In reversal, Idaho GOP lawmakers now willing to discuss LGBT protections bill

Idaho state capitol in Boise.

Idaho state capitol in Boise.

Idaho state capitol in Boise.

Idaho state capitol in Boise.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Republican leaders announced a change of course Wednesday, saying they are now willing to discuss a proposal to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections in the state’s Human Rights Act.

The bill, commonly called “Add the Words” legislation – sexual orientation and gender identity – by supporters and lawmakers, has been denied a public hearing for nine consecutive years.

But House Speaker Scott Bedke said a hearing on whether to print a bill would be held Wednesday afternoon in the House Ways and Means Committee, a panel made up of Republican leaders who normally don’t meet until much later in the session.

Public testimony isn’t allowed at print hearings, but Bedke said once the bill is introduced, a full public hearing would be scheduled the week of Jan. 26.

“It’s time,” Bedke said. “It was a collective feeling that we wanted to have a hearing on a bill, not a hearing to introduce, and we can do that easily.”

Gay rights advocates have long pushed for such legislation, and last year dozens of protesters were arrested after taking part in a series of civil disobedience actions at the Idaho Statehouse when lawmakers again refused to hold a hearing on the matter.

Rep. Christy Perry, the chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, says House Minority Leader John Rusche will present the bill at 5 p.m.

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The Idaho Human Rights Act was created in 1969, banning discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion and national origin in housing, public accommodations, education and employment. In the years since, additional protections have been added to Idaho law, including prohibitions on employment discrimination against people over age 40 and prohibitions on employment and housing discrimination against those with disabilities.

Last year, Republican Rep. Lynn Luker pushed for legislation that would have allowed businesses to refuse to provide some services to gay or transgender would-be customers if the business person felt that providing the service would violate his or her religious beliefs.

That bill was printed, but it was sent back to the committee after the protests and never became a law.

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