Seventh grader continues fight for bill

Seventh-grader Ilah Hickman made one thing perfectly clear Wednesday – she isn’t giving up on her four-year quest to designate a state amphibian.

March 12 Ilah
Ilah Hickman waits outside the House chambers on Wednesday in hopes of scoring a meeting with the lawmaker who is blocking her bill from receiving a hearing.

For two hours, the Les Bois Junior High School student staked out the Capitol in search of Rep. Tom Loertscher, the Iona Republican who chairs the House State Affairs Committee.

Earlier this year, Ilah persuaded the Senate State Affairs Committee to print her bill designating the Idaho Giant Salamander as the official state amphibian. With the help of Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, Ilah’s Senate Bill 1271 overwhelmingly cleared the Senate 33-2.

That’s where her bill hit a snag. The bill was referred to Loertscher’s committee, but he had not acted on it since Feb. 27.

With adjournment tentatively set for March 21, Ilah decided to track Loertscher down and make a personal plea. On Wednesday, she visited his office and waited outside House chambers while he sat inside working on emails to his constituents.

The House went into session with no indication that he would emerge.

“I was going to ask him if he was … planning on hearing it and, if he wasn’t, I was going to ask him why,” Ilah said while waiting. “Whatever he says to that, I had a couple ideas of what to say that we had practiced on the car ride over here.”

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While waiting, she even met briefly with House Speaker Scott Bedke, who told her that being “cute” and “tenacious” got her this far but that she needs to work the committee to fight for approval.
Bedke, R-Oakley, said he would not push Loertscher for a hearing.

Rather than give up, Ilah waited another hour for the House to finish its business.

Her persistence got her a 25-minute meeting with Loertscher.

He asked her why she was pushing for the amphibian.

She responded by saying it wasn’t just her – hundreds of students and citizens back the bill.

She’s just the voice of the movement, she told him.

Then he quizzed her on state symbols, which she mastered in fourth grade.

State flower, state bird, state raptor. She rattled them all off.

“She’s good, she knows them probably better than I do,” Loertscher said.

Ilah Loertscher March 12
Persistence pays off: After more than two hours, Ilah was able to meet with Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona.

But Loertscher said it’s too late in the session, that his committee already has three bills on its agenda Thursday and needs to help wind down the session.

“(Designating state symbols is) a strange concept to me,” Loertscher said during his meeting with Ilah. “I don’t know why we do this.”

Ilah has said the bill is an important way to recognize a unique amphibian almost exclusively native to Idaho. There is an educational component, she said, because fourth-grade students learn about symbols. Designating the salamander could even teach others about the species or encourage an interest in Idaho.

Ilah’s mother, Lori, pleaded the case. Even though Loertscher is busy, Ilah would only need five minutes in front of the committee, she said.

Just enough time to introduce the idea and call a quick vote.

Loertscher didn’t budge.

“Are you willing to bring it back next year?” he asked her.

Ilah walked away disappointed, but she isn’t giving up.

She took her bill one step farther than it made it last year, and she won over Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, who initially appeared skeptical.

“If he doesn’t pass it, I will come back next year until they pass it,” Ilah said.