The proposal to remove some archaic and potentially offensive words from Idaho state laws likely won’t take out the words “mental retardation” from the state’s death penalty law. Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said he will amend his proposal to keep “mental retardation” in that section of the law to avoid conflicting with a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning the execution of people with mental disabilities.
“We had consulted with the attorney general’s office and had not received a negative response,” Bock said, but he was contacted by the lawyers with the attorney general after introducing the rewrite of state laws Feb. 8. The Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee approved Bock’s plan to amend the legislation to leave in those mentions of the word retardation. “If we can achieve 95 percent of our objective,” Bock said, “I’m perfectly happy about that. Well, 95 percent happy about that.”
Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, questioned why some of the words currently in state statutes should be changed. “I don’t think any of us want to offend anyone,” he said. “’Deficiency’ and ‘handicapped,’ in my limited understanding, seem much less condemning than the term ‘disabled.’ I’m just trying to understand the rationale.”
“These are the terms that have become the acceptable terminology, not only within the general public, but within the diagnostic community as well,” Bock said. The text of Bock's legislation says that, "Certain terms, such as "idiots," "handicap," "retarded," "lunatic" and "deficient," when applied to individuals, have outlived their usefulness."
Advocates at the committee meeting spoke in favor of rewording state laws. “Every part of this (legislation) has been looked over to make sure that we do nothing to change the substance of the law,” said Jim Baugh with Disability Rights Idaho. He said Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and other states have enacted similar changes. Baugh said the state should stop using the word retarded, which has become a loaded term. “If you listen to high school students, college students, and television shows and hip humor, you’ll find that the word retarded, not just the slur retard, has come to mean something along the lines of useless, broken or disgusting … It has no positive aspects when it’s used in the slang term.”
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