A new legislative report card issued by a group of community organizations is calling on Idaho lawmakers to do more on behalf of racial and economic equality. Among the suggestions in the report are increasing pre-school programs in public schools and removing the state asset test to qualify for food stamps.
The Northwest Coalition of Community Organizations released the report card on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a rally on the east steps of the Idaho Capitol. That gathering took place an hour before a rally by Tea Party protesters on the south steps.
Both the report card and speakers at the rally linked disparities in race to disparities in economic opportunity. “Today’s civil rights battle is an economic one, and African-American and Latino families are losing that battle,” Will Rainford, a legislative advocate with Catholic Charities of Idaho said. According to the report card, minorities are more than twice as likely to live in or near poverty in Idaho.
The report breaks up its recommendations to lawmakers into several sections.
-more prekindergarten classes in schools
-more safety provisions for daycare licensing
-allowing immigrant students to pay in-state tuition at Idaho universities
-getting rid of the five-year waiting period before new Idaho resident children can sign up for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
-creating an Office of Minority Health to “address disparate health impacts on communities of color in Idaho
-eliminating the asset test for food stamp applications
-eliminating the sales tax on groceries
-creating a state Earned Income Tax Credit, like the one that exists for federal income tax
Criminal justice reforms:
-let individuals exonerated of crimes remove those crimes from their permanent record
-eliminating mandatory minimum sentences on some crimes.
While it’s not in the report, many speakers at the rally voiced their opposition to Gov. Butch Otter’s plan to phase out state funding for the Idaho Hispanic Coalition and Idaho Human Rights Commission. “Our job this year is to protect those agencies from those cuts,” Rainford said. He also said now is not the time for lawmakers to consider lowering state taxes. “Proposed tax cuts are obscene in light of cuts to public schools and other state agencies.”
Another speaker voiced concern about education cuts. “High school dropout rates in Idaho are higher than the national average,” said Cristian Magallon, a board member of the Idaho Community Action Network and high school student in Burley. He said dropout rates are higher for minorities than white students. “I see something wrong with these numbers… With Idaho becoming a greater multi-racial state, this is not acceptable.”
Other organizations that helped prepare the report card include the Idaho Human Rights Education Center, the ACLU of Idaho, the Idaho Hispanic Caucus, the Idaho Women’s Network, and the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho. The full report is expected to be available online soon.