Packer revives push to license sign language interpreters

Packer revives push to license sign language interpreters

by
Dustin Hurst
January 24, 2017
Dustin Hurst
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January 24, 2017

On Monday, Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, introduced legislation that would require sign language interpreters to be licensed, two years after Idaho Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a different version of the proposal.

In quick fashion and without much discussion, House Health and Welfare Committee members introduced the bill. They will likely give the measure a full hearing within two weeks.

Packer told the panel, though her 2017 bill seeks to license sign language interpreters, her plan would place regulatory oversight within an existing government entity, rather than create a new board to oversee interpreters.

Should it pass into law, anyone who practices sign language for pay but without a license, could be charged with a misdemeanor and charged a fine of up to $1,000. The violator could also face up to six months in a county jail.

The 2015 version of the licensing bill narrowly passed the Legislature. During that year’s session, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who often presides over the Idaho Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote to move the bill forward. That legislation died under Gov. Butch Otter’s veto stamp.

At the time, very few onlookers expected the state to drop the issue. Otter signaled as much in his veto statement.

Otter wrote in his letter, “In vetoing this bill, I commit my administration, through the Bureau of Occupational Licensing, to work with all stakeholders to address the concerns that have surfaced with this legislation to make sure we achieve the policy of certified interpreters.”

The 2015 measure won scorn from a number of critics, including Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dick Komer.

“Licensing, by definition, is designed to keep people out of occupations,” Komer told IdahoReporter.com at the time. “It’s one of those rare public policies that does exactly what it’s intended to do.”

Komer added, “There might be a role for protecting public health and safety for this population, but it doesn’t necessarily require a license. There’s little to no evidence that it improves health and safety.”

During the 2015 hearings, Packer and other certification proponents said the licensing would protect deaf Idahoans in high-stakes situations, like court hearings or medical emergencies.

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