The House Education Committee today took a step back on House Bill 406, which would extensively amend employee records legislation passed just last year. In testimony to the committee today, Idaho Education Association General Counsel Paul Stark said the legislation – as it stands now – could prove to be yet another barrier to Idaho attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers.
Rep. JoAnWood (R-Rigby) said she was introducing the bill as a means to clean up the 2011 legislation, but Stark pointed out several major problems with the bill, including:
- Current law authorizes the Professional Standards Commission to investigate allegations of unethical practice by teachers. The new law would broaden the PSC’s portfolio to investigate “misconduct,” but Stark said that term is vague and undefined in the statute.
- The PSC would have to report any allegation, even baseless ones, to the educator’s school district. Current law dictates that the PSC reports to a district only after an action has been taken against a teacher’s certificate. Requiring a report before the PSC acts runs counter to the key American justice principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” In a twist on that axiom, in regard to certain information in a personnel file, you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent.
- Prior to adoption of the new employee records law last year, there was a central personnel file. But under the new law, employee records also include “investigative” or “other” files. Under current Idaho law, employee rebuttals may be provided in the central personnel file, but H406 would not assure the employee the same right to rebut any information. H406 adds that all documents in such files be provided, “regardless of whether or not the employee has notice of the existence of such documentation,” and leaves rebuttals out of a long list of requested documentation. “This is the equivalent of being called to the courthouse and being found guilty without even knowing why,” Stark told the committee. “There is something fundamentally wrong with this provision.”
- Finally, the IEA pointed out that H406 would turn teachers into at-will “temps” for a minimum of 50 days: 20 days for a former employer to provide records and an additional 30 days for the new employer to review the files before granting a contract. Several committee members wondered whether 30 days was long enough to provide time for a review. Stark brought up the question of what would happen if an out-of-state district declined to provide files at all, which would leave the employee in limbo.
After nearly 90 minutes of testimony and debate, Rep. Steven Hartgen (R-Twin Falls) moved that the bill be held in committee, suggesting that it contained three different parts that ought to be addressed separately. Rep. Jim Marriott (R-Blackfoot) said he’d support the motion, noting that there were also issues of due process to be resolved. But Rep. Rich Wills (R-Glenns Ferry) made a substitute motion that the bill be held in committee until next Monday so changes could be made without holding it indefinitely. Wills’ motion passed and the bill will return next Monday, Feb. 6.
In other news:
- According to the Associated Press, the Senate today voted 33-0 to delete the requirement that teachers and students must be separate during online instruction.
- State Superintendent Tom Luna will address a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education committees at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Capitol Auditorium. Sen. John Goedde (R-Coeur d’Alene) told the Senate Education Committee that the superintendent will report on the work of the Technology Task Force. You can watch or listen to the meeting via Idaho Public Television’s Legislature Live service. Choose the “auditorium” channel.