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Occupy protesters escorted from Senate gallery

Occupy Boise supporters are escorted from the Senate Gallery on Thursday by state police officers; the Senate was placed at ease after it was disrupted by a scream from the gallery of
Occupy Boise supporters are escorted from the Senate Gallery on Thursday by state police officers; the Senate was placed at ease after it was disrupted by a scream from the gallery of "Give that back!" (Betsy Russell)

The Senate was just disrupted by a scream from the gallery, of "Give that back!" Several Occupy Boise protesters in the gallery were being accosted by Idaho State police officers, who escorted them out, as the same woman shouted, "I didn't do anything!" and "You're hurting me!" and another yelled, "Is this democracy?" Majority Leader Bart Davis immediately set the Senate at ease; now that the protesters have been removed, the Senate is back in session debating the Boise County debt bill. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

ID Senate approves bill to close 'Occupy' loophole
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Senate Republicans agreed they should close the loophole that allowed Occupy Boise protesters to establish a camp on state property last November, even though a federal judge has forbidden the Legislature from ousting the protesters' tents across from the Capitol.

Thursday's party-line, 28-7 vote approved a measure to give power to the Department of Administration to regulate Capitol Mall properties — including the old Ada County Courthouse, where the tents are located.

The camp was set up after the agency concluded last year it had nothing on the books to prohibit it.

The measure now heads to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter for signature.

Protesters briefly interrupted Senate proceedings after Thursday's vote, prompting intervention by Idaho State Police troopers.

Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie of Nampa backed the measure, saying the agency with the responsibility to manage the grounds should also be given the authority to establish rules for their use, too. He said the bill won't have any impact the existing tents.

"There have been some questions about whether or not they could make rules that would affect the current case with regard to Occupy Boise," McKenzie said. "The answer is, they cannot. If there is a constitutional limitation on what we could do ... they couldn't make a rule that would affect that."

This latest measure follows a failed first attempt to evict the protesters with a law banning camping on Capitol Mall properties.

Last month, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the protesters could keep their collection of tents and maintain an around-the-clock vigil, but the protesters are barred from sleeping, cooking or taking part in any other overnight camping activities on the grounds.

He said protesters can maintain their tents and other structures at least until an evidentiary hearing scheduled for April 27.

Minutes after the vote, however, a protester determined by State Police troopers to have violated Senate decorum by donning a knit stocking cap was escorted from the chamber's fourth-floor gallery, dragged down the stairs when she refused to walk and finally advised not to return to the building.

Throughout the session, Occupy Boise supporters have donned donated stocking caps, in part, to symbolize their solidarity with the group protesting what they view as government corruption.

"Give me that back,"one protester shouted, after police confiscated the hat.

The woman who was dragged from the building, who gave her name only as "Sage," said she entered into the Senate without the hat because she knew it would arouse the attention of officials. She put it on after arriving on the fourth-floor gallery that's directly above the Senate floor.

The woman said she put the hat on to protest what she felt was the "ridiculousness" of prohibitions on headwear.

On Thursday, Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, argued the bill puts too much power in the hands of the agency's director, Teresa Luna.

Senate Democrats also questioned why Republicans were in such a big rush to expedite the rule-making process with this latest measure, which takes effect immediately upon Otter's signature and would require the Department of Administration to enact temporary rules for the Capitol Mall within 30 days.

"We're sitting on a decision by Judge Winmill that says the tents are allowed to stay," Stennett said. Even without new rules, Stennett added, Luna's agency is "quite capable of managing the rest of the grounds right now."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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