State Politics

House vote mirrors court ruling on campaigning on the taxpayer’s dime

The House chambers at the Idaho Statehouse.
The House chambers at the Idaho Statehouse. Idaho Statesman file

The House has passed legislation from Rep. Jason Monks, R-Nampa, to restrict the use of public funds in campaigning; it passed on a 68-9 vote.

Monks spent the past year working with stakeholders including cities and school districts to refine the idea. This year’s bill has the backing of Idaho School Boards Association, the Association of Idaho Cities, the Idaho Farm Bureau and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. But the ACLU of Idaho opposes it, due to concerns about how the bill might affect speech by student groups.

Monks told the House the bill is intended to match the standards laid out by the Idaho Supreme Court in a 2005 case – that public funds and resources may be used to educate voters, but not to advocate for a candidate or ballot measure.

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said she was concerned that the bill could potentially outlaw things like Democratic and Republican student groups in high schools from printing fliers or holding meetings on school grounds. “I think this is a move in the wrong direct for the 1st Amendment and it’s a move in the wrong direction for encouraging civic participation for our youth,” she told the House.

Monks countered, “Nothing in the bill says that they can’t do that. If the school was advocating for the Republicans or for the Democrats, then that would be a problem. … If we’re talking about advocating, then it’s not appropriate to be using public resources to do that.”

The bill, HB 620, forbids the use of public funds to advocate for or against a candidate or ballot measure, and the use of public property or resources for that, other than those generally available to the public. It also specifically allows for neutral statements encouraging people to vote, “objective” statements explaining measures, public notices, legally required statements for and against constitutional amendments, and public officials and employees’ free speech rights.

The measure now moves to the Senate side.