Action: Tired of waiting for the Legislature to act, six Idaho cities have passed ordinances that prohibit discrimination against citizens in housing, hiring and public accommodations based on sexual orientation.
Reaction: Idaho Republican Party leaders have called on the Legislature to void those ordinances and prevent other municipalities from passing similar ones.
Action: Last fall, Idaho voters – via three referendums – successfully overturned education-related laws adopted by the Legislature.
Reaction: The Legislature passed a law making it more difficult – some say impossible – to gather enough signatures to place an initiative or referendum on the ballot. Then lawmakers ignored the will of the voters and passed some of the education items anyway.
That’s life in Idaho, where about four out of five lawmakers are Republican, the right to petition the government is trampled and local rule is overruled.
The passage of the human rights ordinance in Coeur d’Alene and the prospect of one in Idaho Falls seem to have panicked the party, which passed a resolution last week that would prohibit any expansion of state anti-discrimination laws. That’s a heavy-handed move, because the kinds of ordinances passed by the cities have failed to even gain a hearing at the legislative level.
The attitude appears to be: “Why debate, when we can dictate?” The rationales offered for heading off local anti-discrimination ordinances were cartoonish, and inaccurate.
Cornel Rasor, 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.”
Good grief. That is an actual concern from a former Bonner County commissioner. The ordinances bar the firing of workers for simply being gay. It’s still safe to impose a dress code or to fire unproductive workers.
But rather than listen and learn, party bosses want to shut down the discussion.
That’s not surprising from a group that raised the bar on what it takes for citizens to petition their government. Before the change, initiative and referenda sponsors needed to get at least 6 percent of registered voters to sign up. Now, they need 6 percent in 18 of the 35 legislative districts. This geographic requirement means sponsors must fan out all over the state, which is a far more expensive and arduous task.
Veteran signature gatherers say it could be the death knell for ballot issues, with the minimum-wage measure being the last gasp. Even under the old rules, only four out of 54 attempts have made it to the ballot since 2000.
The change comes after voters rebuked the Legislature for its unpopular education reforms passed in last year’s session. Legislative leaders deny this, saying they did it at the behest of the Farm Bureau, which fears ballot measures from animal rights activists. Even if that’s the case, it’s going too far to amend the initiative and referendum process for one special interest.
But with one-party rule, such power trips are possible. And they will continue unless voters re-establish their role as the real bosses.