The Idaho House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would require sign language interpreters to secure a government license before they can work for pay.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, cleared the House on a 43 to 27 vote. It now heads to the Idaho Senate for further deliberations.
This is the second time Packer has run such a measure. In 2015, Gov. Butch Otter vetoed her first version, which created a new board to manage and regulate interpreters. Her current bill, she told colleagues, rolls interpreter regulation duties into an existing board, so as to keep the expansion of government as small as possible.
Still, the measure expands the state’s regulatory duties. The measure would outlaw unlicensed interpreters from serving in a high-stakes situation, primarily medical appointments. The measure does allow family members to sign for relatives in emergency situations until a medical facility can secure the services of a licensed interpreter.
The bill allows unlicensed people to interpret during “inconsequential situations” or at religious events. The measure also exempts Idaho’s courts, but the courts already have interpreter standards in place.
Packer told colleagues on the House floor her bill won’t raise prices, won’t create an interpreter shortage and will only help deaf people.
“This is about increasing opportunity for this community,” Packer testified.
Caldwell Republican Rep. Greg Chaney spoke against the measure, and wondered aloud if Packer’s bill would have unintended consequences. He questioned what would happen if two people were signing during an “inconsequential situation,” but then the situation became more dire.
“At what point is there trouble?” Chaney asked on the House floor.
Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, applauded the bill. She told colleagues the measure increases access to the market for deaf people, who don’t have complete information due to their disability.