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Sat., Feb. 15, 2014, midnight

Editorial: Idaho lawmakers should reject special privileges

The Idaho Legislature is considering two bills that would end exemptions from laws that legislators granted themselves in the past. To their credit, legislative leaders haven’t quickly smothered the bills to preserve favoritism. Perhaps it’s because both were sparked by embarrassing scandals.

Nonetheless, there are lawmakers who truly believe they are special, and they’re opposing these bills.

The first would end the practice of allowing legislators to carry a concealed weapon without the permit required of most Idahoans. It’s the only state that grants this exemption, and it led to the sticky situation in which former Rep. Mark Patterson was allowed to carry a gun, even though his permit had been revoked.

The Ada County Sheriff’s Office rescinded Patterson’s permit because he failed to disclose an old guilty plea on a rape-related charge. Patterson resigned in December at the urging of fellow Republicans. However, some of his former colleagues say the exemption should be retained.

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said at a hearing that newly elected legislators need immediate self-protection. He worries that lifting the exemption would leave freshmen vulnerable to attack while they went through the normal channels to obtain a concealed-carry permit. He offered no evidence or examples for why new lawmakers are especially vulnerable.

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, says she supports the exemption because the permitting process includes fingerprinting, which she finds objectionable. But that’s an argument for ending permitting for everyone, not just legislators.

The more reasonable position has been stated by Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene: “I think the message it sends is that elected officials get perks. And when it comes to the Second Amendment, I think that’s particularly disturbing, because essentially, it’s saying we should have more ability to protect ourselves than the average citizen.”

And Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls: “I have a philosophy that those of us in public office should be under the same laws as the general public.”

Hold that thought, because it bears directly on the second bill, which would end legislator protections from having state courts garnish their government wages to pay off debts. Once again, Barbieri asked his colleagues to have a heart, saying lawmakers shouldn’t “be distracted by such things as this.”

Or maybe he meant have a Hart, because this exemption benefited former Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, whose wages were garnished by the Internal Revenue Service to pay off a federal income tax bill. State courts were barred from taking this step to collect state taxes. Hart argued during this fiasco that he should be treated differently because of his status as a legislator.

Actually, the Hart and Patterson cases show why the exemptions are merely self-serving.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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