Where is the Idaho Legislature’s empathy?

We have to ask: When did empathy become uncool?

That’s the vibe coming from the Legislature this session.

Idaho is facing actual, real challenges. Yet the Legislature seems to be focused on none of them. Our prison spending far outpaces our education spending, yet the House Education Committee is instead focused on the non-issue of who’s “allowed” to play sports. Rather than looking at the actual science and the policies implemented at the most elite levels, certain “representatives” are instead creating bad solutions for a problem that doesn’t even exist.

Instead of being empathetic and asking why Idaho’s teen suicide rate is one of the highest in the nation — and taking steps to address the issues facing our youth — House Education Committee members walked out of the discussion and, as of this writing, are in the process of targeting an already-vulnerable student population with erroneous legislation that, practically speaking, helps no one. In fact, it causes harm.

One bill would be bad enough, but there have been multiple attempts on multiple fronts. Our policymakers claim minors aren’t old enough to know who they are, insisting they need a judge’s permission to exist as they are. Yet, these same minors are presumably old enough and have the wherewithal to get married — entering into a legally binding contract — on nothing more than a parent’s say-so.

According to the Legislature, we have to protect the children, unless it’s from suicide, medical treatment and legally-binding relationships. Oh wait, it seems like the only thing the children need protection from is, well, deciding who they are.

Empathy is also in short supply when it comes to medical necessity. Rep. Zollinger’s proposal to defund certain healthcare providers is a prime example. Cutting off funding to these organizations means cutting off access to lifesaving healthcare services that many people might not otherwise afford.

There are data-driven ways to achieve Rep. Zollinger’s policy goals, as demonstrated in other states. Affordable birth control and comprehensive sex education have been effective at reducing abortion rates while saving money. Yet some of our “representatives” again choose to wage a culture war aimed more at punishment than positive policy outcomes.

Again, who is really being “protected” here? Supporters say the unborn, but Idaho already has several laws on the books protecting the unborn. The real outcome of these proposed laws is not protection, but a reduction in accessible basic healthcare services for low-income Idahoans — from vaccines to routine checkups — that puts lives at risk.

So again, we ask: Where is the empathy? And why do our House legislators seem so bent on legislating against it?