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Lawmakers Say No to LGBT Rights But Yes to Drilling, Fracking

Thumbs down to Add the Words; thumbs up to gas exploration

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Words apparently didn't matter on Feb. 10 to Republican lawmakers, who shot down impassioned pleas to afford human-rights protections to lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender Idahoans.

Following months of advocacy, supporters of an effort to add the words "sexual orientation and gender identity" to current protections for race, color, sex, national origin and disability, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted 7 to 2, along party lines, to refuse to print the bill, in effect killing the measure.

The vote was met with gasps and looks of disbelief from spectators. Some of the bill's supporters, undaunted, walked to the front of the committee room and placed Post-It notes, each with the message "add the words," on the dais where lawmakers had sat. The notes were removed by legislative staff and pages.

Outside, in the hallway of the Garden Level of the Statehouse, teary-eyed supporters covered their mouths in silent protest of the vote. Democratic Sen. Nicole LeFavour Michelle Stennett along with Pocatello Democratic Sen. Edgar Malepeai cast the only yes votes.

Later that morning, during a meeting of the full State Senate, Boise Sen. Nicole LeFavour walked to the front of the chamber to place another "add the words" Post-It Note on the front dais. With a bang of the gavel, the Senate was put "at ease" as Rexburg Republican Sen. Brent Hill removed the note.

"Truthfully, I do feel like it's all political," said Add the Words spokesperson Mistie Tolman. "Most of the people we've talked to actually don't believe that you should be able to fire someone for being gay."

Meanwhile...

Republicans and Democrats joined together on Feb. 9 to forward a piece of legislation that, in effect, dilutes local controls regarding gas exploration.

Following hours of testimony, with the majority coming from rural Idahoans who said their counties' local oversight was being stripped away, the House Resources and Conservation Committee passed a package of bills that, if approved, would prohibit counties from having the final say on gas or oil drilling.

"I'm just a standard-issue Republican," said Washington County rancher Robert Patrick. "And I find it appalling that Idaho would squelch the rights of its citizens at the local level."

Even a representative of the Idaho chapter of the American Planning Association, which was at the table during the bill-writing process, was troubled by its eventual language.

"This bill is like a chocolate anchovy surprise," said Jon Norstog of the APA. "The chocolate is all the good stuff coming from developing our natural resources. But the anchovy surprise is this limitation on our local land use."

In the end, the committee voted 16-0 to pass the legislation, sending it to the full House for consideration.

Justin Hayes, program director of the Idaho Conservation League, said the session was surreal.

"Being in that hearing was like being in some weird alternate reality," Hayes told BW. "Like some sort of weird Jedi mind trick, all the legislators cast votes that seemed to be counter to all the principles they have espoused their entire careers."

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