Sen. Maryanne Jordan introduces “Add the Words” bill. 

The legislation would add four words to Idaho’s Human Rights Act. Under the bill, discrimination in employment, housing and other areas based on a person’s “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” would be prohibited. Violators would be subject to investigation and potential civil penalties.

“The legislature continues to ignore the pleas of LGBTQ Idahoans, their families and friends,” Jordan said. “It’s time for all Idahoans to have equal protection under the law.”

Currently, individuals can be fired, denied service or kicked out of their homes based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Idaho Democratic legislators have consistently introduced “add the words” legislation over the years, citing principles of freedom, fairness and compassion.

“No one should lose their housing, their job or the ability to enjoy a meal simply because of who they are or who they love. This is for our kids, our grandkids, our neighbors, friends and loved ones. We will continue to fight for the freedom and liberty of all Idahoans until they are granted.”

LINE Commission meets this week. The Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission will meet Jan. 23 in Boise.

The commission makes recommendations to the governor on policies and actions of the State of Idaho to support and enhance the long-term viability and mission of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and other nuclear industries in Idaho.

Gov. Little highlighted the important work of the commission in his first State of the State and Budget Address earlier this month.

“There is an incredible opportunity for Idaho, its businesses, and its institutions of higher learning to lead our nation and the globe in pushing the new frontiers of safe, clean nuclear energy development,” Little said in his speech. “The LINE Commission will remain dedicated to advising us so we can promote the advancement of nuclear energy and ensure the vitality of the INL.”

The LINE Commission meets Jan. 23 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mountain Time in the Lincoln Auditorium in the Idaho State Capitol, located at 700 W. Jefferson Street in Boise. The meeting agenda and additional information about the LINE Commission are available at https://line.idaho.gov/.

New cabinet positions. Gov. Brad Little has announced individuals who will lead the Idaho Division of Veterans Services, Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole, and Idaho Department of Finance.

Marv Hagedorn will continue to serve as administrator of the Idaho Division of Veterans Services. Hagedorn has been in the position since August of 2018. He previously served as a member of the Idaho Senate and Idaho House of Representatives. He has 20 years of experience serving in leadership positions in the U.S. Navy and close to two decades of private sector experience. He co-founded the Wyakin Foundation, a homegrown Idaho organization dedicated to mentoring and supporting wounded veterans as they transition back into civilian life.

“Marv has proven his lifelong dedication improving the lives of our state’s truest servants and heroes – our veterans,” Governor Little said. “I am grateful Marv will continue to use his passion and experience to lead the Division of Veterans Services.”

Ashley Dowell will be the executive director of the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole. Dowell has been the Chief of Prisons at the Idaho Department of Correction since March of 2017. She has held numerous other positions at IDOC since 2008. She earned a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Idaho. Dowell has served on several behavioral and mental health committees and boards.

Mary Hughes will serve as Acting Director of the Idaho Department of Finance following the retirement of Gavin Gee. Hughes served as Acting Director from January to November of 2017 while Director Gee recovered from an injury. She will serve until a new director is selected. Hughes has worked at the Department of Finance since 1990 – as Deputy Attorney General, Consumer Finance Bureau Chief, Financial Institutions Bureau Chief, and recently as Deputy Director. She is a graduate of Western Illinois University and the University of Idaho College of Law.

“All of these individuals have demonstrated a commitment to public service, and I look forward to their leadership and counsel.”

Erpedling says SWITC “failed every Idahoan.” According to a new report, the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center (SWITC) in Nampa “exhibits symptoms of organizational trauma.” That was just one of several negative findings set forth in a report released by the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee (JLOC).

“This report is worse than I could have ever imagined. The Executive Summary makes it clear that SWITC failed every Idahoan.” said Rep. Mat Erpelding (D-Boise) who co-chairs JLOC and presided over today’s hearing. “It is obvious from this report the state must fundamentally change the way it manages crisis care and patient treatment at the facility.”

Among the findings in the report are that “Idaho lacks a coherent vision for service to individuals with intellectual disabilities who are in crisis,” and “management does not have an effective approach to solving problems.”

Those problems at SWITC started surfacing in 2017 when six employees left the facility after findings of abuse and neglect. One client committed suicide. Failed inspections at the center also put eight million dollars in federal funding in jeopardy. Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb (D-Boise) initiated the request to investigate the facility last year. Several lawmakers, including Sen. Michelle Stennett and Rep. Carolyn Nilsson-Troy, signed on. 

“The findings in the report are shocking,” Buckner-Webb said. “Idahoans with intellectual disabilities should be treated with dignity, not abused. It’s obvious SWITC is not providing sufficient care to those who need it most. We cannot continue to ignore the serious consequences of the inadequate care at this facility.”  

The report did note that “SWITC has made significant changes in the past two years,” however “much more needs to be done.” A link to the report is here.

New rules require insurers to cover hearing aids for Idaho children. The Idaho House Business Committee has approved a rule change that will require insurers to cover medically necessary hearings aids and speech therapy sessions for Idaho children who are deaf or hard of hearing. There are an estimated 1,000 children in the state who will benefit from the measure. The action is the culmination of work that began in 2018 with passage of HCR 45. The resolution called on the State Department of Insurance to investigate the issue and consider a change in the rules.

“Credit for this goes to the dedicated mothers and doctors who brought this issue to our attention and fought for the change,” said Rep. Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) who sponsored HCR 45. “Our state got a little bit stronger today because these kids are going to get the help they need in order to thrive”

Under the new rules, insurers must cover new hearing devices once every three years as well as 45 hours of speech therapy during the first year after a device is delivered. Rubel says the rule change not only brings much needed relief to Idaho families, it will save taxpayers money.

“These kids are smart and talented, but are often put into costly remedial classes or assigned to school specialists simply because they can’t hear. Now they will have access to proper hearing devices. Today’s vote could be a game-changer for a lot of Idaho families.”

The proposed rule change passed the committee unanimously. A link to the new rule is here.