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State human rights commission, Labor Dept., merge July 1

The Idaho Commission on Human Rights and the Idaho Department of Labor formally merge July 1. The merger carries out a decision prompted by economic circumstances “but rooted in the pursuit of a framework that fosters efficiency while maintaining independence, impartiality and fairness,” the Idaho Department of Labor said in a release.

The merger was approved unanimously by the Legislature in March after being endorsed by the nine-member Human Rights Commission. The Idaho merger follows the lead of Missouri, Montana, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon and Utah, which have also combined their human rights agencies with their labor departments. More than 70 percent of the cases handled by the Idaho Human Rights Commission involve employment disputes, the Idaho Department of Labor said.

An open house to mark the merger is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 1 at Department of Labor headquarters, 317 W. Main St., Boise.

The Department of Labor will provide administrative and logistical support to the Human Rights Commission, but the commission and staff will retain independence over discrimination and equity disputes that they have had since the agency was created 41 years ago. Labor’s 25 local offices will provide the commission with an avenue to increase public awareness of its services and their benefits, the department said.

The Department of Labor is offsetting one quarter of the commission’s general tax budget each year for the next four years until general tax support for the agency has been eliminated. That means Labor will absorb $144,000 in fiscal 2011, rising yearly to the commission’s entire $576,000 general tax budget in fiscal 2014, state labor officials said.

The merger has already saved $68,000 with the commission moving from private office space costing $80,000 a year to the Labor Department central office, which will cost $12,000, department officials said.

“This partnership puts the commission on a solid economic footing for the future that will let us continue the work we are charged to do for the people of Idaho,” Commission President Estella Zamora said.

“Over the years, the commission has adapted quickly to tighter budgets, and with fewer resources we have found ways to continue to meet the needs of Idahoans,” Human Rights Commission Executive Director Pamela Parks said. “This collaboration with Labor offers us new possibilities to maintain and enhance our important services without additional spending.”

“For over 75 years, the Idaho Department of Labor has made tens of thousands of decisions annually on unemployment claims independent of any interference, political or otherwise, and that will be the case for the human rights staff,” Department of Labor Director Roger Madsen said. “The commission’s responsibility goes hand in glove with the mission of this department – to provide Idaho workers access to quality jobs that strengthen and expand communities throughout our state.”

“Difficult economic times make people look at issues from different perspectives, and this merger is an example of how that second or third look provides a solution that copes with the realities of living within our means while effectively meeting the needs of Idaho citizens,” Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said.

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