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State amphibian bill clears Idaho House

Ilah Hickman, 14, with an Idaho giant salamander at the state Capitol on Jan. 19, 2015 (Betsy Russell)
Ilah Hickman, 14, with an Idaho giant salamander at the state Capitol on Jan. 19, 2015 (Betsy Russell)

BOISE – After five years of trying, a Boise 8th grader today got her bill through the Idaho House to designate the Idaho giant salamander as the state amphibian.

The 51-17 vote in favor of HB 1 sends the measure to the Senate – where last year, it passed overwhelmingly. Eighth-grader Ilah Hickman, accompanied by her parents, proudly watched today’s House debate and vote from the House gallery.

Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, told the House, “This is a really unique critter. … I certainly have grown to appreciate this critter. I think the giant salamander actually is the best choice for this designation. It has the perfect name for the state amphibian. Furthermore, out of 14 amphibians that reside in Idaho, it is the only one that resides almost exclusively in this state. … Its skin looks like a topographical map of the Bitterroot Mountains.”

McDonald noted that the salamander has the potential to help medical research; it can regenerate limbs. Also, it’s “not in any way endangered.” “It’s one piece of our natural heritage,” McDonald said. “Not everyone will care if there’s a state amphibian, but many do care.”

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, told the House, “The Idaho giant salamander may be of little consequence to adults, but to a 9-year-old child, it’s a big deal. … It stirs the imagination of little children.”

There was no debate against the bill, despite the 17 “no” votes. If HB 1 now passes the Senate and receives the governor’s signature, the Idaho giant salamander would join the mountain bluebird, the Appaloosa horse, the monarch butterfly, the cutthroat trout, the huckleberry and others among Idaho’s official state symbols.

Just one week into this year’s legislative session, the House State Affairs Committee held a hearing on Ilah’s bill and killed it, with some members, including new Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls, saying they were concerned about “federal overreach.”

The committee reconsidered last week, and Cheatham said he’d learned that designating a state amphibian wouldn’t play into water litigation in North Idaho or have federal-law implications. He voted in favor of HB 1 today, and offered Ilah his congratulations.

“No” votes in the House included North Idaho Reps. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, missed the vote.


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