House kills another Libraries budget, leaving session in limbo
The 2022 legislative session remained in limbo on Friday, due to a simmering dispute over the Idaho Library Commission’s budget.
For the second day in a row, the House voted against a budget bill for libraries — in a 29-36 vote Friday night. Tied to concerns about obscene materials — and whether K-12 students can access such materials through public libraries — the commission’s budget is one of the last unfinished pieces of work for the legislature. 2022.
Friday marks the 75and — and not definitive — day of the session. It is not immediately clear whether the session will resume on Saturday or Monday.
“That should probably conclude our work for today,” a dejected House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said from the House podium after the vote. “You have a library board budget to calculate.”
Once lawmakers craft a budget, it must pass the House and Senate before it can be sent to Gov. Brad Little’s office. And the budget is an essential element. Before the legislature can adjourn for the year, lawmakers are required to set budgets for all state agencies, including the library board.
The new — and failed — library budget
The joint finance and appropriations committee went into overdrive early Friday morning, reworking the library budget that the House had narrowly voted on the day before.
The new budget proposal is $3.5 million lower. JFAC cut federal funding that libraries could use for technology projects. Governor Brad Little had requested the technology element.
JFAC cut the budget line, but not without considerable disagreement.
Senator Janie Ward-Engelking noted that libraries are often a key source of broadband, especially in rural communities – a service that has taken on increased importance during the pandemic. “This budget does not reward the historic effort that libraries have made in recent years,” said Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.
Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, said the cut budget was still “excessive” and unlikely to overcome resistance in the House. He proposed nearly $1.5 million in additional cuts, but no member of the committee seconded his motion.
The committee then supported the budget, including the $3.5 million cut in technology projects. But it passed by a tight 12-7 vote, against bipartisan opposition.
“Hopefully, this will be the last time we meet this session,” JFAC Co-Chair Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, said at the end of Friday morning’s committee meeting.
Nine hours later, after a long recess at the end of the afternoon, the House finally considered the budget.
The debate was brief. Only one House member spoke: Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell. He dismissed the idea that the $3.5 million change in the budget was a cut, calling it political retribution.
“I consider it a fine,” Chaney said.
In the end, some of the hardline conservatives in the House voted against the budget, as did all 12 House Democrats.
The House vote means JFAC will have to meet again – to draft a fifth version of the library budget.
‘A public health crisis:’ House obscenity resolution passes
While the library budget remains in abeyance, the House quickly adopted a resolution calling for an obscenity task force. The resolution passed late Friday afternoon, before the House increased the library budget
The “House Task Force for the Protection of Idaho Children from Materials Harmful to Minors in Libraries” would include lawmakers from both parties, a member of the Idaho Library Association, and the librarian of State.
“The Idaho Legislature has determined that the proliferation of pornographic material is a public health crisis,” the resolution reads in part. “Parents in Idaho should reasonably expect that their children will not encounter material harmful to minors while using the culturally enriching materials, services, and programs provided by public schools and community libraries.”
Without discussion, the House Ways and Means Committee sent the resolution to the floor for a vote — and heated debate.
Several House Republicans took the opportunity to castigate the Senate, which refused to hear a bill passed by the House this would have left librarians and school employees liable to prosecution for disseminating obscene material.
“This resolution is not where we hoped to be,” said Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, sponsor of the resolution.
Some Republicans reluctantly voted for the resolution, but said it didn’t go far enough. “These are our children and our grandchildren, and I truly fear that we will lose them to evil,” said Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony.
The debate took a strange turn, when Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, began reading aloud from explicit sections of the state obscenity law. Rep. Brent Crane interrupted Scott and suggested that the Chamber student pages be removed from the chamber. “They’re not elected officials and they don’t have to listen to this,” said Crane, R-Nampa.
Ultimately, the vote was lopsided. The resolution passed 56 to 7, with all Democrats dissenting.
“It’s a false narrative to suggest that obscene material is all over our libraries,” said Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, one of the opponents.
The measure is technically a House resolution, so it won’t go to the Senate for a vote.
Literacy Program Funding and Empowering Parents Grants Head to Little’s Office
The Senate quickly sent two high-profile budget bills to Little’s desk on Friday afternoon, approving an additional $46 million for literacy programs and $50 million for family education grants.
House Bill 788the “children’s programs” budget containing funding for literacy, and HB 809containing federal funds for the Empowering Parents grant program, both passed without debate and only two or three dissenting votes.
Little initially proposed both the Literacy Funding—an attempt to expand full-day kindergarten programs statewide—and the Empowering Parents Grants. He is expected to sign both budget bills.
The children’s programs budget was the last of seven K-12 budgets that had to be passed by the Legislative Assembly before lawmakers could adjourn for the year. That budget, along with the State Board of Education budget containing the Empowering Parents money, passed the House on Thursday.
The Senate passed an earlier version of the State Council budget, but had to approve HB 809, after the House killed the original budget bill, calling for more money to administer the program. HB 809 includes these funds, so all $50 million will go to grants for families.
Families will be able to spend up to $1,000 per student and $3,000 per student on education-related costs, ranging from speech therapy to the purchase of laptops.
Funding for literacy in the “children’s programs” budget will increase the state’s annual spending on K-3 literacy to $72 million. That money will be led by a bill that has already passed the Legislature, changing the distribution of funds among schools to award more money to schools whose students are progressing on the Idaho Reading Indicator. , a standardized literacy test.
Few are also expected to approve of the change in literacy funding.
The passage of the two education budgets concludes the bulk of the education-related business of the Legislative Assembly for the 2022 session.
Idaho Education News reporter Blake Jones contributed to this report.
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