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Legislature does not adjourn after long day filled with emotional debates
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Legislature does not adjourn after long day filled with emotional debates

From the Complete coverage: What Idahoans need to know about the coronavirus series
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State of the State address, 2020

Gov. Brad Little enters the house chambers to deliver the State of the State address Monday afternoon, Jan. 6, 2020, at the state Capitol building in downtown Boise.

BOISE — Lawmakers passed several high profile bills while trying to finish the session early, but they did not adjourn. 

Tensions were immediately high Wednesday morning as Republicans sent to the governor bans on transgender athletes and affirmative action.

The House approved the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act on a 54-16 vote. It would ban girls and women from playing girls’ and women’s sports, and apply to all teams sponsored by Idaho public schools, colleges and universities.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, the bill’s sponsor, said it protects opportunities for women granted by Title IX. Those who say the bill discriminates against transgender people are purposely misrepresenting it, she said. 

“Misdirection, it is a great tool used when you are not quite equipped to meet your opponent,” said Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls.

Opponents said the bill discriminates against transgender youth and will require taxpayer money to defend in court.

Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise, pointed out the NCAA and Idaho High School Activities Association already have rules for transgender athletes.

“This bill is just harmful, and it’s mean, and it’s dehumanizing,” he said.

The Senate approved the bill 24-11 on Monday. They amended it from the previous version, which passed the House in February, to address how an athlete’s sex will be determined if there is a dispute. The new version allows for doctors to use several methods, including an examination of a “student’s reproductive anatomy.”

Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, said it would amount to government-mandated gynecological exams.

“I hope that makes you extremely uncomfortable because it should,” she said.

Five former Idaho attorneys general wrote a letter Tuesday asking Gov. Brad Little to veto the bill. They emphasized that acting Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has said the bill is likely unconstitutional.

“(Wasden) has frequently cautioned against passage of legally suspect legislation and has a good record of being correct,” the letter says. “He has urged awaiting the outcome of currently pending federal cases relating to this issue. Disregarding his sound advice has been costly for our State.”

Affirmative action ban passes after Republicans kill debate

In a snapshot of the heightened tensions among parties as lawmakers try pushed toward Friday’s scheduled adjournment, Democrats forced House clerks to read the transgender athletics bill out loud in its entirety — a rare move used to protest the majority party passing a controversial bill unilaterally.

Why did Democrats opt for the parliamentary tactic?

Earlier in the morning, Republicans had pulled out a trick of their own, cutting off Democrats as they debated against a bill that would ban affirmative action in the state. The measure ultimately passed 56-14.

While debating against the bill, Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said banning affirmative action “institutionalizes white supremacy" and “trivializes the centuries of discrimination that this country has been a part of.” Wintrow then questioned Republican Rep. Heather Scott’s motives in sponsoring the bill, and mentioned a known picture of Scott posing with the Confederate flag.

Republicans objected and motioned to immediately end debate on the bill. After two-thirds of the body consented to the motion, the bill was voted on and approved without further discussion.

It now heads to Little.

“On a bill this divisive, it is deeply troubling that there was no debate allowed against the legislation besides my brief comments,” Wintrow said in a statement after the debate. “Unfortunately, it looks like House Republicans are going to rule with an iron fist and are not willing to even listen to any opposition to their ideas.”

Public institutions could not use preferential treatment based on race, color, sex, ethnicity or nationality when selecting candidates under the bill.

Backers say it’s necessary so everyone will be treated equally. Opponents say Idaho has a history of discrimination, and the bill would remove existing protections for marginalized people.

Roe v. Wade trigger bill approved in House after heated debate

Emotions remained high well into the afternoon as the House approved 49-19 a bill that would make most abortions illegal in Idaho if Roe v. Wade is overturned by either by a federal court decision or a U.S. constitutional amendment.

Several Democrats gave passionate testimony against the bill as an example of government intrusion on personal rights. Green said the decision should only be made by a woman, her family, her God and her doctor.

Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, disagreed and said the government injects itself into many personal decisions, such as wearing a seat belt.

“Everybody needs to face the consequences of their own personal choices because you’re asking a different life to face the consequences,” she said.

Some Republicans opposed the measure as too lenient since it would allow abortions in instances of rape or incest.

“The Supreme Court gives opinions, and I disagree with the point that they’re the supreme law of the land,” Scott said. “I truly believe Roe v. Wade is an unjust Supreme Court ruling that says you can murder life.”

Senate approves circuit breaker update, kills tax proposal to take $32 million from counties

The Senate voted 31-1 to advance an update to the circuit breaker that would expand eligibility and offer a larger benefit. The program offers certain low-income residents tax relief, but hasn’t been updated since 2006 when property values were far lower.

“Idahoans should never be taxed out of their homes,” Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, said.

The bill still needs approval in the House.

The Senate rejected consideration on a proposal that would have raised the homeowner’s exemption from $100,000 to $112,000, and take about $32 million from counties to pay for it.

The bill originated in the Senate as a minor update to language in the homeowner’s exemption law. The House amended and approved the bill last week to include the homeowner’s exemption provision. Opponents said that was “irresponsible” as counties direct money to fighting the coronavirus. The Senate was given the chance to consent to the House’s amendments on Wednesday, but declined to do so, effectively killing the bill for the session.

Another proposal to raise the homeowner’s exemption to $120,000 and reinstate an indexing system was held by the Senate.

A bill that passed the Legislature on Wednesday would allow those who dispute a county assessment to determine property value using a receipt of sale or an appraisal.

Vaping regulation bill clears Legislature

The Senate approved 27-6 a bill that would regulate vaping products like tobacco.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said there’s an epidemic of teen vaping in Idaho, and “this is a good start” toward fixing it.

Idaho law defines tobacco and vaping products separately, allowing vape shops to operate without a permit or the state supervision required of those that sell tobacco, such as inspections, compliance checks and training.

The bill would require permits for all retailers and subject online vape retailers to the same age verification requirements of tobacco products. The bill would also allow the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to impose a fee for permits.

The bill narrowly passed the House 38-30. It now heads to Little.

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