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Idaho legislative committee advances affirmative action ban

Posted: 1:50 PM, Feb 12, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-12 15:50:00-05

BOISE, Idaho — A panel of Idaho lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday banning affirmative action for state agencies, state contracting, and public education.

The House State Affairs committee passed the bill from Blanchard Republican Rep. Heather Scott, sending it to the full House floor on a 12-3 party line vote after hearing several members of the public testify in opposition.

Scott said the bill would prevent discrimination by banning schools, and state and local governments from giving discriminatory or preferential treatment to potential employees based on their race, sex, ethnicity or national origin.

She recounted an incident when she applied for a job and was told she’d probably be hired because they were hoping to hire several women. The comment caused her to withdraw her consideration.

“I wanted to be hired on my merits and the fact that I was a hard worker. This gentleman just saw me as a woman, and he needed to get five of them to fill the position,” said Scott. “I believe it’s deeply offensive to hire someone or not hire someone based on their race, sex, ethnicity and national origin... Basically we just need to treat everybody equal and this language will do that.”

The committee room was packed, with all but one of the people who testified speaking in opposition to the bill.

Kathy Griesmyer, policy director for the ACLU of Idaho, said Scott’s bill misrepresents how affirmative action programs work. Such programs don’t grant preferences or create quotas, don’t allow race or gender to be the only criteria used for hiring, and they allow the programs to exist only as long as necessary to remedy existing imbalances in the work environment.

Instead, affirmative action programs try to “make sure that those barriers to equal access to education and employment are removed so that all may flourish,” she said.

Fortune 500 companies and major Idaho employers like Micron, Simplot, Albertsons, Boise Cascade and Idaho Power have adopted affirmative action policies, Griesmyer noted.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that affirmative action bans are legal and nine states -- Texas, Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, New Hampshire and Florida -- have enacted such bans, though Texas’ ban was later reversed after a legal challenge.

Democratic Reps. John Gannon and Brooke Green, both of Boise, repeatedly attempted to question Scott about why the bill wouldn’t also ban discrimination or preferential treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer citizens. Those questions were shut down by committee Chairman Rep. Steven Harris, a Republican from Meridian. Harris said the questions weren’t appropriate because they didn’t address the bill.

Groups like Add The Words have fought in Idaho for more than a decade to add protections for LGBTQ residents to Idaho’s existing anti-discrimination laws; but so far, the Legislature has rejected those efforts.

Green said she would continue to fight to expand discrimination protections to LGBTQ residents.

“Today, we saw hypocrisy on full display,” Green said.

(by Rebecca Boone)