Nate pushes bill encouraging gun safety courses in schools


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BOISE — Rep. Ron Nate is once again pushing a bill designed to encourage school districts to offer elective gun safety courses in Idaho public schools.

The House Education Committee voted on Monday to introduce Nate’s bill. These courses would not be mandatory if the bill is signed into law, according to

Nate’s new bill would encourage school districts to establish and maintain firearm’s safety elective courses. The gun safety courses would be developed by a law enforcement agency, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, or a national firearms association, such as the National Rifle Association.

Nate introduced a similar bill last year that House Education ultimately killed in committee.

One difference between the two bills is this year’s encourages gun safety classes in both elementary and secondary schools. Last year’s bill applied specifically to secondary schools.

Committee members only briefly discussed the new bill before voting to introduce it. Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, suggested that Nate should have introduced the bill as a nonbonding resolution, not a full bill that would add a new section of Idaho law.

Syme said he supports gun safety courses for all children.

“I don’t care what age they are,” Syme said.

But Syme said Nate’s bill contains weak language such as “may” and “is encouraged.”

“It doesn’t really direct anybody to do anything,” Syme said.

Nate replied that by adding a new section of law it would remove any confusion about whether school districts could offer gun safety courses.

Last year, Republicans and Democrats joined forces to kill the bill before it could make it to the House floor. Several committee members pointed out that semester-long elective courses would require about 60 hours of instruction, and they would have a hard time finding teachers who would develop and offer such a course for free. Other committee members also wondered how schools would find certified teachers who are also certified firearms instructors, law enforcement officials or Fish and Game officers.

Nate says that the bill would not cost the state any money to implement because the courses are optional. Last year, committee members took issue with that claim.

“Implementing (these courses) into schools isn’t going to be cheap,” Rep. Patrick McDonald, a Boise Republican and retied law enforcement official, said last year.

House Education’s vote to introduce the bill clears the way for it to return for a full hearing. House Education Committee Chairwoman Julie VanOrden said she is planning to hear the bill Feb. 7 and accept testimony over videoconference through the Legislature’s remote testimony pilot program.

House Education kills resident tuition benefit bill

In other action Monday, the House Education Committee continued its early-session theme of killing bills. This time, the committee put the sword to a bill designed to encourage Idaho high school graduates who have moved away to return to The Gem State to finish their education.

The committee voted to return nonpartisan House Bill 367 to its sponsor, killing it for the year.

House Bill 367 would have expanded the time frame that graduates of Idaho high schools who move away have to return to Idaho and still claim resident tuition benefits. The bill would have extended that time frame from six years to seven.

Tracie Bent, the State Board of Education’s chief policy and planning officer, said the bill was designed to give students with deep ties to Idaho an incentive to return home and complete their studies or enroll in graduate school.

The incentive would benefit students who graduate from an Idaho high school and then move away for their undergraduate studies, work or a religious mission.

Recently, Bent said a small number of students approached the State Board of Education saying the four-to-sixth-month gap between a spring graduation and classes beginning in the fall forced them to miss out on taking advantage of the incentive. Bent recommended extending the timeframe from six years to seven, saying that extra window would cover the gap between spring graduations and fall enrollment in those cases. She said that incentive would encourage more students to enroll in Idaho colleges and universities by allowing them to pay in-state tuition rates, as opposed to out-of-state tuition.

The bill arrived at a time when Idaho policymakers and education officials pushed back their signature education goal of having 60 percent of young adults hold a college degree or postsecondary certificate in the wake of a looming failure. Only about 42 percent of Idahoans meet that goal today, and state leaders are considering several strategies to reach that goal by the new target of 2025.

This bill could have have helped encourage a small number of young adults to return to Idaho and continue their education while broadcasting an overall message of flexibility, but a divided committee killed it.

Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, argued that Idaho should go even further and welcome all graduates of Idaho high schools back at any time in the future with resident tuition benefits.

Others, such as Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, feared the bill amounted to a slippery slope.

“Last year it was six (years), now it is seven,” McCrostie said. “Is next year going to be eight, or if we pass this now are we going to stop at seven?”

Other members did not seem to understand what residency is or how it is established. By law, students or their parents or legal guardians must maintain a domicile, or primary residence in Idaho, for 12 months prior to the opening of the academic term in which the student enrolls, unless the student graduated from an Idaho high school within the previous six years or meets one of a small number of exceptions.

According to committee agendas and minutes, House Education has considered just eight education bills or proposed bills this session. Committee members have killed two of those bills, representing 25 percent of all legislation they have seen in 2018.

Earlier this month, House Education killed a nonpartisan bill that was designed to clear up confusion about documents relating to teacher evaluations.