In unprecedented move, the House Ways & Means Committee - the leadership-controlled panel that rarely meets until late in the session - has announced a meeting for 5 p.m. today to consider introducing the "Add the Words" bill, the measure to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act to add the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to ban discrimination on those bases; read my full story here at spokesman.com. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, will present the bill, along with Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise. Once the bill's introduced, that would clear the way for a full hearing, which House Speaker Scott Bedke and House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher said will be scheduled the week of Jan. 26.
Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, Ways & Means chair, said the bill is "just the four words," and only Rusche will speak on it at today's Ways & Means meeting, which will be in the House Majority Caucus Room.
"It's time," said Bedke, R-Oakley. "We've consulted with Sen. Hill. ... It was a collective feeling that we wanted to have a hearing on a bill, not a hearing to introduce, and we can do that easily." At this point, he said, the bill is the minority's bill. Proponents have sought a hearing on the bill for the past nine legislative sessions without success.
"I think that the legislative process needs to be open to all," Bedke said. "All citizens have a right to petition ... and come before the legislative body, and we intend to facilitate that." He said, "I am not predicting any outcome or guaranteeing any outcome, but the process is going to be open to all. They'll come, they'll make their case, and I expect the committee to vote their conscience. That's all we can expect from the system."
"We'll have a thorough hearing," Bedke promised. "If it takes multiple days, that's fine. We want to hear everyone that wants to testify, on both sides. I have full confidence that this will be done in a way that's befitting the issue and befitting the legislative process."