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Senate unanimously passes legislation to correct racially restrictive language in Idaho home deeds

Although unenforceable, home deeds across Idaho still include language preventing people from buying a home based on their skin color.

BOISE, Idaho — Legislation to correct racist language in Idaho home deeds and covenants passed the Idaho Senate unanimously early Wednesday. It is a great step on the topic, Senate Bill 1240 sponsor Senator Melissa Wintrow said.

“It educates our community about the past in order to prevent those things from happening in the future,” Wintrow said.

In recent years, Idahoans have found and spoken out about racially restrictive language found in documents like the deed to their home. To summarize the language, the deeds in question basically say only those of the white race could own the home. Wintrow said constituents reached out to her about the trend.

“Eyes would get giant right, like, oh my gosh, that language, because it reads so saintly that only whites or people of the Caucasian race may live or own or possess the property,” Wintrow said.

Covenants and deeds with racially restrictive language were made illegal by the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act, but language still exists even if it is not enforceable.  

Wintrow’s legislation creates a process for home owners to get racist language corrected through the county clerk’s office.

“You go down to the county clerk's, you ask for the modification form," Wintrow said. "You make note of the language that needs to be addressed and then that goes on file in your chain of title. So, if you do sell your home, when you're getting those closing documents, that modification document will be front and center in the chain of title to demonstrate that, hey, that's null and void and should not be there anymore."

Wintrow said the process with the clerk’s office is free of charge under her the legislation. She added this is also about educating our community about the past and being honest.

“When we hear all the myths and misinformation that surrounds us about critical race theory and these kinds of things, this is a perfect example of how we have incorporated racist axes, values and beliefs into a law and practice that was intentional to keep some people out of wealth," Wintrow said. "And so that's an important thing to acknowledge."

The legislation still needs to pass the Idaho House before it could end up on Governor Brad Little’s desk for approval. In the senate, the legislation passed with every Senator voting in favor. Wintrow said those results send a strong message.

“I would hope that would say to folks that we acknowledge what we've heard today and we acknowledge those injustices of the past," Wintrow said. "And while we may not be inherently responsible for those past actions, we are responsible in the present to address those things and really pave the way for a more just and fair society going forward."

Wintrow had a long list of co-sponsors on the bill from both political parties. According to press release from Senator Mark Harris, the list of co-sponsors included 21 Idaho lawmakers, including several members of Senate Majority Caucus Leadership. 

She said this is a step in the right direction, but more action is needed on the topic - a topic that draws emotional conversations, acknowledging the history of our country and the impacts it has today.

“I love my country, and I think today demonstrates we all love our country and we're looking eyeball to eyeball that language and racism to say, 'how do we address it?' And it's not as easy as just fixing this deed," Wintrow said. "But it certainly does open the door for more conversations and more understanding."

In his statement, Harris also added "the Senate Majority Caucus is hopeful that the bill will become law and allow for the removal of this divisive language from home deeds."

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