Among the revelations at Gov. Butch Otter’s post-legislative session press conference today: Otter supported HB 581, the bipartisan bill to allow Idaho judges to vary from current mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession, which are now based solely on the amount of drugs involved, in cases where the judge finds that following them would create a “manifest injustice” and the mandatory minimum is “not necessary for the protection of the public.”
The bill passed the House 46-20 after a stormy debate and two lengthy committee hearings with lots and lots of testimony on both sides. But in the Senate, the measure received only an informational hearing in committee and no vote.
Otter said today, “I sat down with the sponsors of the bill. As we went through what they were trying to achieve, I agreed with them, and I said we’ve probably got a chance at this now that Denton Darrington’s gone and no longer is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.” Darrington, the longtime Senate judiciary chairman, was long noted for his tough-on-crime approach to sentencing and criminal laws.
Otter said he long disagreed with the contention that “liberal judges” couldn’t be trusted to impose tough enough sentences. Noting that he’s now appointed 44 of the 45 district judges in Idaho, plus big majorities of both the Idaho Supreme Court and the Idaho Court of Appeals, Otter said his many interviews with candidates for those posts have shown that “the quality of those folks has gone up substantially. … I had evidence, right as I go through those interviews, to believe I can trust those people,” he said, to mete out “the kind of punishment each and every person deserves – and that’s not always the same punishment.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said, “On that particular bill, there was a concern from our side that not enough discussion had gone on with some of the stakeholders … when you have law enforcement and prosecutors and other people talking about the demand for incarceration.”