BOISE _ Business in the state Senate came to a halt Monday, when word came that Sen. Brent Hill's son, Ritchie, died at 10:45 a.m.
Ritchie Hill, who had just turned 28 last month, was a nonsmoker who succumbed to lung cancer. His illness helped prompt his father to propose this year's controversial legislation to ban smoking in many Idaho public places, including restaurants, to protect Idahoans from the dangers of second-hand smoke.
The indoor smoking bill, SB 1283, passed the Senate on a 22-13 vote on Feb. 13, though nearly all of North Idaho's senators opposed it.
Sen. Hill, R-Idaho Falls, hasn't mentioned his son's illness as he pushed for his legislation this year, but his daughter-in-law, Stacey Hill, testified in favor of the bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee.
There's no proof Ritchie Hill's cancer was caused by second-hand smoke, but his wife said he was a healthy, active man who "never smoked a cigarette."
Four days after his 27th birthday, he discovered the lung cancer. Even as he sought treatment at the hospital, she recalled having to walk with him through a choking haze of smoke outside the hospital doors, where smokers gathered. SB 1283 would ban smoking within 20 feet of the entrances to hospitals, airports, shopping malls and other public places.
News of the death stunned senators on Monday, and they quickly called an early halt to the day's business. The Senate chaplain offered a prayer before they adjourned. In addition to Hill, Senate leaders said two other senators, Dick Compton, R-Coeur d'Alene, and Mel Richardson, R-Idaho Falls, had sons suffering serious health problems on Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, whose son died last year during the legislative session, said, "I'd say all of our feelings are very, very tender."
Senate President Pro-tem Robert Geddes, R-Soda Springs, said, "We've been following Ritchie's progress since early last summer... The type of cancer that he had was especially rare and uncommon, especially in a young man of his age who had never smoked."
Funeral arrangements are pending, but with tentative plans for a funeral in Boise on Saturday, Senate leaders said they likely would not need to interrupt their session to attend.
Ritchie Hill left behind three small children in addition to his wife.
Senate committees met as usual Monday afternoon.
The second-hand smoke legislation is now pending in the House Health and Welfare Committee, where a hearing is likely to be scheduled in the next week or two. •Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854, or by e-mail at bzrussell@Rmci.net.