The confirmation hearing for a member of the state agency in charge of discrimination complaints reopened the debate on Idaho’s role in protecting human rights.
Joe McNeal was appointed by Gov. Butch Otter to the Idaho Commission on Human Rights last July. A Senate panel didn’t question McNeal’s qualifications—he’s served in the Idaho House and Senate, been mayor of Mountain Home, and served in the U.S. Air Force for 26 years—but asked him about the commission’s future. Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, asked McNeal if potential funding reductions would hurt the human rights commission. Otter has proposed eliminating the commission from state funding during the next four years, though it could merge with the state labor department.
“The cuts will devastate the human rights commission,” McNeal told Kelly. “The image of our great state is at jeopardy if we were to lose the human rights commission.” McNeal said the commission could use more funding to handle discrimination complaints, but understands that there’s not enough money to go around in the state budget.
The Idaho Commission on Human Rights handles employment and housing complaints related to age, disability, race, religion, and sex. Kelly asked McNeal if lawmakers should expand that to include protections for gay, lesbian, and transgendered Idahoans.
McNeal didn’t offer a yes or no answer to Kelly’s question. “Whatever the law that will make sure that the dignity of all human beings are afforded I am for,” he responded.