November 10, 2013 in Idaho

Eye on Boise: Crapo, Risch say anti-discrimination laws best left to states

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – When the U.S. Senate voted 64-32 last week in favor of legislation to ban workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians, 10 Republicans joined 52 Democrats and two independents to support the bill, but Idaho’s two senators both voted against it.

“Number one, this is a state’s rights issue,” Idaho Sen. Jim Risch said. “Number two, this bill made insufficient provisions for employers who have First Amendment constitutional protections to exercise their religious beliefs.”

The bill, which would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, included an exemption for religious organizations. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., proposed an amendment to sharply expand that exemption to include a wide array of entities with some religious affiliation, but it was voted down, 55-43. Toomey still voted in favor of the bill, however.

Sen. Mike Crapo’s spokesman, Lindsay Nothern, said, “Sen. Crapo voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, on the basis that he has long been opposed to the expansion of the federal government’s power to handle such matters when states have a better handle on how to rightfully handle these issues, just as several local municipalities in Idaho have begun to do.”

Earlier in the week, Crapo said he supports allowing local ordinances to ban such discrimination, which conflicts with a resolution passed by the Idaho Republican Party Central Committee over the summer urging the state Legislature to overturn local anti-discrimination ordinances in seven Idaho cities.

“Moreover, a sweeping federal statute would not offer proper protections for religious liberties,” Nothern said. “Sen. Crapo believes all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity. … Workers should be hired and their employment maintained on the basis of their skills, abilities and how they accomplish their appointed tasks.”

The bill may not get a vote in the House, where Speaker John Boehner opposes it.

Now it’s even

Idaho’s state tax revenue fell 5.6 percent below forecasts in October, a month after it swelled 6.4 percent ahead of forecasts in September. The result: Tax revenues are coming in just about as forecast.

The October revenues were down $12.8 million from the forecast; September’s were nearly $16 million over the forecast. Year to date, Idaho has now collected just 0.2 percent less than was forecast for this point in the fiscal year.

Last month, Gov. Butch Otter hailed the strong September revenues as news that “validates our belief … that lowering taxes encourages more economic activity.” This month’s General Fund Revenue Report came out late Thursday; Otter had no immediate comment.

K-12 report in works

The Idaho Legislature’s K-12 Educational System Interim Committee adjourned its meeting last week without any votes and announced it wouldn’t meet again – leaving hanging the question of what, if anything, the panel was recommending to the Legislature after its three meetings this fall.

But the panel’s two co-chairs, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, and House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, say its work isn’t done. Instead, they’re having a report compiled by the Legislative Services Office on the committee’s work, including recommendations from stakeholder groups who testified to the committee during its meetings, and plan to share the report with the rest of the committee. Then, members can use it to draft bills or proposals for next year’s legislative session.

“This was not an attempt to replicate the Legislature,” DeMordaunt told Idaho Education News after the meeting. “This was an opportunity for us in a smaller subset to review what happened and share learning with our colleagues in the greater body.”

Fee won’t rise?

Yourhealthidaho.org, Idaho’s state health insurance exchange, is not planning to raise its fee per health plan from the current 1.5 percent level, executive director Amy Dowd told state lawmakers last week.

“There has been some confusion on this issue based on work that my staff engaged in to fulfill some reporting requirements recently,” Dowd told the Idaho Legislature’s Health Care Task Force. “We are required to evaluate a full range of possibilities and what-if scenarios. Some of those projections contemplated a far higher rate. In no way was that evaluation a proposal for the future.”

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at (208) 336-2854 or betsyr@spokesman.com.


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