The Idaho Human Rights Commission has unanimously endorsed legislation to merge the commission and the Idaho Department of Labor.
The nine commissioners met last week, according to a Department of Labor news release Monday, and "expressed confidence that the proposed merger between the two agencies will have multiple benefits."
On Tuesday, Department of Labor Director Roger Madsen makes his budget presentation to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. After meeting with budget writers, he and Human Rights Commission Director Pam Parks will speak with reporters about the proposed merger.
The commission investigates allegations of discrimination in Idaho and such claims must first go to the agency before any lawsuit can be filed. The commission enforces both the Idaho Human Rights Act and federal civil rights laws with 11 employees.
Madsen proposes drawing on two reserve funds controlled by the Department of Labor to replace general funds recommended for elimination by Gov. Butch Otter.
According to the news release, the merger will allow both agencies to "provide exemplary services" with "minimal impact" on Labor, allow the commission to save money, and
preserve the commission's autonomy.
“In partnership with the Department of Labor, the Idaho Human Rights Commission will continue to do the work we are charged to do by the Idaho Legislature and the people of Idaho,” Commission President Estella Zamora said in the news release. “We look forward to working with Labor Director Roger Madsen and his staff and thank them for their willingness to support us and the important work that we do – protecting Idaho’s people from discrimination.”
“This is the kind of agreement that highlights what can be accomplished when we work together for a common purpose – to meet the needs of Idaho citizens while being mindful of the realities of our budget and the responsibility of living within the people’s means,” said Otter in the release. “I congratulate everyone involved for thinking creatively and acting so effectively.”
“The department looks forward to supporting the Human Rights Commission in carrying out a responsibility to keep Idaho free of discrimination,” Madsen said. “Through the department’s network of 25 local offices across the state, we hope to help the commission better reach all Idahoans.”
Madsen and several members of his team met with Parks and the commissioners for two hours Jan. 30 to answer commissioners’ questions. According to the release, commissioners said the draft legislation prepared by Labor reflected agreements reached in the earlier discussions.
“This partnership strengthens Idaho,” Commissioner Sheila Olsen of Idaho Falls said.
Commissioner Joe B. McNeal, former mayor of Mountain Home, called the proposal “an outstanding effort by the department and commission to form a partnership that will benefit all Idahoans.”
Parks called it “a win-win for the state, and the right thing to do. We recognize that both our agencies share a common mission to provide Idaho with a strong work force and a commitment to ensure that those workers are protected from discrimination in the workplace.”
Commissioners are appointed by the governor to three year terms.
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