Seventh-grader Ilah Hickman has been working for four years to get the Idaho giant salamander named the official state amphibian, and this year, she persuaded not only the Senate State Affairs Committee but the full Senate – which voted 33-2 on Feb. 26 in favor of her bill, SB 1271. But it hasn’t gotten a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee, and Ilah’s phone calls, letters and emails to Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, about it have gone unreturned. So this afternoon, Ilah came down to the Capitol after school to talk to Loertscher. She went to his basement office, where his secretary told her she might catch him up in the House chamber.
Ilah went up there, accompanied by her mom, Lori, and sent in a message and waited in the House lobby, but Loertscher didn’t emerge before the House’s 4 p.m. session today. Loertscher, who was working on email at his desk on the floor, said, “I’ve already told ‘em I’m not going to have a hearing on the bill. … We’re a little busy. I think I got six new bills into State Affairs this morning.”
Loertscher said, “We’ve gone a little bit overboard on designating these state symbols. If we haven’t got anything else to do, I suppose it’s OK, but we’re awfully busy right now.” He added, “If a lot of members of the committee wanted to hear it,” that might change his mind. “I’ve talked to a few,” he said.
Out in the lobby, Ilah’s wait was rewarded by a brief visit from House Speaker Scott Bedke, who pulled her and her mom aside for a brief chat. Afterward, Ilah said, “He said, ‘No more cute and tenacious – you’ve got to work the committee.’” She came away making plans to contact committee members. “I think if we bug them enough, they’re going to say, ‘OK, let’s get this done with,” the youngster said. “If they don’t, then I’ll just come back next year and do it again.”
After Ilah presented her bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee this year, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told her, “I’ve seen a lot of very capable people come with some very compelling legislation. Yours, however, is as well done as I’ve heard, including from professionals.”