Dems walk out of committee meeting

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William L. Spence, Lewiston Tribune, Idaho
·3 min read
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Mar. 20—BOISE — Democrats walked out of a House Education Committee meeting in protest Friday, saying the panel was being used as "a tool for political propaganda."

The move came shortly before the committee introduced three new bills. Among them was a proposal from Ed Humphreys, the Idaho Republican Party's Region IV chairman.

Humphreys' bill ostensibly seeks to prohibit public schools and higher education institutions from teaching "racist or sexist concepts."

"We took a crack at the racist filth being taught to our students!" he crowed on his Facebook page after the meeting.

However, the legislation appears to be a continuation of Republican efforts to muzzle or discourage Idaho educational institutions from offering classes or programs related to "social justice" or "critical race theory."

For example, it prohibits any teachings related to affirmative action or the idea that individuals should receive favorable treatment based on their race or sex. It also bans discussions about merit-based systems possibly being racist or sexist, or that the United States itself might be.

In the event a public school, university or community college fails to adhere to these guidelines, the legislation allows state education officials to dock them as much as 10 percent of their state funding, until they come back into compliance.

It also explicitly grants any Idaho taxpayer the legal standing to file a civil lawsuit, if they believe an educational institution has violated these provisions.

The education committee, which barely had a quorum because of several absences and the Democratic walk-out, introduced the proposal without comment or discussion.

Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, was one of three Democrats to walk out of the hearing. He noted that Humphreys set up a video camera to record himself as he presented the bill.

"This was pure political theater," Berch said. "They're using the Education Committee as a tool for political propaganda. It was beneath the dignity of the committee."

The fact that House Education met at all was unusual.

The hearing took place about 90 minutes before the House and Senate recessed for two weeks, in an effort to contain an outbreak of COVID-19.

Other morning committee meetings were canceled, in anticipation of the recess.

Education Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, was absent — as was the vice chairman, for the same reason. A third member of the committee tested positive as well, and a fourth is self-isolating after possibly being exposed to the virus.

In the absence of the chairman and vice chairman, Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, was in charge. She's the ranking Republican on the committee.

She announced that committee members would not be allowed to ask any questions regarding the bills — another factor in Democrat's decision to walk out.

Besides Humphreys' proposal, the committee introduced:

Legislation requiring every public school in the state to establish new "school community councils," comprised of parents and school employees.

The intent, according to Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, is to give parents an opportunity to participate in decision-making at the school level, including reviewing academic performance and funding issues and helping create school improvement plans.

A resolution criticizing the Idaho High School Activities Association and urging it to amend certain rules and bylaws that allegedly restrict the constitutional rights of parents to coach their own children.

Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Clow said he'd never heard of a ranking member calling a committee meeting in the absence of the chairman and vice chairman.

Moreover, no one had approached him about any of the three bills.

"I have no idea what the high school activity issue is about," he said. "The one about (racist, sexist concepts), I never had anyone talk with me about that."

Clow had planned to return to the Statehouse on Monday. Now that the Legislature has temporarily recessed, he'll be back April 6. Whether any of the bills get a public hearing after that will be up to him.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.