Week five and we are almost finished with rules review and gubernatorial appointments. But there was one appointment that caused a bit of controversy this week in the Senate Resources & Environment Committee; the confirmation of Joan Hurlock of Buhl to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission (Magic Valley Region). Ms. Hurlock was appointed in June after a rigorous vetting process conducted by Governor Otter's selection committee. They unanimously voted on the appointment of Ms. Hurlock as only the second female F&G Commissioner in Idaho's history. The Senate has the responsibility for conducting hearings and confirming - or, on very rare occasions, rejecting - a gubernatorial appointment. Ms. Hurlock's confirmation hearings began on Monday and culminated Wednesday in a 5-4 vote to send to the full Senate a recommendation to reject her confirmation. Senators Brackett, Lacey and Tippets joined me in supporting her confirmation.
The daughter of a California Game Warden, Ms. Hurlock studied biology, is a former forensic chemist and a former member of the U.S. Capitol police. Her qualifications more than fulfill statutory requirements. She has been welcomed warmly by her fellow Commissioners and has made an exhaustive study of F&G administrative policy. Unfortunately, there a small but very vocal minority that oppose her, contending she lacks experience. My correspondence has been overwhelmingly supportive of Ms. Hurlock and since I find her to be eminently qualified, I will give her my full support when the vote comes to the floor next week.
On Wednesday, Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb and Representative Grant Burgoyne hosted a panel discussion on the Idaho Human Rights Act and the possible expansion of the IHRA to include discrimination protections for the LGBT community. Three cities (Sandpoint, Boise and Ketchum) have passed non-discrimination ordinances with many more cities expected to follow. A Salt Lake City Tribune newspaper article out today highlights discussions between the LDS Church and the LGBT community regarding a statewide anti-bias law in Utah. After six years of effort, it is past time to amend Idaho's Human Rights Act to include discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It's a matter of human rights, public safety and economics. As Panelist Clark Krause of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership said, "discrimination is bad for business...period."
This week, Representative Phylis King and I submitted legislation that would establish an Independent Ethics Commission. Idaho is one of only nine states without an independent commission to investigate complaints from citizens concerning the conduct of elected officials. We both sat on the Ethics Working Group last year and crafted the bill based on best practices of independent commissions across the nation. This is in contrast to actions approved this week in the House of Representatives to establish a permanent, five-member ethics committee to replace the current ad hoc committee process. In my view, an internal ethics committee still leaves open the possibility of partisanship getting in the way of a rigorous investigation.
After a lot of robust testimony and dialogue, the Health Insurance Exchange bill passed out of the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee yesterday on a 8-1vote. My colleague, Senator Branden Durst, registered the lone nay vote which he based on legitimate concerns over the lack of legislative oversight of the non-governmental, non-profit exchange board. The issue will soon be debated and voted on by the full Senate. If the bill passes here, it will be referred to the House Health & Welfare Committee.
There will be another Joint Education Committee listening session on Monday, February 11th from 4:00-6:00 p.m. in the Capitol Auditorium which will be available for live video streaming on the Legislature's website. The last listening session was held in the morning when those most impacted by education funding, teachers and students, were unable to attend. I applaud Chairmen Goedde and DeMordaunt for scheduling the afternoon session.
As always, I welcome your input on matters large or small that impact you, our community or the beautiful State of Idaho.