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Lewiston becomes 9th Idaho city to pass anti-discrimination ordinance

Lewiston has become the 9th Idaho city to pass an ordinance banning discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, the Lewiston Tribune reports today. The ordinance also bans discrimination based on familial status; it passed on a 5-2 vote of the Lewiston City Council, after an hour and a half of testimony from a standing-room-only crowd.

Lewiston Tribune reporter Joel Mills reports that the public testimony ran about 2-1 in favor of the ordinance, which includes exemptions for religious entities; his full report is online here. Lewiston joins Boise, Ketchum, Moscow, Coeur d’Alene, Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Victor and Sandpoint; Sandpoint was the first, passing its ordinance in December of 2011. Idaho lawmakers have refused to grant a hearing on a bill to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act for nearly a decade, to ban discrimination on those bases; that's prompted cities to act on their own to pass ordinances protecting their residents.

Victor becomes 8th Idaho city to ban discrimination against gays

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: VICTOR, Idaho (AP) — A small eastern Idaho town near the border with Wyoming has passed an ordinance banning discrimination against a person because of sexual orientation or gender identity. Boise State Public Radio reports in a story on Thursday that Victor passed the law that offers employment, housing and public accommodation protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Mayor Zach Smith says the city council unanimously approved the measure. About 2,000 people live in Victor, many making a living by working in nearby Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Smith says the ordinance takes effect Monday. Victor becomes the eighth Idaho city to approve a non-discrimination ordinance.

You can see Boise State Public Radio’s full report here.

Discrimination lawsuit filed after woman fired for DUI, when male supervisor kept job after his DUI

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — A southeast Idaho woman has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Bonneville County. The Post Register reports (http://www.postregister.com/node/55767) that Kendalee Rydalch filed the lawsuit May 20 and is seeking $1 million. The lawsuit says Rydalch was fired from her job as a juvenile probation officer with the county in February 2013. The lawsuit says the firing came six days after she was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. The lawsuit contends that a male supervisor in 2007 was found guilty of driving under the influence while on duty but kept his job. Bonneville County Commissioner Roger Christensen says the county hasn't yet seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

Big ‘Add the Words’ rally set for Saturday on the Statehouse steps

There’s a big “Add the Words” rally scheduled on the state Capitol steps this Saturday at 1 p.m., to push to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the types of discrimination banned under the Idaho Human Rights Act. “Across the state, people are growing restless and frustrated,” said organizer Mistie Tolman. “Harm is done when lawmakers fail to say in law that cruelty is wrong.  For eight years now we’ve been asking for the dignity of a public hearing, an open discussion, and for them to hear us.”

Idaho lawmakers have rejected legislation each year for the past eight years to make that change to the state’s Human Rights Act, which now bans discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age or disability, in employment, housing or public accommodations. At least seven Idaho cities, including Sandpoint, Boise, Ketchum, Moscow, Coeur d’Alene, Pocatello and Idaho Falls, have now enacted their own local bans. Last June, the Idaho Republican Party state central committee passed a resolution calling on the Legislature to pass a law invalidating such local ordinances.

Under state law, Idahoans can legally be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes or denied service in a restaurant solely because they’re gay. “People lose their jobs, their apartments, and live in fear each day, said Lisa Perry, an Add the Words organizer. “We ask the public to bundle up, rain or shine, bring umbrellas, and show our legislature this is wrong, and that we stand with our LGBT family and friends.”

The rally will feature performances by Curtis Stigers and the Common Ground Community Chorus, organizers said, along with speakers from across the state and bill sponsors Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Rep. Grant Burgoyne, both D-Boise. A new group called the Interfaith Equality Coalition, comprised of 14 Boise-area churches and religious institutions including Methodists, Presbyterians, Jews, Mennonites and more, will participate in the rally. The Rev. Dana Worsnop, minister at the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, said, “We want it known that there are many people of deep religious conviction who support LGBT rights.”

Former Gov. Batt endorses expanding Idaho Human Rights Act that he authored, to ban discrmination against gays

Advocates of extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians are getting a big boost from the author of the Idaho Human Rights Act, former Republican Gov. Phil Batt, reports Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman. Popkey writes that on Tuesday, as Batt, 86, became the first recipient of the Idaho Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award in Caldwell, the popular former governor endorsed the “Add the Words ” campaign to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Act’s prohibition of discrimination based on race, gender, color, religion, national origin and disability.

“A homosexual who can’t rent a room or get a job because of his orientation doesn’t make any sense to anybody,” Batt said. “Why some of the politicians are not more sensitive than that — more sensible, I should say than that — beats me.” The former governor also said Idaho lawmakers’ refusal to amend the Human Rights Act in the 2013 session “accomplished absolutely nothing…except to be made to look like fools.” Popkey’s full report is online here; he notes that Batt’s comments were first reported in Friday’s Lewiston Tribune by editorial page editor Marty Trillhaase. Popkey writes that he checked in with Batt today, who told him, “It’s just something that needs to be said.”

Idaho Falls bans housing, employment discrimination against gays

Idaho Falls has become the seventh city in Idaho to enact a local ordinance barring discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The City Council approved the new ordinance last night around midnight, after a meeting in which more than 45 people testified and more than 100 attended, the Post Register and Boise State Public Radio report; you can see BSPR’s full report here. The cities took action after the Idaho Legislature rebuffed years of attempts to expand Idaho’s Human Rights Act to cover such discrimination.

Unlike ordinances passed earlier in six other Idaho cities, Idaho Falls’ new provision doesn’t cover discrimination in public accommodations, though it does bar job and housing discrimination. Sandpoint was the first Idaho city to enact a local anti-discrimination ordinance covering sexual orientation and gender identity in December of 2011; it was followed by Boise, Ketchum, Moscow, Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello.

Otter on GOP resolution: Honor local control

Asked about the Idaho GOP Central Committee’s new resolution calling on the Legislature to overturn local anti-discrimination ordinances, like those six Idaho cities have passed to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, Gov. Butch Otter said today that the resolution runs counter to his views on local control. “I think, even though the cities and counties are creatures of the state, the state has always recognized the value of local control, local decision-making, and these folks having a responsibility to establish for themselves the character of their community,” Otter said. “Although I understand some of the reasoning behind that effort, I really think that the overriding value of local folks making local decisions about local policies is much more valuable than us directing folks from Boise.”

Idaho GOP wants city non-discrimination ordinances voided

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho Republican Party leaders are calling on the state Legislature to invalidate local city ordinances that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation - like the one Coeur d’Alene passed after an emotional community debate just two weeks ago.  Six Idaho cities have passed such non-discrimination ordinances in the past year and a half, and a seventh, Idaho Falls, is looking into one now.

The party central committee's resolution isn't binding on the Legislature, which is 81 percent Republican. “It’s a way for the people to make their expressions known to the Legislature,” said Idaho Republican Chairman Barry Peterson. “We let ‘em know that this is the way that the majority of the party feels.” Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem countered, “The Republican Party itself appears to be somewhat fractured, so I’m not assuming that it would get full Republican support. … I would assume that there would certainly be some that would recognize the local rights.” Coeur d’Alene’s city council passed the ordinance on a 5-1 vote.

Cornel Rasor, a former Bonner County commissioner and chairman of the Idaho GOP’s resolutions committee, said, “I’d hire a gay guy if I thought he was a good worker. But if he comes into work in a tutu … he’s not producing what I want in my office.” Rasor presented the resolution on behalf of a constituent in Bonner County;  another similar one was proposed by Idaho County’s GOP central committee, and the two were combined into one. It was approved with little debate at the central committee’s summer meeting over the weekend in McCall.

Idaho Falls looking at anti-discrimination ordinance, could be 7th city to enact…

Idaho Falls is considering enacting an anti-discrimination ordinance to cover sexual orientation and gender identity; if it does, it'd be the seventh Idaho city to enact protections from discrimination that state lawmakers have repeatedly refused to add to the Idaho Human Rights Act. The Idaho Falls Post Register reports the city council is working on a draft ordinance and collecting public comment on the issue. Meanwhile, the Idaho Republican Party's central committee will consider two proposed resolutions this weekend calling for the state to invalidate all such local ordinances. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Catching up…

After a week away, it’s time to catch up. Here’s some of the news from the past week while I was gone:

* Both Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello passed city ordinances to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations. The Coeur d’Alene City Council’s 5-1 vote came late Tuesday night; the Pocatello City Council’s 4-2 vote came early Friday morning. That marks the fifth and sixth Idaho cities, including Boise, to pass such ordinances, after the state Legislature refused for seven straight years to enact such protections statewide.

* First District Congressman Raul Labrador dropped out of an eight-member bipartisan group working toward compromise immigration reform legislation in the House, and said he’ll oppose the group’s legislation, due to differences over how to pay for immigrants’ health care. “We just have a different philosophy,” Labrador told reporters. “The Democratic Party believes that health insurance is a social responsibility of the nation. I believe that health insurance is an individual responsibility. And that’s a really hard philosophy to mesh.” You can read more here. Today, the Coalition for Immigrant Rights of Idaho plans a rally at Meridian City Hall to protest Labrador’s move.

* The family of Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier from Hailey captured four years ago in Afghanistan and still held as a prisoner of war, received a letter from their son after working with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The family said it was “greatly relieved and encouraged by this letter;” read the full story here from the Associated Press.

* Idaho’s latest tax revenue figures, for the month of May, came in 2.4 percent below forecast, but that followed a big surplus in April, the state’s biggest month for tax revenue, bringing the state to 3 percent above forecast for the fiscal year to date; Idaho’s fiscal year ends June 30. You can see the general fund revenue report here.

Kootenai sheriff mum after meeting with Boy Scouts group; CdA considers anti-discrimination ordinance

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) — The CEO of the Inland Northwest Council of the Boy Scouts of America says he met with a northern Idaho sheriff after the sheriff said he planned to drop his office's charter of a Boy Scout troop over the organization's decision to lift its ban on openly gay Scouts. Last week, Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger said it would be inappropriate for the sheriff's office to sponsor an organization that promotes a lifestyle that violates Idaho's sodomy law. Inland Northwest Council CEO Tim McCandless told the Coeur d'Alene Press (http://bit.ly/11yfDBI ) that he met with Wolfinger on Tuesday and gave him more information about the policy change. McCandless said Wolfinger did not indicate if the meeting changed his mind. Sheriff's Lt. Stu Miller said Wolfinger had no further comment.

Ironically, that news item emerged the same day that a Coeur d'Alene city committee voted 2-1 in favor of a non-discrimination ordinance covering sexual orientation and gender identity, modeled after Boise's ordinance; the measure now moves to the full City Council for consideration. The council is scheduled to take up the ordinance at its June 4 meeting. 

Coeur d’Alene latest Idaho city to consider non-discrimination ordinance for sexual orientation

Coeur d’Alene soon may join a growing number of Idaho cities to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation – a reaction to the Legislature’s steadfast refusal to add such protections to state law, reports Spokesman-Review reporter Scott Maben. City Councilman Mike Kennedy is drafting an ordinance modeled after Boise’s; it would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. “I think it’s needed, I think it’s overdue, and it’s simple equal rights,” Kennedy said; you can read Maben’s full report here at spokesman.com.

The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations asked the Coeur d’Alene Council to add the language to the city code, Kennedy said. In a Feb. 4 letter to the mayor and City Council, the Task Force wrote, “The City of Coeur d’Alene has the opportunity to move forward in advancing the principles we have all promoted for decades. We urge you to stand on the broad shoulders of those who have gone before you in confirming once again the dignity and rights of all our residents and share in this noble legacy.”

The Legislature has spurned attempts each of the past seven years to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the state’s Human Rights Act, which now bans discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age or disability. Most years lawmakers refused to even allow the bill to be introduced. “The Legislature didn’t act again this year on it, and so it makes sense to do it now and help push the momentum toward a statewide law,” Kennedy said. He plans to bring the ordinance before the City Council in May. Sandpoint, Boise, Moscow and Ketchum already have enacted such ordinances; Pocatello rejected one last week, but plans to consider a modified version.

Divided Pocatello City Council rejects non-discrimination ordinance, but new version is in the works

A divided Pocatello City Council has defeated a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, with Mayor Brian Blad casting the tie-breaking vote at a tense, packed meeting last night, the Idaho State Journal reports. The council had split 3-3 on the ordinance to ban such discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations.

However, the issue’s not dead; the Journal reports that Blad, before he cast his “no” vote, said, “I believe this has divided this community in half. I believe we can draft an ordinance that most people can accept.” Blad ordered a council work session for May 9 to work on a modified ordinance to be introduced at the June 6 council meeting. “My main goal is to bring the community together and it's split right now,” Blad said; see the Journal’s full report here.

The Pocatello ordinance was modeled after measures already adopted in the past year in Sandpoint, Boise and Moscow, after the Idaho Legislature repeatedly refused to consider amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to outlaw such discrimination statewide.

Pocatello council to vote tonight on non-discrimination ordinance, latest Idaho city to take up issue

The Pocatello City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on an ordinance to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, reports Boise State Public Radio, and the vote is expected to be close. Other Idaho cities, including Sandpoint, Boise and Moscow, already have adopted such ordinances, after the Idaho Legislature refused for more than half the past decade to consider amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the types of discrimination that are illegal. BSPR reports that the Pocatello council heard emotional testimony on the proposed ordinance on April 4, with more than 50 people speaking out in favor of it, in advance of tonight's vote; you can read their full report here.

Moscow passes non-discrimination ordinance

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — The Moscow City Council has passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that makes it illegal to make housing and employment decisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The council passed the ordinance Monday amid protests by Mayor Nancy Chaney and some residents who say they were not given a chance to comment on the proposal. Councilman Dan Cascallen says the panel had received volumes of emails and felt it had taken enough public opinion. Chaney says she believes the ordinance warranted discussion from all sides. She says she believes the council's action will put a blight on the city. The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports (http://bit.ly/12apLRM ) the ordinance passed unanimously. Other Idaho cities that already have passed such non-discrimination ordinances include Sandpoint, Boise, and Hailey; the state Legislature has refused to consider a statewide non-discrimination ban for the past six years.

Panelist: ‘Discrimination is bad for business - period’

A large crowd has turned out today for a panel discussion on Idaho’s Human Rights Act and its possible amendment to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Gathered in the Capitol Auditorium, the crowd is hearing from a panel moderated by David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy.

“Until all of us are free, none of us are free,” said the Rev. Marci Glass, pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church; she said her support for non-discrimination is deeply rooted in scripture and her Christian beliefs. Clark Krause, executive director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, said, “Discrimination is bad for business – period.”

John Reuter, former Sandpoint City Council president, said, “I felt a special obligation as a white, straight male Republican to say, hey … look, there are people who can’t speak.” Reuter spearheaded Sandpoint’s non-discrimination ordinance for sexual orientation and gender identity; since that was adopted last year, Boise and Ketchum have followed suit, and other Idaho cities are considering ordinances. But the state Legislature has rejected such legislation for the past six years.

“I think action is possible in Idaho, and it’s going to be bipartisan if it happens in Idaho,” Reuter said, “and I think it will happen.” He said when he was on the Sandpoint council, it was divided between Republicans and Democrats, though officially nonpartisan. “We came together to say this is the right thing for all of our citizens,” he said, “for people to have a right to keep a job … without being discriminated against for something that has nothing to do with their job performance, and is an innate part of who they are.”

Other panelists include Boise City Councilwoman Maryanne Jordan, Bardenay restaurant owner Kevin Settles, and Idaho Human Rights Commission Director Pam Parks, who shared the history of the Idaho Human Rights Act – enacted at the behest of then-Sen. Phil Batt, who later served as Idaho’s governor. The act currently bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability in employment, housing and public accommodations. Said Adler, “Everybody is protected - unless you’re not.”

Settles said, “My restaurants are big places, they need to be busy. It takes a lot of people for us to turn a profit, it takes a lot of employees.” He said, “Exclusive restaurants generally don’t survive.”

Ketchum becomes third Idaho city to ban discrimination for sexual orientation

Ketchum’s city council voted unanimously this week to enact protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations, Boise State Public Radio reports. The city’s move follows the enactment of similar ordinances this year in Sandpoint and Boise – and the state Legislature’s refusal, for six straight years, to consider the “Add the Words” bill to add the words sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Human Rights Act, to prohibit such discrimination statewide. You can read Boise State Public Radio’s full post here, and the Idaho Mountain Express report here; Pride Foundation has a report here.

Twin Falls, Lewiston ban city workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — Add Twin Falls and Lewiston to the list of Idaho cities to ban discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation. City councils in both cities voted Monday night for language adding sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policies. The Lewiston City Council voted 5-2 to outlaw discrimination in hiring of city jobs. Leaders in Twin Falls voted 5-2 to add sexual orientation to the anti-harassment and discrimination policy for city employees. Lewiston and Twin Falls now join Boise, Sandpoint, Moscow and Caldwell in taking the official step to prohibit discrimination on hiring for city jobs based on a person's sexual preference or orientation. In addition, Sandpoint and Boise have banned such discrimination in jobs, housing and public accommodations citywide, and Pocatello is considering such an ordinance. The votes also come nearly a year after state lawmakers rejected a bill for a statewide ban on workplace and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

With unanimous council vote, Boise bans job, housing discrimination against gays

Boise has become Idaho's second city to enact an ordinance banning discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity; the Boise City Council last night voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance, a move that was followed by a standing ovation in a packed Capitol Auditorium. You can see a full report here from KBOI2 News.

Sandpoint last year became the first Idaho city to enact such an ordinance; Pocatello has one in the works. It's an issue the Idaho Legislature has repeatedly refused to consider, despite an outpouring of support across the state last year for the “Add the Words” campaign, which called for adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act. That's the law that currently makes it illegal to fire someone, evict them or deny them service in a restaurant on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age or disability. The state legislation has been rejected for six straight years; this year's push included well-attended rallies across the state, including one that drew more than a thousand people to the state Capitol.

Boise's ordinance takes effect Jan. 1; it exempts churches and private organizations like the Boy Scouts.

Boiseans pack five-hour hearing to support anti-discrimination ordinance

Hundreds of Boiseans turned out for a five-hour public hearing last night, with nearly all in favor of a proposed city ordinance to ban discrimination in housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Citizens shared emotional stories of living in fear of losing their jobs if employers found out they were gay; business leaders said the ordinance will help the city attract employers. You can read the Boise Weekly's account here, and the Idaho Statesman's report here; and see KTVB-TV's report here and KBOI2 News' report here.

For some background, here's a link to my Aug. 5 story on how Idaho's cities are moving to ban such discrimination, after the the state Legislature repeatedly refused to consider legislation for a statewide ban. Boise's City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance Dec. 4.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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