Idaho GOP seeks to halt cities' anti-discrimination ordinances

Idaho StatesmanJune 19, 2013 

Maryanne Jordan said she's not worried - yet - that state lawmakers will undo city laws that protect homosexuals from discrimination.

On the other hand, Boise's City Council president left no doubt how she felt about Idaho Republicans' resolution encouraging legislators to do just that.

"It's a sad thing, talking about institutionalizing discrimination," Jordan said Tuesday. "It's difficult enough that these protections don't exist statewide, but an effort to actually take away protections that have been put in place in several cities already seems extremely ill-advised."

On Saturday, the Idaho Republican State Central Committee passed a resolution recommending that legislators make unenforceable ordinances that expand Idaho's existing anti-discrimination policy to protect sexual orientation.

Boise passed an ordinance in December that prohibits firing people, kicking them out of their homes and refusing to serve them in public places because of their sexual orientation or identity. At the time, Sandpoint was the only other city with a nondiscrimination ordinance on the books. Now there are six, with Coeur d'Alene, Ketchum, Moscow and Pocatello each passing ordinances. Idaho Falls is considering one.

"It's becoming a significant portion of the Idaho population that is, city by city, standing up for these protections," Jordan said.

She compared the Republican resolution to heated rhetoric that comes out of election campaigns but doesn't necessarily go anywhere. It's too early to start wringing hands over whether the Legislature will try to dismantle Boise's ordinance, she said.

Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, agreed with the latter point. This year's legislative session ended just a couple months ago and it's impossible to predict what bills lawmakers will take up next session, Bedke said.

Bedke echoed the concerns of Gov. Butch Otter, who said Republicans' recommendations contradicted his belief that the state should avoid interfering with local government. But Bedke worried that local nondiscrimination ordinances could, in some cases, conflict with laws protecting religious observance.

"By and large it's been my experience that the Legislature has been pretty respectful to local control," Bedke said. "But, again, if the passage of these ordinances by fiat trumps the free-exercise-of-religion parts of our statutes, then that's a problem."

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