The Idaho House of Representatives on Monday passed a bill that would eliminate August elections in Idaho—a proposal that threatens to further delay a vote on a plant facilities levy within the Blaine County School District.
House Bill 106 will now be considered by a Senate committee, which will decide whether to send it to the Senate floor.
The bill is the latest iteration of an ongoing effort to consolidate election dates in Idaho. A similar bill last year sought to prohibit school districts from holding bond or levy elections in March or August. This year’s measure passed the House Monday on a 45-24 vote, with both District 26 representatives voting against it.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, says the bill would give county clerks a wider window of time to more thoroughly maintain voter registration lists, train county employees and prepare for the November general election.
“This is not about the kids,” Barbieri said. “This is not about budgeting. This is about elections.”
But school officials around the state have spoken out in opposition to the bill, saying it would deprive districts of an important opportunity to hold bond and levy elections after the summer budget-setting process.
In Blaine County, the bill could further delay a planned plant facilities levy vote. The school board had initially planned to hold the vote last August but tentatively delayed until August 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If House Bill 106 passes, it could mean pushing the vote back until November, board Chairman Keith Roark said. That would mean the district would have to wait 14 months—until the end of the next full tax year—to access the money if the levy passes.
“We are already a full year behind schedule and every additional month of delay puts added stress on our physical plant and could soon force the board to either dip into district reserves or cut back on teachers, programs and support staff,” Roark told the Idaho Mountain Express.
Some lawmakers in favor of House Bill 106 and similar measures have said that limiting the number of elections would make things less confusing for Idaho voters, potentially increasing voter turnout for school bond and levy elections.
Roark disputes this argument, which he described as “bogus.”
“By holding bond and levy elections on dates not related to primary, general and municipal elections there is assurance that informed voters, from both sides of the issue, will turn out and decide the measure, while those who are uninformed or simply lack the motivation to vote either for or against the measure will exercise their right to skip the election,” Roark said. “House Bill 106 seeks to dilute the pro-school vote with a large number of voters who know nothing about the bond or levy, much less care about the viability of public education.”