January 18, 2012 in Idaho

Lawmakers want Occupy Boise encampment gone

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

This view of the Occupy Boise encampment in November shows tents set up on the lawn of the old Ada County Courthouse, now a vacant state-owned building, across the street from Idaho’s state capitol.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - With nearly two dozen Occupy Boise supporters quietly looking on, Idaho’s House State Affairs Committee voted 15-1 this morning to introduce legislation to ban camping on the Capitol Mall or other state lands - legislation aimed at booting the Occupy Boise encampment from its spot on the grounds of the old Ada County courthouse across the street from the state Capitol.

“This is not a prohibition of freedom of speech - this is a prohibition of camping on the lawns in the Capitol Mall,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, the bill’s lead sponsor; it’s co-sponsored by House Speaker Lawerence Denney, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle and House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts.

Said Bedke, “That’s not the intended use of the lawns at the capitol.”

Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, offered a substitute motion to return the proposal to Bedke, but she was the only one to vote for that.

Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, said she wanted a hearing on the bill. “I actually view this as an opportunity for freedom of speech,” she said. Said Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, “We do need to have a conversation.” She added, “Often the esthetic is unpleasant, but there’s a message that’s mighty.”

The bill, which includes an emergency clause making it effective upon passage, adds a new section to state law banning camping on any state-owned or leased property or facility except for designated campgrounds, though it exempts state parks, state endowment land and Fish & Game lands. Violations would be infractions, which Bedke described as “the lightest touch as far as enforcing and penalties in our code,” similar to a speeding ticket. It says in case of violations, personal property like tents or bedding “shall be considered litter” and “shall be disposed of.”

Bedke said enforcement would be “kind and gentle and firm.”

The legislation was discussed at a closed-door House majority caucus earlier this week, and Bedke said it’s been run by the state Attorney General’s office, the governor’s office, the Idaho State Police and the state Department of Administration. Now that the bill’s been introduced, it’ll be scheduled for a public hearing in the same committee.

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