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Idaho House to hear giant salamander bill

BOISE – An Idaho House committee on Wednesday abruptly reversed itself and overwhelmingly passed a bill proposed by an Idaho eighth-grader to make the Idaho giant salamander the official state amphibian.

The bill now moves to the full House with a recommendation that it pass.

Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, both said they decided on the change a day earlier when the House passed a resolution marking “National Diaper Need Awareness Week.”

“I turned to my seatmate and said, ‘If we have time for a diaper bill, we have time to hear the salamander,’” Batt said.

Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls, who opposed HB 1 in January citing fear of “federal overreach,” switched his vote and supported the bill on Wednesday, as did Reps. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton.

“I was new to Idaho, really, and the Legislature,” Cheatham explained. “I was trying to show my commitment to the state of Idaho.”

Fourteen-year-old Ilah Hickman has been pushing for the designation since she studied the issue as a fourth-grader; she’s returned to the Legislature each year to present her bill. Last year, Ilah’s bill passed the Senate on a 33-2 vote, but never got a committee hearing in the House.

This year, the House State Affairs Committee held a hearing just a week into the legislative session, but the bill died on a 10-6 vote. On Wednesday, there were just two “no” votes, from Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, and Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs.