An Idaho House committee was bowled over Wednesday by one of the most persuasive pitches for a bill so far this legislative session - and it came from a 12-year-old.
"Idaho is home to many amazing amphibians," sixth-grader Ilah Hickman told the House State Affairs Committee. "One should be selected to represent our great state."
Ilah proposed the Idaho giant salamander as Idaho's state amphibian.
"It bears the name of Idaho, and I think that the skin on it looks like the topographical map of our Bitterroot mountain range," she told the committee. "It lives almost exclusively in Idaho."
The student at Boise's White Pine Elementary School has been working on the proposal since she learned about state symbols in the fourth grade, and she got a class assignment to write a mock letter creating a new state symbol. Ilah decided to do a real one and has been working diligently on that ever since.
Last year, she worked with then-Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, but wasn't able to get her bill printed. This year, Rep. Janie Ward Engelking, D-Boise, brought Ilah to the committee to make the pitch.
"I knew she could do it," said Ward-Engelking, who taught school for 33 years. "She didn't need me."
Ilah told the committee, "If you're going to vote against this proposal, I'm taking suggestions of what I can do to get more support." She added, "I've polled my class, and 26 out of 32 said that they would really like it."
Asked by lawmakers why some opposed it, Ilah explained - to laughter - that they were just busy. "They were working on their homework when I asked."
Existing Idaho state symbols include the state flower, the syringa; the state fruit, the huckleberry; and the state insect, the monarch butterfly.
Ilah said Idaho has so many freshwater streams, lakes and ponds that it should recognize a state amphibian too.
The committee voted unanimously, and enthusiastically, to introduce the bill.
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told Ilah that clears the way for a full hearing. "Maybe members of your class would want to come and testify," he said.
Ilah's mom said Ilah came home with the homework assignment two years ago and announced that she planned to make it into a real state symbol proposal.
"She had done all this research," Lori Hickman marveled.