The leader of a St. Maries constitutionalist group said Monday he’s “delighted but not surprised” that state lawmakers are considering several pieces of states’ rights legislation.
“The pond is rippling from all sides,” said Ken Rouw, chairman of the Tenth Amendment Coalition of Benewah County. Local control “is not a St. Maries issue, it’s not a North Idaho issue. It’s an Idaho issue.”
Three pieces of legislation were introduced Monday, all designed to restore Idaho’s sovereignty from what some lawmakers called burgeoning federal regulations.
Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Twiggs, R-Blackfoot, introduced a bill to set up a $1 million litigation war chest and a state “Constitutional Defense Council.” Twiggs also introduced a resolution to join a conference of state governments to fight unfunded federal mandates, many of them environmental. He said he hopes the conference will convene this summer.
Sen. Rod Beck, R-Boise, proposed the Legislature send the federal government a formal demand that it “cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of its constitutionally delegated powers.”
Beck and the other Idahoans cite as their authority the U.S. Constitution’s 10th amendment. It reserves to the states all powers not specifically granted to the federal government.
Outside the Senate committee meeting, Beck waited with a stack of pocket-sized copies of the Constitution, which he handed to fellow lawmakers.
“I intend to distribute one to everyone’s desk,” he said.
States’ rights proponents argue that the U.S. Constitution is a contract among the states. The federal government has exceeded its authority under that contract, the constitutionalists argue, and states can ignore acts of Congress. The states’ rights debate - over the issue of slavery - was at the heart of the Civil War.
This fall, the constitutional defense fund and state sovereignty were No. 5 ofthe 10-point Republican Contract with Idaho, signed by GOP candidates.
Some of Twiggs’ and Beck’s colleagues had reservations about the proposals.
Sen. Marguerite McLaughlin, D-Orofino, said she supports Twiggs’ proposals, because they’re more moderate. But she labeled Beck’s cease-and-desist letter “political rhetoric.”
Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d’Alene, said she’s worried the proposals are an attempt to gut federal environmental protection laws, like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts.
Reed also criticized the $1 million earmarked for litigation.
“It does look to me like a lawyers’ relief bill - a lot of litigation,” she said. “I’m not sure that that’s a wise use of that $1 million when we’re struggling to find funds for the schools.”
The proposals did please Daniel Chadwick, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties.
“We think it’s time for some balance,” Chadwick said. “I think you’re seeing a reaction to the heavyhandedness of the federal government.”
As examples, he cited federal regulations on landfills, jails, drinking water and endangered species.
The three pieces of legislation all were approved by the committee, which sent them to the full Senate for a vote. Twiggs’ funding proposal will come back to the committee first for a hearing.
In St. Maries, Rouw said he’ll be watching.
“The future of the republic is now delicately balanced,” he said, “and we’ll see where the power lies.”