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News / Northwest

Idaho legislative session focused on schools, pronouns, library books

Lawmakers also approved Gov. Brad Little’s Idaho LAUNCH program

By Rebecca Boone, Associated Press
Published: April 12, 2024, 7:58pm

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho lawmakers spent much of an unexpectedly long, sometimes contentious legislative session focusing on bills targeting LGBTQ+ residents by limiting health care and reading materials and installing protections for teachers who don’t use the pronouns transgender students use.

They also passed a bill that allows the state to spend $2 billion to address dilapidated public school buildings and other school facility needs across the state. And lawmakers approved Gov. Brad Little’s Idaho LAUNCH program, which provides grants for state high school graduates to help cover the cost of training for an in-demand career at an Idaho college, technical program or workforce training provider. Another bill that would have used public taxpayer funds to subsidize private education tuition was narrowly defeated.

Legislative leaders originally aimed to wrap the session up in March, but a dispute over the Idaho Transportation Department budget made the work stretch into April. The 2024 session came to a close Wednesday afternoon.

Here are some of the bills that made it to the governor’s desk:

GENDER-AFFIRMING CARE AND PRONOUNS: Idaho’s strongly Republican Legislature has passed several bills targeting LGTBQ+ residents in recent years, and the 2024 session was no different. Last year, legislators passed a law banning gender-affirming care for minors, which a federal judge has put on hold while a lawsuit is underway. This year, lawmakers passed a bill banning the use of any public funds for gender-affirming care for anyone, adults or minors.

The law was signed by the governor in late March and is set to take effect July 1.

The Legislature also passed a bill that prevents public employees from being required to address someone using their preferred pronouns. The bill also bars teachers from using names or pronouns for students that don’t align with the name or gender the student was assigned at birth, unless the the teacher has parental consent.

LIBRARIES: The governor signed a bill that will require school and public libraries to move material deemed “harmful to minors” to an adults-only section or face lawsuits. The bill is similar to one vetoed by Little last year. If a community member complains that a book is harmful to minors, the library has 60 days to address it, or children or their parents can sue the facility for $250 in damages. The new law uses Idaho’s current definition of “obscene materials,” which includes any act of homosexuality.

PUBLIC EDUCATION: Public education has long been one of the governor’s priorities, and two of his major education goals won support in the Legislature this year: funding improvements for run-down and sometimes dangerous public school buildings and a grant program for high school graduates that aims to bolster the state workforce.

Idaho’s school facilities are largely funded through property taxes, which means school districts must rely on voter-approved levies for big maintenance or expansion projects. The funding scheme means schools in lower-income areas or with voters unwilling to approve additional spending measures are left with leaky roofs and other maintenance woes.

The Idaho LAUNCH program also won support from a majority of lawmakers. The program provides grants of up to $8,000 to as many as 10,000 Idaho high school graduates, to cover tuition at an Idaho school or program.