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Eye On Boise

Sign language interpreter bill clears Senate Commerce Committee

House-passed legislation to license sign-language interpreters in Idaho has cleared a Senate committee and headed to the full Senate. HB 46 passed the Senate Commerce Committee this afternoon with just two “no” votes, from Sens. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Todd Lakey, R-Nampa.

Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, the bill’s lead sponsor, told the senators that licensing legislation passed both houses two years ago and was vetoed by the governor, but that led to a better bill this year. Backers of the bill worked with Idaho’s court system and others to develop the bill, which merges sign language interpreter licensing with an existing state licensing board on audiology and speech pathology.

Packer said, “One of the most important and basic rights that we protect in our Constitution is freedom of speech, and to ensure that … the communications we provide to others are protected. That’s what these folks want, to ensure that those who are speaking for them are speaking accurately and in an ethical manner.”

She said sign language interpreting differs from interpreting for other languages in several important ways: It’s regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and while those who speak other languages could learn English, “You can’t teach these people how to hear. That’s not an option for them.”

Packer said this year’s bill relies on existing national certification for Idaho’s licensing system. “We’re not going to have our own test, not going to have additional requirements,” she said. But she said Idahoans with hearing impairments have suffered from substandard sign language interpretation. “We have a lady that’s amputee in Caldwell because the wrong leg was amputated due to misinterpretation,” Packer said. “They’re just saying, ‘We want you to meet this standard, so that we know you can communicate well.”

Souza spoke out against the bill. “I really understand the need for good interpreters and those that know what they’re doing,” she said.”I’m not convinced that we really need to have another state license.”

She said, “I think this bill is pretty intrusive, and I’m afraid that it will step on toes of people who haven’t done anything wrong, who are using their sign language skills in ways that will not endanger anyone, and will not be able to continue doing that.”

The bill passed the House on Feb. 9 on a 43-27 vote. To become law, it still needs passage in the full Senate and the governor’s signature.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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