By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The House State Affairs Committee met Tuesday to advance several bills regarding elections, absentee ballots and a potential constitutional amendment.
Rep. Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene, introduced a resolution that would ask voters to repeal Article IX Section 5 of the Idaho Constitution, known as the Blaine Amendment.
Blaine Amendments are sections of state constitutions that prohibit public funds from being spent on religious schools. Several pieces of legislation introduced this year have revolved around school choice options that would include private schools as an option.
Price argued that Supreme Court decisions from other states have found that if public money is spent on non-religious private schools, it must also be made available to religious private schools.
Should the resolution pass, the question would be on the next general election ballot in November 2024.
The committee introduced the legislation but it still must get a public hearing. The Senate introduced a similar resolution earlier this session.
Rep. Kevin Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, proposed a bill, HB 259, regarding who is allowed to distribute absentee ballot requests. The bill adds a section of law stating absentee ballot requests could only be distributed by county clerks and election officials or officers.
“I think it is important that no campaign or candidate distribute absentee ballots or absentee ballot applications,” Andrus told the committee.
Under current law, only county clerks distribute absentee ballots. But sometimes candidates, campaigns, churches, the military, nursing homes, or other organizations distribute the application to request a ballot. It’s up to the voter to submit the application to the county.
The Idaho Secretary of State’s Office testified in opposition to the bill through Jason Lehosit.
“We currently have some very good practices for absentee voting in the state of Idaho. It’s a great balance between access and security,” Lehoist said. “As Secretary McGrane has testified here before, we do not need to sacrifice one for the other. This legislation gives more control to the government and adds unneeded red tape to a process which has already been working.”
Lehoist said the Secretary of State’s Office was concerned the bill could add a request on top of the existing request for an absentee ballot.
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said he felt like there is a disconnect between the Legislature and the Secretary of State’s Office.
“You guys feel like we have a good process in regards to absentees. We don’t,” Crane told Lehoist. “We think there needs to be a lot more security around it, especially if it’s far more stringent if you go and vote in person than it is if you’re voting absentee. That’s ripe for fraud.”
According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s data, Idaho voters cast 129,210 absentee ballots in the November general election. In the May primary election, voters cast 53,315 absentee ballots.
The committee advanced the bill to the House floor.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said he couldn’t support the bill because he didn’t think it was the best way to tighten security. Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, and Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, also voted against it.
State Board of Education
Rep. Joe Alfieri, R-Coeur d’Alene, pitched a bill that would require State Board of Education members to be elected. The bill is very similar to one that previously failed.
Alfieri’s previous bill that died in the House Education Committee, HB 204, would have created regional seats for the State Board of Education and members would have run in partisan elections. Currently, the State Board of Education is nonpartisan with members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
The bill would name the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction as chair of the state board.
Alfieri sold it as a way to offer representation to all areas of the state.
“With the majority of the state’s budget being spent on education, I think it’s fair that the people have a say as to how that money is allocated,” Alfieri told the committee.
The bill still must get a public hearing before moving forward.
Full disclosure: Idaho Public Television is under the Idaho State Board of Education. This does not affect Idaho Reports’ editorial independence.