Utah isn’t the only Rocky Mountain state considering a non-discrimination bill aimed at gays and transgender people this legislative session. On Jan. 21, Senate Bill 1323 was read for the first time before the Idaho State Legislature.
Titled Human Rights Law, Sexual Orientation, SB1323 seeks to amend the state’s 1968 Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations – including public schools and universities.
As in similar bills proposed in other states, religious organizations, businesses with fewer than five employees and smaller housing units (such as duplexes) are exempt.
Idaho law currently covers race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability.
A number of Idaho Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle have cosponsored the bill, including Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, Sen. David Langhorst, D-Boise, Sen. Charles Coiner, R-Twin Falls, Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, Rep. Les Bock, D-Boise and Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett.
“This legislation will end decades of discrimination against men and women in every part of Idaho and set a tone for the state making clear that it is wrong to fire someone from a job, refuse to promote or fairly compensate someone, for no other reason than that they are gay,” the sponsors wrote in the bill’s introduction.
LeFavour, the state’s only openly gay lawmaker, said that the historic legislation – the first in Idaho’s history to mention sexual orientation – was long overdue. In a post to her legislative blog, “Notes from the Floor” on Jan. 31, she praised a number of people – including a gay marriage foe – for helping the bill become reality.
“Leslie Goddard, director of the Human Rights Commission beautifully presented the bill after an introduction by Senator Tim Corder, a major sponsor of the legislation,” she wrote. “Some may remember the Mountain Home Republican Senator from … his past vote to ban gay marriage in Idaho’s Constitution. His support of this year’s legislation speaks loudly to the fundamental fairness implicit in the issue of employment discrimination and to the progress made on understanding of these issues over the years.”
As of press time, the bill has been introduced in the senate and is waiting for a hearing before the Senate State Affairs Committee, which it will have to pass before being debated on the Senate floor.
Committee chair Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, however, has said that he will likely not schedule a hearing because he doesn’t think the bill will get enough votes to pass the committee.
The bill comes at what appears to be a turning point for gay rights in the Intermountain West. In a recent public policy survey Boise State University found that 63% of Idahoans (of both political parties) said it was wrong to fire an employee because she or he is gay or is perceived to be gay.
“Clearly those numbers take this out of the realm of being election year issue and show that basic fairness crosses all kinds of political lines,” LeFavour continued. “Who today doesn’t know someone affected by this issue? In fact, how many legislators still do not have a family member or friend who is touched by what we deliberate today?”
Utah’s employment nondiscrimination bill, HB 89 Antidiscrimination Act Amendments, will be held for consideration in an interim session.