Close to half a dozen members of the Statehouse press corps were kept waiting for an hour to ask members of the Senate GOP leadership about their votes in committee this morning, which came without discussion or explanation, to kill proposed human rights legislation, the “Add The Words” bill. The leaders were scrambling on a different matter, involving Senate rules, the 14th Order for amendment, and whether amendments to the anti-Occupy bill were properly handled earlier this week; there's been no announcement as to whether anything will change on that.
The Senate State Affairs Committee, in which the party-line vote occurred, includes all four members of Senate GOP leadership. When Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, emerged briefly, he said he had no comment on the human rights vote; nor did Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. Senate Majority Caucus Chairman John McGee, finally dispatched to speak for leadership, said there was no discussion in an hour-long closed-door GOP caucus yesterday about the issue.
“This is not a new issue,” McGee said. “Nobody here believes in discrimination or discriminating against anybody.” But, he said, “I don't think we want to continue to create separate groups and separate categories for this.” He said, “I don't think that the piece of legislation that was brought before us today … changes whether or not somebody is going to discriminate. … The fact is we don't think that bill is the right thing to do.”
Idaho's existing Human Rights Act bans employment and housing discrimination on the basis of race, religion or disability. The “Add The Words” bill would have added sexual orientation and gender identity. “There's lots of groups who don't have that ability as well, so the issue becomes, where does it stop? Where do those special categories end?” McGee asked.
McGee said his constituents in Canyon County don't support the change. He acknowledged that discrimination does occur against gays and lesbians in Idaho, saying, “For me to tell you that this doesn't exist would be naive.” But, he said, “I think what we did today is say we don't believe that this is the right way to deal with that.” Asked the right way, he said, “Continued education,” and added, “We say no to legislation all the time.”