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'Add the Words' bill dies in committee

Lawmakers voted Thursday to kill a bill to extend protections from discrimination in housing and employment to gays, lesbians, and transgender people.
Add the Words failed in a committee vote 13-4

BOISE -- Lawmakers voted Thursday to kill a bill that would extend protections from discrimination in housing and employment to gays, lesbians, and transgender people.

Members of the House State Affairs committee voted 13-4 in a party split to block the bill from reaching a full vote on the House floor.

The decision came after three days of testimony from hundreds of people who packed into the Lincoln Auditorium inside the Idaho Statehouse.

Previous: 'Add the Words' hearing wraps up after 3 days

Supporters of the bid to add the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the Idaho Human Rights Act have been working for nearly a decade to bring the bill before lawmakers.

2015 was the first year they were granted a hearing. Last session, the push for a hearing was marked by dozen of arrests as protesters swarmed the Statehouse and blocked doors to the Senate, committee rooms and the governor's office.

Representatives who voted to kill the bill expressed concerns that the language was overly broad or would infringe on others' religious freedoms.

Previous: 'Add the Words' hearing will continue for a third day

Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) called the testimony "heartbreaking" but said he was worried extending protections to the LGBT community would strip other groups of their rights.

"It's impossible to ignore that there are many whether in that community or otherwise that have an agenda in this proposed policy that is dangerous to people of faith," he said.

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Several others who voted against the bill said they were touched by the personal stories they had heard during the 22 hours of testimony. Rep. Ken Andrus (R-Lava Hot Springs) said he believed the challenges faced by Idaho's gays and lesbians deserve a solution, but he could not support House Bill 2.

"I wish I could speak what is in my heart to you today," he said. "I am in favor of legislation. I don't think today this is that legislation."

Previous: 'Add the Words' hearing starts Monday morning

But supporters argued that even those who disagreed with the bill should push it forward to the House floor, where all 70 members would have a chance to discuss and vote.

Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb (D-Boise) compared the issue to discrimination black people experienced in Idaho, recalling when someone burned a cross on her parents' lawn after they moved into a Boise neighborhood in the district she now represents.

She said the LGBT community should be entitled to the same protections against being fired and evicted as minorities are under the Idaho Human Rights Act.

"It's fair, it's just, and it's worthy of your yes vote," Buckner-Webb told the committee as she introduced the bill.

Garden City Democrat Rep. John McCrostie, who is gay, argued that adding the words would not be a blow to those who want to exercise their religious freedoms.

"This bill is about equality, and no one is asking for special rights or special treatment," he said. "Everyone deserves equal treatment under the law. Period."

Add the Words organizer Cindy Gross said she was "extremely disappointed" with the outcome of the hearing, but said the group is not going to give up.

"We have so many supporters across the state and we will be here until this bill passes," she said. "There is no compromise, there is no exception, and we will eventually pass this bill for the people of Idaho."