Judge considering constitutionality of education reform law

Judge considering constitutionality of education reform law

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by Jamie Grey

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBJamieGrey

KTVB.com

Posted on August 26, 2011 at 9:56 AM

Updated Friday, Aug 26 at 11:44 AM

BOISE -- The debate over the education reform plan for Idaho continues, moving now into the courtroom. A district judge is considering whether one of the "Students Come First" laws might be unconstitutional.

The battle is over the law that directly affects teacher collective bargaining rights and labor agreement terms. Collective bargaining contracts were already terminated in June.

That particular law, which was Senate Bill 1108, limits collective bargaining, phases out tenure for new teachers and limits labor agreements to one year. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which include the Idaho Education Association (IEA), teachers, and three district education associations, say the law is unconstitutional for a few reasons.

Citing the Idaho State Constitution's single-subject rule, plaintiffs told Judge Timothy Hansen SB1108 was written too broadly: "The net is just simply too big."

Additionally, they say the new law violates contract rights by forcing districts to change contracts already in place and going back on already promised rights. One example plaintiffs gave was the repeal of early retirement incentives for current school employees.

"To take away a vested benefit like that retroactively is, if we were to shift the context to wages, is like saying, we're going to take some money out of your bank account because we decided that for ten years, we were overpaying you," their attorney said.

The defense, which includes the state of Idaho, Governor Butch Otter and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, says that type of incentive isn't considered compensation, and isn't forever guaranteed.

"It is not enough to simply use over and over and over again the term 'vested benefit' without examining the nature of the statute, the policy reasons for which it was created," their attorney said.

Judge Hansen said he would prepare a written opinion in this case. The IEA's general counsel expects that decision within the next 30 days.

"Being well aware of the significance of this case, we will try to get it out as quickly as we can," Hansen said.

If the judge rules in favor of the IEA, their attorney believes the state would acknowledge the ruling and repeal the law without a need for further legal action. That would mean things would revert back to how they were, and then likely be taken up again next legislative session.

If Hansen sides with the defense, of course, the law stands as is, though the law is set for a referendum vote on the 2012 ballot. The burden of proof rests on the plaintiff.

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