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Idaho Senate passes anti-affirmative action bill, 25-10

During the Senate debate, Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, the only African-American member of the legislature, decried the bill as “a step back into the Jim Crow era."
Credit: Idaho Press
Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, debates against HB 440a in the Idaho Senate on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

BOISE, Idaho — After an emotional debate, the Idaho Senate on Thursday voted 25-10 in favor of HB 440a, legislation from Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, to forbid any preferences for women or minorities in state or local government hiring, public education or contracting, the Idaho Press reports.

During the Senate debate, Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, the only African-American member of the Idaho Legislature, decried the bill as “a step back into the Jim Crow era.”

The amended bill now returns to the House for possible concurrence in the Senate amendments, which specify that the bill’s requirements wouldn’t apply in cases where they’d cause the state a loss of federal funds.

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“People need to be hired by their merits and competencies,” Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, the bill’s Senate sponsor, told the Senate. “You can’t have preferences or pick one group over another’s immutable traits.” He added, “This bill has been amended. There were some concerns from the Transportation Department and the Human Rights Commission regarding federal funding. … Their concerns have been addressed.”

Buckner-Webb told the Senate, “I believe that this bill would actually accomplish the opposite of its intent.”

She said, “Not to be disrespectful, when people say, ‘I don’t see color,’ I say, ‘You do, you do.’ Mainstream dominant culture has never had to feel the effect of the kind of discrimination that we have.”

“When one is not even conscious of discriminatory behavior, it’s very difficult to see,” she told the senators. “It’s not about numbers. It’s about how we treat each other. It’s about who has equal opportunity. … HB 440 is a step back into the Jim Crow era.”

RELATED: Idaho Senate committee advances affirmative action ban

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said people should be kind to one another, and treat all people “equally, fairly and justly,” but said in government, there should be no standard that differentiates by race or sex. “This legislation merely seeks to require our government here to meet that standard,” he said.

Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, her voice breaking, said, “This is an emotional day because we’re doing harm in this body. If we don’t add the words sexual orientation and gender identity, it means nothing.” Discrimination based on those factors isn’t banned under the Idaho Human Rights Act; HB 440a would amend that act but wouldn’t change that.

In the 25-10 vote, the “no” votes came from all seven House Democrats, plus three Republicans, Sens. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa; Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville; and Abby Lee, R-Fruitland.

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