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Eye on Boise: Anti-discrimination bill will die in committee

BOISE – Legislation to expand Idaho’s anti- discrimination law to include job discrimination based on sexual orientation will die without a hearing again this year, a Senate committee chairman has decided.

“It’s not my intention to hold hearings on bills that I don’t think are going to get out of committee,” said Sen. Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa, chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee. “We’ve had that bill every year since 2007. … It’s never been my impression that it would have the votes to get out of committee or pass on the floor.”

Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, the Senate minority leader, introduced this year’s measure as a personal bill, and it won the strong endorsement of the Idaho Human Rights Commission, which noted the recent repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Senate Assistant Minority Leader Les Bock, D-Boise, decried McKenzie’s decision. “That bill deserves a hearing,” he said. “I think the time has come to deal with this issue.”

Going without

Wayne Hammon, Gov. Butch Otter’s budget director, says he’s not planning to replace the recently retired chief economist of the state either this year or next year, even as the state faces potentially huge budget cuts based on questions about how much it will or won’t collect in tax revenue next year. “Right now we just don’t have the money to do so,” Hammon said.

When longtime Chief Economist Mike Ferguson retired, the state’s other economist, Derek Santos, was moved temporarily into Ferguson’s job, but Santos’ job wasn’t filled. It’ll stay that way for the next 18 months, Hammon said.

In addition, the Division of Financial Management, which Hammon heads and which handles economic forecasting for the state, also has lost its accountant, and that position also isn’t being replaced. Hammon said he hopes to fill the positions in fiscal year 2013. “Before they left, we were looking probably at a layoff in 2012,” he said.

Bike helmet bill killed

After two days of hearings, the Senate Transportation Committee killed SB 1072, Sen. Diane Bilyeu’s proposal to require bicycle helmets for children 12 and younger when they ride on public roads. The measure was killed on a party-line vote, with only Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, and Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, supporting it.

A disappointed Bilyeu said Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, told her “he was concerned about mandating to people what they could and couldn’t do.” Bilyeu proposed the bill after being approached by a constituent whose young daughter survived a severe bike accident only because of her helmet; the constituent and his daughter traveled to Boise for the hearing on the bill.

Said Bilyeu, “We’re one of the few states that does not regulate this for children, and we know the costs.”

More anti-union bills

A Senate committee has introduced legislation at the request of Sen. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian, to ban all public-sector collective bargaining in Idaho, but McKague said she planned only to introduce the bill this year, not move forward with it. “It’ll be printed and that’s all,” she said. “That’s all I asked to do this year. I think we’ve got enough going on in the state right now – I don’t think it’s good timing.”

It’s the latest in a string of anti-union legislation in Idaho’s Statehouse this year, most of which is moving forward.

McKenzie, the committee chairman, said, “I allowed the print hearing with that understanding – that we will not hear that in committee.”

McKague said she introduced the bill because “some people approached me” with interest in the issue. In the fiscal note on her bill, she wrote, “There could be a positive impact for the state.”

State can ‘dictate’

Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, asked Rep. Vito Barbieri , R-Dalton Gardens, about unfunded mandates that the state passes down to cities and counties, as Barbieri argued in the House for his bill attempting to “nullify” federal health care reforms. “Would they not have the right also to pursue nullification?” Trail asked.

Barbieri responded, “Contrary to what others expressed here, I do not believe the states are creatures of the federal government. However, cities and counties are creatures of the state government. … Through creation of those government entities, we are in a position to dictate to them. … This does not stretch the other way.”

Trail responded, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

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