School grants, student pronouns and library books among the big bills of Idaho legislative session

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho lawmakers spent much of an unexpectedly long and sometimes contentious legislative session focusing on bills targeting LGBTQ+ residents by limiting health care and reading materials and installing protections for teachers who don’t use the pronouns transgender students use.

They also passed a bill that allows the state to spend $2 billion to address dilapidated public school buildings and other school facility needs across the state. And lawmakers approved Gov. Brad Little’s Idaho LAUNCH program, which provides grants for state high school graduates to help cover the cost of training for an in-demand career at an Idaho college, technical program or workforce training provider. Another bill that would have used public taxpayer funds to subsidize private education tuition was narrowly defeated.

Legislative leaders originally aimed to wrap the session up in March, but a dispute over the Idaho Transportation Department budget made the work stretch into April. The 2024 session came to a close Wednesday afternoon.

Here’s a look at some of the bills that made it to the governor’s desk this session:

Idaho’s strongly Republican Legislature has passed several bills targeting LGTBQ+ residents in recent years, and the 2024 session was no different. Last year, lawmakers passed a law banning gender-affirming care for minors, which a federal judge has put on hold while a lawsuit is underway. This year, lawmakers passed a bill banning the use of any public funds for gender-affirming care for anyone, adults or minors.

The law was signed by the governor in late March and is set to take effect July 1. It prevents state employees who use employer-provided health insurance and adults covered by Medicaid from obtaining gender-affirming care. Idaho is at least the 10th state to ban Medicaid funding for gender-affirming care for people of all ages, according to the advocacy and information organization Movement Advancement Project.

Opponents have said the law will almost certainly prompt federal litigation.

The Legislature also passed a bill that prevents public employees from being required to address someone using their pronouns. The bill also bars teachers from using names or pronouns for students that don’t align with the name or gender the student was assigned at birth, unless the the teacher has parental consent. Teachers who are disciplined for refusing to use the name or pronoun a transgender or gender-nonconforming student uses will be able to sue their school district when the law goes into effect July 1.

The governor signed a bill that will require school and public libraries to move material deemed “harmful to minors” to an adults-only section or face lawsuits. The bill is similar to one vetoed by Little last year. If a community member complains that a book is harmful to minors, the library has 60 days to address it or children or their parents can sue the facility for $250 in damages. The new law uses Idaho’s current definition of “obscene materials,” which includes any act of homosexuality.

In a letter to the Legislature, Little said he shares the desire to keep “truly inappropriate library materials out of the hands of minors” but he said was disappointed lawmakers didn’t to more to protect children from “the harms of social media.”

The Idaho Library Association warned that the law uses vague and subjective definitions of what constitutes material that is harmful to minors and said it could result in significantly limited access to information for the public.

Public education has long been one of the governor’s priorities, and two of his major education goals won support in the Legislature this year: funding improvements for run-down and sometimes dangerous public school buildings and a grant program for high school graduates that aims to bolster the state workforce.

During his State of the State address in January, Little described some of the neglected public school buildings around the state, including one where he said raw sewage was seeping into a space under the cafeteria. Idaho’s school facilities are largely funded through property taxes, which means school districts must rely on voter-approved levies for big maintenance or expansion projects. The funding scheme means schools in lower-income areas or with voters unwilling to approve additional spending measures are left with leaky roofs and other maintenance woes.

The Legislature approved $2 billion in spending over the next 10 years to address those issues, about $1.5 billion of it in new funding.

The Idaho LAUNCH program also won support from a majority of lawmakers. The program provides grants of up to $8,000 to as many as 10,000 Idaho high school graduates. The money must be used to cover tuition at an Idaho college, university or technical school or other workforce training program. To be eligible, students must be preparing for one of more than 200 “in-demand careers.” The list of eligible careers includes a wide variety of job titles including firefighters, accountants, mental health workers, nuclear monitoring technicians and lyricists or poets.

More than 13,500 people have applied or started applications for the grant program, according to the governor’s office.

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