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Idaho giant salamander bill is first one introduced, could have hearing next week

Ilah Hickman, now an 8th grader, has brought back her bill this year to designate the Idaho giant salamander as the state's official amphibian, joining other state symbols like the Monarch butterfly and mountain bluebird. (Betsy Russell)
Ilah Hickman, now an 8th grader, has brought back her bill this year to designate the Idaho giant salamander as the state's official amphibian, joining other state symbols like the Monarch butterfly and mountain bluebird. (Betsy Russell)

Boise 8th grader Ilah Hickman’s bill to make the Idaho giant salamander the official state amphibian is the first bill introduced in the Idaho Legislature this year, after the House State Affairs Committee agreed to introduce the measure this morning. “I’m hoping this will be House Bill 1,” said committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona. “We’re going to get it upstairs as quickly as possible.”

The young woman has been pushing the bill for five years now, and last year, it passed the Senate on a 33-2 vote. But it never got a committee hearing in the House. “In all fairness to her, we were really at the end of the session last year, and we had an awful lot to do,” Loertscher said. “It doesn’t mean that I’m going to vote for it, but in fairness to her, I thought it should be heard.” He said he’s expecting to set a hearing on the bill for early next week.

“I think that the Idaho giant salamander is the best candidate to represent our state,” Ilah told the State Affairs Committee this morning. “It has ‘Idaho’ in its name. The pattern on its skin looks like a topographical map of the Bitterroot Mountains. And it makes its home almost exclusively in Idaho.” She called the salamander an “intriguing animal” and said its designation as a state symbol could help engage students, like her, in learning about Idaho.

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said, “I don’t mean to appear not interested, I am. But I don’t, I’ve never seen one of these rascals. Have you got a picture of it that we could see today?” Loertscher responded, “You got one in your packet this morning.” Nielsen said, “That’s what I get for being late. This is quite interesting.” He made the motion to introduce the bill, which passed with a handful of “no” votes – but no one wanted to be recorded as voting no.

Ilah told the lawmakers that if the bill gets a hearing, she’ll bring in a live salamander to show the committee, “in an aquarium, of course,” and will have testimony from biologists. Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, said, “I’m just delighted with this proposal. … I think it’s absolutely delightful, and it’s an educational issue, and it glorifies Idaho is what it does, so I support the motion.”

The Idaho giant salamander mainly makes its home in northern Idaho, but Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking said after the committee meeting that her son caught one in the Boise River last summer. Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, introduced Ilah to the committee. She said she believes the salamander deserves a place alongside other Idaho symbols like the Monarch butterfly, the cutthroat trout and the Peregrine falcon.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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