Two For the Good Guys
(2005 Legislative Summary)
It was a serpentine path. But when the smoke finally cleared on the 2005 Idaho legislative session, home educators found their rights strengthened as a result of victories in two battles.
Senate Bill 1066:
The main battle of the 2005 session really started in 2004.
In 2004 Senator Joe Stegner (R-Lewiston) introduced a bill that would have made the parents of every child that does not receive an adequate education guilty of a misdemeanor crime. The bill made no distinctions between material and minor, nor between intentional and unintentional violations. Each would have resulted in the same excessive penalty of up to six months in jail.
As the result of an unprecedented outcry from home educators, Senator Stegner was compelled to withdraw the bill by having it sent to "amending orders." But before doing so, Senator Stegner vowed to revisit this issue in the future.
True to his word, during the summer of 2004 Senator Stegner contacted ICHE with the draft of a bill he was preparing for the 2005 session. The first draft that was presented to ICHE was a nearly word-for-word repeat of the bill that was withdrawn in 2004. But to make matters worse, the new bill also proposed that home schoolers in Idaho be legally required to register with their local public school districts by filing an affidavit each year.
In the turbulent early years of home education in Idaho, public school districts attempted to assert authority over home educators based upon certain ambiguous language that was included in Idaho's statutes at the time. As the result of two court decisions and the later amendment of that statute, it has been clear since 1992 that home education stands on an equal footing in Idaho with alternative forms of education. In particular, home schooling is not the "poor stepchild" of the public school system.
Senator Stegner's proposal would have unraveled the precious freedoms we have enjoyed in Idaho for the past dozen years.
Needless to say, ICHE (along with CHOIS and HSLDA) were emphatic in their comments to Senator Stegner and the public school administrators who were pressing for this bill. After listening to our concerns, the school administrators agreed to revise the bill so that it would only apply to the parents of publicly educated students. The parents of students taught at home, in private schools, or in parochial schools were removed from the bill. The administrators also deleted the affidavit requirement.
With those changes, we dropped our opposition to the bill. It eventually passed both houses of the legislature and was signed by Governor Kempthorne.
House Bill 188 & Senate Bill 1240:
Each year the Department of Health and Welfare in Idaho receives 15,000 to 16,000 reports of child abuse or neglect. Many are anonymous. Few have any merit. But each must be investigated as it should be.
As a result of those investigations, the department files charges in about 1,000 cases. The other 14,000 to 15,000 cases are dismissed when it becomes evident that neither abuse, nor neglect, has occurred.
In order to expedite the handling and resolution of those cases that involve families teaching their children at home, Representative Janice McGeachin (R-Idaho Falls) agreed to sponsor House Bill 188 this year. The bill specified two things for Department of Health and Welfare workers. First, department personnel must be trained in the legal and constitutional rights of all parties involved in a child abuse or neglect investigation. Second, they must inform any person under investigation of the nature of the complaint against them. This would, in turn, permit the person or family under investigation to quickly produce any evidence tending to show their innocence. In light of the number of unfounded complaints made against home schooling families, the bill embodied significant protections.
The bill as initially proposed was opposed by the Department of Health and Welfare and also by the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association. After discussions with representatives from both agencies, compromise language was agreed upon.
The bill was skillfully carried by Representative McGeachin and by Senator Monte Pearce (R-New Plymouth). It passed in the House of Representatives on a vote of 62 to 1. It passed in the Senate on a vote of 23 to 7. But in the waning days of the session, the bill was unexpectedly vetoed by Governor Kempthorne. The veto had nothing to do with the merits of the bill. It was rather a consequence of Representative McGeachin's opposition to Governor Kempthorne's highway expansion bill.
Unfortunately, because the veto occurred in the final days of the session and because Republican legislators were not anxious to suffer the same fate as Representative McGeachin by voting to override the governor's veto, the prospects for passage of the bill were dimmed.
However, Representative McGeachin conferred with senate majority leader, Bart Davis (R-Twin Falls) and impressed upon him the significance of this bill. Rather than attempting to override the governor's veto, Senator Davis wisely chose to have the bill introduced as a new bill. Senate Bill 1240 was literally the final bill introduced during the 2005 senate session. The "new" bill was quickly ushered through both houses of the legislature. It passed the Senate on a vote of 27 to 7 and it passed the house on a vote of 69 to 0. The governor signed the new bill into law on April 11, 2005.
Home educators deeply appreciate Representative McGeachin's tenacity in pursuing this bill and the assistance of Senators Pearce and Davis. As a result of their skills and efforts, our freedom to home educate has been made even more secure.