Wednesday, April 6, 2011

House Highlights 4/5/2011

House Highlights

By Tom Loertscher

Late one afternoon during the week several of us in the House were sitting around the desk of Representative Bateman from Idaho Falls. He was in the House long ago and has come back this year after a 20+ year absence. He was reminiscing over some of the crazy things they used to do in the House. Some things may not have been crazy but the parliamentary maneuvering in those days seemed to be quite different than it is now. He told us about some of the old-timers who really knew the process and how it worked best.

One of the things that has been used effectively over time is reading the bills at length on the House floor. Starting on Wednesday the minority party decided to have us read bills because of a couple of issues that they want to have discussed around this place. Neither of the measures that they seek have enough votes to come out of committee. We read a lot of bills the last three days of the week but one of them was of particular interest. The bill was one updating some provisions of the sex offender law. I was talking to one of the attorneys around here about the sad nature of having such graphic terms in state law. The bill is about 28 pages long and the reading of all those terms being broadcast over the Internet did not seem appropriate. One gentleman of the majority party finally stood and pleaded with the minority to stop sending all that kind of language out over the airwaves. They finally relented.

In spite of reading bills we made some fairly good progress in clearing off our third reading calendar in the House. It took some long days to accomplish. Another bill that was read at length on the floor was the third piece of the education "reform" effort. I studied the matter at length and there are several things in the bill that I don't like. The most glaring problem that I see in the legislation is that the money for "mobile computing devices" comes from the top of the appropriation for schools. Another part of that formula would be taking the merit pay for teachers off the top as well. What that means is that after those things are taken out of the budget to begin with, only what is left can be used by the school districts at their discretion.

Some districts, like Westside School District, who have already made great strides in using technology in the classroom could be penalized. If I read the legislation correctly, if they are unable to utilize the funding for things that they already have in place, they would lose those funds. The school districts like to call that the use it or lose it method. There are so many other things that come from the top of the appropriation that I think it punishes those districts who have already used their initiative in developing technological advances in their classrooms. I voted no. Representative Bateman gave the best debate of the day. He said that the use of technology in the classroom was already well underway in Idaho. "You can't stop the advance of technology in the classroom anymore than you can use a pitchfork to stop the tides of the ocean," is how he put it.

We still have a few budget bills left to pass and some other issues that remain bottled up in one place or another in the process. But if all goes well this could be our last week for this session. That of course is assuming that we don't get any of those 50 page bills to read at length in the House. At least we’re getting in some reading practice.

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