BOISE • Shock, anger and sadness reverberated through the Idaho Senate auditorium Friday morning after a party-line vote by the Senate State Affairs Committee killed legislation to add protections for gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals under the Idaho Human Rights Act.
Legislative committees don't hear testimony at print hearings, but that didn't stop 300 people from watching as the proposal fell, with only the committee’s two Democrats voting to print the bill. Many attendees wore buttons or shirts stating their support for the legislation, referred to as "Add The Words."
Twin Falls activist James Tidmarsh was one of a handful of people who drove to Boise for the hearing, despite knowing he wouldn't be allowed testimony.
"I think it's important to let them see, no matter how they vote, that there's strong support for the legislation," Tidmarsh said.
Bill sponsor Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, introduced the legislation to the committee. He fought back tears asked its members to print the bill and allow testimony from supporters.
"In my opinion, it would be profoundly disrespectful not to afford," Malepeai said, pausing to compose himself. "Not to afford those tens of thousands of families affected by this legislation with at least a printing of the bill."
None of the committee members spoke against the bill, though Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, thanked Malepeai for his work.
"I appreciate your passion for this. I appreciate your sensitivity," Winder said. "I appreciate the way you treated me when we visited. I thank you and have a great deal of respect for you."
The senators then voted on whether to print the bill. The two Democrats on the committee, Malepeai and Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, were the only ayes.
After the vote, the audience gasped. One man shouted "Have you no shame?" as Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, adjourned the committee.
As Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, left the auditorium, Bliss resident Marley Luna tearfully approached him, asking for an explanation of his vote. He silently walked past her.
"I'm not surprised," Luna said after, but she was bitterly disappointed.
After the meeting, supporters stood in the hall outside the committee room and sang "We Shall Overcome." Some silently held their hands over their mouths in protest, and several wiped away tears.
Republican lawmakers on the committee did not offer immediate comment.
Jay Knutson and Jim Shaff traveled from Jerome for the hearing. Though Knutson had expected the legislation to die, "I'm surprised by such a landslide, I guess," he said. "I was hoping for fewer nays."
While frustrated, both men thought that Idaho is heading in the right direction. There was a lot of support for the legislation, they noted, and they predicted that support will only get stronger.
"It gives us strength to come back," Shaff said.