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Idaho Senate Pro Tem: ‘Craziness’ from the House won’t get far in the Senate

Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder (R, Boise)
Otto Kitsinger
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Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder, R-Boise, considers a floor debate at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Legislative leadership discussed progress of session, controversial bills at press conference

Several bills passed by the Idaho House of Representatives so far this session will likely not receive a hearing or vote in the Senate, Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said Wednesday at a press conference.

The Idaho Capital Sun asked Winder about a number of bills that passed the House in February but have yet to come before a Senate committee, let alone receive a vote on the floor. Winder said Senate leadership does not direct chairmen of committees to hear certain bills versus others, but they will provide an opinion if asked.

“There are a lot of bills, more so than normal, that are in drawers on our side of the building,” Winder said. “I think most of them will stay there, so I don’t think you’ll see some of the craziness that the House seems to like to do get very far in the Senate.”

Two of the bills Winder said likely will not go anywhere are House Bills 666 and 675, which were passed by the House largely on party lines on Monday and Tuesday. House Bill 666 would criminalize librarians and other public institutions, which would be held liable for “obscene” materials distributed to childrenand 675 would make it a felony of up to life imprisonment for providing hormonal therapy or gender reassignment surgery to a child.

House Bill 675: Transgender children bill

On the call, Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, thanked Winder for saying the bills were likely to die, saying it was music to her ears. But she felt House Bill 675 had already gone too far even if it isn’t passed by the Senate.

The bill classifies such care provided to a child as genital mutilation under Idaho’s existing genital mutilation law, and anyone who leaves the state to receive the treatment could be charged with a felony as well. Rubel said she has heard from constituents with transgender children who are terrified by the bill.

“Even when they don’t become law, these bills do deep, deep damage,” she said. “It’s incredibly disappointing to me that this bill got this far.”

House Bill 666: Library materials bill

Winder said House Bill 666 is appropriately numbered, referencing the biblical belief that it is a sign of the devil.

“I think it’s mischief, and something that doesn’t need to happen,” Winder said.

Proponents of the bill cited books that include sexual situations or feature characters who are LGBTQ, and said the material is available in Idaho libraries. Winder said when pressed for specifics, those proponents can’t name locations or origins of the information.

“I assigned it to (Senate) State Affairs for a good reason, so hopefully it will go there,” Winder said. “We’ll talk to our caucus about it, we’ll make sure they’re aware of what the options are, but I don’t think it advances.”

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, is chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, and announced in November that she would not seek re-election after 22 years. Several other bills from the House were also referred to her committee and have not received a hearing, including:

  • House Bill 439: Changing the deadline for unaffiliated voters to affiliate with a party by the candidate filing deadline.
  • House Bill 475: Removing a section of Idaho Code that makes it illegal for groups to parade on streets with firearms. Opponents say the bill would open the door to private militias in Idaho.
  • House Bill 531: Requiring approval from the Idaho Historical Society before a division of state or local government can permanently remove historical monuments or memorials.
  • House Bill 547: Making it a misdemeanor to turn in absentee ballots for any person who is not a relative or roommate.
  • House Bill 631: Prohibiting the state of Idaho and any of its political subdivisions from mandating the use of face masks, face shields or other face coverings for the purpose of preventing or slowing the spread of a contagious disease.
  • House Bill 665: Removing the Idaho attorney general as a member of the Idaho Constitutional Defense Council.

Primary election has had an influence on this session, Idaho legislative leaders say
Winder, Rubel and Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said the looming primary election in May has an effect on several aspects of the session, including the influence of outside groups such as the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a Boise-based nonprofit organization that advocates for certain conservative and libertarian ideas. Stennett said the session provides an easy platform for candidates running for election to garner free press for campaigns.

Rubel said Idaho Freedom Foundation scores on bills hold a lot more weight in the House than they should.

“Any bill that comes out with a negative score, everybody knows it’s in trouble and you’re going to have to work your tail off to try to get that bill to survive,” Rubel said. “No matter how obviously beneficial that bill is, it’s fighting an uphill battle as soon as it gets that label slapped on it by this arbitrary, unelected organization.”

Winder said outside groups take the opportunity to attack individual senators and representatives while campaigning by calling them Marxists and liberals.

“We see it already going on around the state, these really ultra-conservative groups — anybody that doesn’t agree with them, they’re going to attack them and try to get us out of office because they see that as the way to get their point of view taught in schools, their point of view to be managed in the private sector, and I think people just need to wake up,” Winder said. “There are a lot more people just wanting to raise their families, start a business, get an education … If they’ll get engaged, if they’ll pay attention, we can stop what I consider a fairly dangerous swing to the far right. Not conservatism — to the far right.”