By Pam Howland
In a historic vote, following three days of hearings before the House State Affairs Committee, the Idaho legislature voted this morning to hold a proposed bill in committee that would amend the Idaho Human Rights Act to make gender identity and sexual orientation protected classes. By doing so, the legislature essentially killed the bill. The 13 to 4 vote followed emotionally-charged testimony from 190 speakers, the majority of whom spoke in favor of the bill.
The legislature declined the opportunity to remove uncertainty that has clouded Idaho employment law and has created uncertainty in recent years for Idaho employers. Idaho employers will thus, in 2015, continue to operate under state laws that recognize gay marriage, but that do not protect individuals based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Employers will likewise have to continue to square these laws with numerous city ordinances that ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation and that create criminal penalties for employers who violate them. Although it is possible the Senate could take up a similar bill, it is unlikely the Senate would conduct hearings on this issue and it appears, for now, that Idaho employers will have to wait another year for potential changes to the Idaho Human Rights Act that would reconcile Idaho state laws and local ordinances.