Idaho Governor Vetoes Bible-in-Schools Bill

Flanked by legislators, and members of the state House and Senate leadership, Gov. Butch Otter offers his analysis of the session that ended on March 28.
Flanked by legislators, and members of the state House and Senate leadership, Gov. Butch Otter offers his analysis of the session that ended on March 28.
—Katherine Jones/Idaho Statesman/AP
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Gov. Butch Otter issued his first vetoes of the year Tuesday afternoon, killing the closely watched Bible-in-schools bill.

In vetoing the bill, Otter aligned with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who had warned that the bill would violate the Idaho Constitution. While Otter and Wasden have publicly sparred in recent days over the demise of the Idaho Education Network contract, Otter echoed Wasden’s concerns over the Bible bill.

“I have deep respect and appreciation for the Bible as a religious doctrine as well as a piece of historic literature,” Otter wrote in a veto message addressed to Secretary of State Lawerence Denney. “However, allowing S1342 to become law is in direct contravention to the Idaho Constitution, and it could result in a loss of funding and costly litigation for Idaho public schools.”

Pushed by Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, Senate Bill 1342 would have allowed teachers to use the Bible and other religious texts in public school classrooms as a reference.

Current law already allows teachers to use the Bible, and the leaders of several education groups have said there has been no confusion about the matter. However, Nuxoll and other supporters said the bill was necessary to clarify the issue and ease educators’ fears.

Opponents, including some legislators, claimed the bill was clearly unconstitutional and would only lead to costly litigation. Other lawmakers downplayed the issue. “The little Supreme Court in my head says it’s OK,” said Rep. Sage Dixon, a Ponderay Republican and House sponsor of SB 1342, during floor debate on March 21.

After Senate leaders agreed on amendments, including a reference addressing the use of “other religious texts” the Bible bill passed the Senate on a bipartisan 31-3 vote. Two weeks later, it passed the House, 54-15.

Otter issued the veto on the final day that he was allowed to act on the bill — and more than a week after the Legislature left town. The bill reached Otter’s desk on March 24, the day the Senate adjourned for the year and a day before the House adjourned.

Otter had three options for handling the Bible bill. He could have signed it into law, vetoed it or allowed it to become law without his signature.

Moments after vetoing the Bible bill, Otter informed Denney he also vetoed a funding bill designed to align with a failed bill that aimed to provide healthcare coverage to Idahoans falling in the so-called Medicaid gap.

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