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Expanded rights law looks unlikely

Sat., Jan. 26, 2008

BOISE – Legislation to add sexual orientation to Idaho’s anti-discrimination laws may die without a hearing, but backers are still holding out hope.

Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes said this week that the Senate State Affairs Committee will hold a full hearing on the bill – which was introduced Monday on a 6-2 vote – only if sponsors can show they have support lined up from the committee.

“Then we’ll possibly schedule a hearing,” said Geddes, R-Soda Springs.

Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, a co-sponsor of the bill, said “it took a lot of negotiation and a lot of work” just to get the committee to consider introducing the bill. “We are not ruling out that we might get a hearing, because it’s possible that we’ll get our five votes,” she said. Geddes voted to introduce the bill, but opposes the bill proceeding any further, as does the committee’s chairman, Sen. Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa.

Another member of the panel, Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, was ill Monday and missed the vote on introducing the bill. But he said he opposes it. “I can’t support it,” Jorgenson told The Spokesman-Review. “I think that the law is adequate right now.”

Said Jorgenson: “The first thing is, this is a right-to-work state. You can fire a person for any reason.” Idaho’s current human rights law, enacted in 1968, bans discrimination in employment, housing and places of public accommodation based on race, sex, religion, color or national origin, but it doesn’t cover sexual orientation.

“I don’t oppose our current laws, but I don’t think we need to make them any more convoluted,” Jorgenson said.

Even if all the other senators on the committee who voted to introduce the bill continued to support it, the opposition from Jorgenson, Geddes and McKenzie would leave the bill one vote short of a majority in the nine-member committee.

Sens. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, and Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, voted against introducing the bill.

“I’m not so concerned personally about us stipulating that someone shouldn’t be fired based on sexual orientation, but I’m worried about the consequences of adding one more area to that particular law,” Geddes said. “And it’s not really the issue, in my opinion. People get fired for various reasons, but you can go to court for any reason.”

If Idaho were to enact the law, SB 1323, it would become the 21st state to make that change. Eleven other states have executive orders protecting public employees from such discrimination.

Boise State University’s public policy survey this year asked Idahoans whether they thought it should be illegal to fire someone because they are, or are perceived to be, gay or lesbian. Sixty-three percent said yes.

House Speaker Lawerence Denney told the Idaho Press Club this week that he hasn’t yet read the bill or formulated an opinion on it. “I certainly don’t think that there should be discrimination at all, but I think that you need to look very carefully at the bill,” he said.


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