachers, but it has become too costly to get rid of ineffective ones.
Nonini says the bill brings negotiations back to center. He asks if those that are against the bill "have any faith and trust in the school boards?" He says if they make bad decisions, they will have to stand for re-election soon.
Nonini says now is "the time we have to give these local districts control."
The bill passed the House 48-22 with nine Republicans and 13 Democrats voting against the legislation. The bill will now head to Gov. Butch Otter's office for his signature. Otter is co-sponsor of the legislation.
The House adjourned for the day without taking up SB 1110.
Here are the nine Republicans who voted no on SB 1108 were: Darrell Bolz, Caldwell; Gary Collins, Nampa; George Eskridge, Dover; Janice McGeachin, Idaho Falls; Jeff Nesset, Lewiston; Robert Schaefer, Nampa; Leon Smith, Twin Falls; Tom Trail, Moscow; Rich Wills, Glenns Ferry.
McGeachin said she voted no because she "wasn't convinced of the clear need to make the changes." She said the financial emergency legislation put in place two years ago to allow districts to deal with budget cuts have worked. "I wasn't interested in ending due process for teachers," she said.
McGeachin said the "overwhelming opposition in my community" also contributed to her "no" vote.