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Eye On Boise

Senate panel narrowly backs controversial faith-healing bill

The Senate State Affairs Committee has voted 5-4 in favor of SB 1182, Sen. Dan Johnson’s controversial bill regarding faith-healing, after most of the nine people who testified this morning spoke against it. Here’s how the vote broke down:

Voting in favor: Sens. Hagedorn, Davis, Hill, Lakey and Siddoway.

Voting against: Sens. Winder, Lodge, Stennett, and Buckner-Webb.

The bill now moves to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, made the motion to approve it; it was seconded by Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. “We found a way to introduce a bill to offend everybody - it certainly wasn’t our target,” Davis said. “We weren’t looking for applause. We were looking for something that could be a partial solution and also have a chance of passing, and this is that bill. I heard a lot of opposition to the bill because it doesn’t go far enough, that we need to repeal the shield protection in Title 18. I can’t get that bill passed, I don’t believe I can. … I’ve been here for a while and I know kinda how to count votes; that bill will not pass.”

Davis said, “I believe I’m a person of faith ... and I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe that the lord God almighty can be involved,” and “can heal people.” But he said he also believes God expects people to “use all the tools available to us. And until those children can make that decision for themselves, the government in my opinion has a compelling government purpose, in its least restrictive means possible, a duty to protect the lives of children. … I believe this legislation is in fact a step forward and may actually protect the lives of some.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said of the bill, “I don’t see it changing a whole lot. We’ve heard from people of faith and the medical community, and they don’t like it. … It muddies parental rights. ... This doesn’t solve any of that, this just makes more conflict.”

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, shared several stories from the Bible about miraculous healing, and said in each case, “it was because of their faith.” He said he respected the work to make progress on the issue, but said, “We have the conflicting testimony of families and law enforcement that this bill doesn’t do it.”

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, talked about his religious belief, and said, “Those children that have gone on ... they have it made. If we can just live a righteous life, one day we’ll be with them again. I think this bill comes as close as we can come right now in trying to intervene.”

Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, said “In the state of Idaho we have a multitude of religious traditions.” She questioned how the senators would react to other faiths and their views on the issue. “I’m uncomfortable,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be an agreement ... between two different factions, so I’m not supporting the motion.”

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said, “I don’t want to and I can’t go down the road of criminalizing their exercise of faith, and this doesn’t do that, this works in the civil arena and tries to strike a balance between those that would just prefer to leave the blanket exemption in place, and those that would prefer to criminalize it, remove all protections. ... It replaces that blanket exemption with the courts having an opportunity to review those competing interests ... in those cases where we’re talking about serious permanent injury or death. … For me, this puts the focus on protecting the child, not punishing the parent.”

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, said the Followers of Christ are her neighbors. “They have big families, they love them, their whole lives are built around their families,” she said. “They live trying to do the best they can to please their God for their heavenly reward.” Lodge said, “I believe in medical intervention, but I also believe in prayer.” She said she still doesn’t have enough information from all the various groups to make a decision to support the bill. “We need to protect our children, but I’ll tell you those followers protect their children and they care for them,” she said. “I would like to see us work more on this legislation.”

Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said on an issue “this important, this emotional, this sensitive, that you don’t hit many home runs the first time. ... You take little steps. And for many of you that’s not far enough but I’ll tell you, if you don’t take the first step, you never get there. … This is not the last time we will have to address this issue because it’s too important. And not only that, circumstances change in the world, science changes. God is constant. But sometimes our impressions of God change, and those changes aren’t always good. But I’m going to support this and I believe that those who worked so hard on this have sought both secular and spiritual direction to try to make things better, to protect our rights to live but also our rights to the free exercise of religion, and we don’t have a perfect solution yet, but I think this brings us in the right direction.”

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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