Here's a draft of our Sunday editorial on the "Add the Words" bill.
The campaign to expand Idaho’s Human Rights Act centered on a straightforward slogan: “Add The Words.”
So now, what words can we add to our description of the 2012 Legislature?
How about callous?
All of these words fairly describe the actions of the Senate State Affairs Committee Friday.
On a party-line decision, and without much second thought, the committee rejected a proposal to extend human rights protections to gays, lesbians and transgender Idahoans. This basic, fair step to prevent discrimination in the workplace and the housing market didn’t get a hearing.
In the committee’s narrow view, this proposal didn’t even merit any real consideration. Friday’s hearing was a “print” hearing — when a committee decides whether to “print” a bill. A printed bill becomes a piece of the session’s public record — a document all Idahoans can read and judge for themselves.
Legislative committees sometimes print bills to advance the discussion of an important issue. On Friday, discrimination didn’t make the cut. The State Affairs Committee had neither the time nor the empathy. Committee members couldn’t dismiss this idea or its proponents quickly enough.
Oh, sure, committee chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, moved Friday’s meeting to the Statehouse’s largest meeting room. The better to let supporters have a seat before they were summarily shown the door. The committee didn’t even take public testimony, which McKenzie could easily have allowed.
When it came down to a voice vote, only Democrats Edgar Malepeai of Pocatello and Michelle Stennett of Ketchum voted to print the proposal. McKenzie sat silently (he later said he would have voted to print the bill, had a roll call been requested). But McKenzie didn’t do nearly enough to persuade the other Republicans on his committee: Russ Fulcher of Meridian, Chuck Winder of Boise, Patti Anne Lodge of Huston, John McGee of Caldwell, Bart Davis of Idaho Falls and Brent Hill of Rexburg.
The Republicans’ treatment of this issue was worse than shabby. Consider what McGee told reporters after the meeting. “For me to tell you that (discrimination) doesn’t exist would be naive.”
Let’s forget, for the moment, McGee’s own baggage, and instead concentrate on his comments. Consider what he said as spokesman for the Senate GOP caucus. Discrimination happens. But it isn’t enough of a problem to justify legislation. The solution, he weakly offered, is “continued education.”
Sure. And here’s the lesson from the Senate State Affairs Committee: Employers and landlords, you’re on the honor system. As long as discrimination doesn’t get worse, we’re not going to get involved.
The fact that this lesson came from the state Senate’s most powerful committee — including Hill, Davis, Winder and McGee, the four members of the GOP’s leadership team — is all the more disappointing.
These legislators, perhaps more than most, should be able to see that Friday’s vote puts Idaho on the wrong side of history, on the wrong side of a generational change.
The evidence should be all around them. In Olympia, Wash., a bill on the way to Gov. Chris Gregoire would make Washington the nation’s seventh state that recognizes gay marriage. A San Francisco federal appeals court — the court that happens to have jurisdiction over Idaho — rejected California’s voter-passed initiative banning gay marriage.
But that wasn’t even the issue before Senate State Affairs Committee members Friday. Not even close. A 2006 state constitutional amendment bans gay marriage, rendering that issue moot.
The only issue before lawmakers Friday was a simple one: Should Idaho protect Idahoans from being the subject of discrimination based on their sexual orientation or their gender identity? By refusing to consider the issue, these lawmakers perpetuated prejudice.
Which means that another word can be attached to their actions.
“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email firstname.lastname@example.org.