House Bill 415 and District 1 schools
| February 8, 2024 1:00 AM
The Legislature has been meeting for four weeks. More bills have been introduced this year than last (20% increase) at this point. The speed of bill processing (moving from one step to the next) has become less consistent. Some bills are fast-forwarded, others have been slowed down or held by committee chairman.
Some bills are beginning to make it to "floor" votes by the House and Senate, but only one bill has made it to the governor's desk.
A Firearms on School Property Bill (HB415) was introduced on Jan. 22. There has been considerable dialogue about it since then. Once the House State Affairs Committee had held a hearing and voted to pass it to the House ‘floor’ I reached out to our school superintendents, police chiefs, and sheriffs and asked for their views. I received feedback from all parties. There was support and opposition to the bill. School boards are responsible for regulating access to school campus areas and developing safety plans. Local law enforcement providers (sheriff's deputies and city police officers) serve as the campus safety crew and emergency responders in most cases. Some school districts hire their own school safety officers (Lake Pend Oreille does this).
Several Idaho school districts have implemented safety programs with elements of HB415 in the last several years. Access to the programs is limited but some were shared. Local law enforcement officials and training are a part of the plans I was able to review. I believe the state of Utah has a similar program.
I hosted three meet-and-greets last weekend and at each stop, we discussed the bill. Concerns were voiced about liability issues, the need for training, local control, and the benefit/risk of having firearms in schools/classrooms.
In the background (Monday-Wednesday morning), at the Capitol, there was considerable dialogue among legislators about the bill. Some clarifications were made. I learned one of the Legislators (a retired school principal) had "carried" during her time at school without a problem and with the approval of her school board. Most of the discussion was about how best to modify and improve the bill (for example, add more training for school employees and for all responders, encourage school boards to have their own plans, and recognize those districts who had already done so, etc). Conversations about how teachers and staff would deploy their safety options were also discussed.
I finally spoke privately with the bill sponsor on Wednesday morning before the floor session started. He voiced his concerns for a teacher, in a barricaded classroom, on their own to defend themselves and their students.
The bill sponsors were unwilling to make changes before the "floor’ vote on Wednesday.
Consideration of what the Senate may do with the bill has also been raised. If the Senate amends the bill, it will need to return to the House for approval. The Senate has a history of amending House bills.
I read and re-read the bill, did my best to forecast the short- and long-term outcomes of the bill, and considered how our district would vote on this. I did my best to look at the upside, that people can be responsible and make good decisions independently when necessary. There are risks as well. I spoke during the debate, before the vote was taken, voicing my concerns about the need for more direction with training.
The floor vote last Wednesday was an "up or down" vote. I voted to support the bill despite my concerns.
Since walking off the "floor," I’ve worked to include my concerns, with the bill moving forward. I've spoken with several legislators and garnered their support for the issues I have raised. I've spoken with the bill sponsor and got his support (so far) for my concerns, too. It is important to note that not all bill sponsors work with others to develop their bills. Yesterday, I spent time with the state school safety director and have taken in his thoughts. I will be forwarding my findings and concerns to the Senate State Affairs Chairman next week. As of this writing, there hasn’t been any discussion of what the Senate may do with the bill. It may or may not get a hearing with the Senate State Affairs Committee.
Mark Sauter represents Bonner and Boundary counties in the Idaho Legislature in District 1A. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.