Bill would bar Idaho’s lands and animals from ‘personhood’
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A bill that would prevent animals, natural resources and artificial intelligence from being granted “personhood status” in Idaho was introduced by the House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
The legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Tammy Nichols of Middleton seeks to prevent any future efforts to increase environmental protections for animals or inanimate objects by granting them some of the same legal rights a person would have.
Nichols told the State Affairs Committee that some organizations are pushing for personhood status for non-human entities as a way to limit access to some natural resources.
“There’s a growing trend that’s taking place across the United States as well as globally where we are seeing this occur,” Nichols said, promising to provide examples of such efforts if the bill reaches a hearing.
“We don’t want our children to be inferior to artificial intelligences,” she said. “Children are not equal to bodies of water or trees, so their rights shouldn’t be equal to those as well.”
Nichols’ legislation was introduced on a voice vote.
While the decades-old concept of environmental personhood hasn’t been widely implemented in the U.S., it’s not unheard of. In 2019, voters in Toledo, Ohio, voted to grant Lake Erie some legal rights so that residents could sue polluters on the lake’s behalf — in the same way a parent could file a lawsuit against someone on behalf of a child who was harmed. That local ordinance was later struck down by a federal court.
Laws granting natural resources like rivers certain rights have also been enacted in New Zealand, Bangladesh, Ecuador and in indigenous communities around the world.
Other types of inanimate object “personhood” are widely used in the United States, particularly when it comes to big business. Corporations have been treated like people in many court cases: In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court found that craft store giant Hobby Lobby didn’t have to follow some aspects of the Affordable Care Act because it was entitled to protections under religious freedom laws, and in 2010 the Supreme Court vastly increased the power of corporations to influence government decisions by allowing them to make unlimited political expenditures under the First Amendment in the landmark ruling Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.