Otter rejects state intervention in local civil rights legislation

Otter
[post_thumbnail] Gov. Butch Otter says he would not support the Legislature restricting local jurisdictions from enacting civil rights ordinances.

As the governments of several Idaho cities have recently either considered or have passed what are often described as “civil rights” ordinances, Gov. Butch Otter has officially opposed state efforts to override them. Otter has said in interviews that in the recent incidents he prefers local government control, yet in 2012 Otter took a different view of the state-versus-local government dilemma when he supported efforts to override city regulations on energy exploration.

“I understand the temptation to ‘connect the dots’ but I think you have to make a distinction between the two completely different cases,” explained Otter spokesperson Jon Hanian.

At a recent state central committee meeting earlier this month, the Idaho Republicans voted to support a resolution which, while not binding for public policy purposes, nonetheless calls upon Republicans in the Legislature to pass a bill that would overturn these city ordinances.

Otter has stated that he would oppose efforts of this sort in the Legislature, noting that while he recognizes the reasoning behind the effort, he nonetheless believes that this is an issue for local governments to decide for themselves.

But in 2012, Otter supported state legislative efforts that sought to override or weaken ordinances crafted at the city and county level that sought to restrict or prohibit the exploration of oil and natural gas. In particular, ordinances passed by Washington County officials were in the spotlight at that time, with officials in the gas and oil industry complaining that the laws had become onerous.

“The state is vested with regulatory authority regarding natural gas development,” Hanian noted to IdahoReporter.Com. “It’s just like timber harvests and mining activity. It falls under state purview.”

Hanian reiterated that while the state intervention of 2012 concerning the city energy ordinances was appropriate and necessary, the governor believes that it would be inappropriate to involve himself in the recent municipal development of civil rights ordinances.

The civil rights case involves cities seeking to prevent discrimination based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Six cities have recently passed such ordinances, while several others are said to be considering it. Democrats in the state Senate and House of Representatives have proposed legislation in the past two years to add the these criteria to state civil rights law, but the measures failed among the Republican majorities.

“Our ordinance seeks to prohibit discrimination in housing, access to public facilities and employment within the city,” said Gary Riedner, acting city attorney for Moscow, one of the cities to pass an ordinance of this sort. Moscow’s ordinance identifies discrimination that is based on “sexual orientation, or gender expression and identity,” and applies to both the private sector and the government sector. “Everybody in our community has embraced this,” he told IdahoReporter.com. “We have received no complaints.”

A somewhat different piece of rights legislation was passed in Coeur d’Alene, and it has drawn a good deal of pro and con discussion. “If anyone is terminated or refused public accommodations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, it becomes a criminal act,” said Dan Gookin, city councilman in Coeur d’Alene. “A fine can be levied by our city in such cases.”

When asked about how allegations of such violations will be investigated, Gookin told IdahoReporter.com that “we don’t believe this law is going to be activated so frequently that we need a civil rights board to review incidents, so we haven’t created one at this time.” Gookin added that “there has been a lot of support for this in our city, but there has also been a lot of anger as well. I cannot downplay the fact that this has been very, very contentious.”

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