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News >  Idaho

Giant Cross Survives Legal Battles

Down here, you don’t have to wait until Christmas time to see a giant, brightly lit display of Christian faith.

All year-round, a huge, white cross shines from the top of Table Rock, the landmark flat mountain that stands at Boise’s northeast tip. Even a full moon sometimes doesn’t seem to shine as brightly.

On rainy, foggy evenings, the cross appears as a mysterious white blur hanging over the city.

The 60-foot steel cross was erected in 1955 by the Jaycees, on land that was owned by the state Department of Corrections. No one gave a thought to the prominent display of a religious icon on state land until the early 1970s, when court decisions in other states said that was a no-no.

So in 1972, the Department of Lands held a public auction at which the Jaycees were the only bidder. They bought the 0.071 acre that’s home to the cross for $100.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the sale last year, prompting the state Legislature to adopt a resolution in support of the cross. The state Land Board rejected the challenge last January, and the ACLU came in for withering criticism from cross supporters.

So the cross is still there. It now stands amid a small forest of communications and radio towers, but it stands out every night. It’s the only one that lights up.

Get outta town

Normally, Idaho’s Legislature spends a few weeks getting acclimated in January. Then, by March, it’s in full stampede, with bills flying through (or getting trampled) so quickly some lawmakers don’t even know what the bills say.

Legislative leaders are hoping to change that this year by setting a deadline for Senate bills to go to the House, and vice versa. They’ve also set an ambitiously early closing date for the session - March 15.

“I’ve seen bills that are introduced and passed in the House and Senate in the last week of the session, and nobody even knows they’re coming,” said House Speaker Mike Simpson, R-Blackfoot. “I think that it will help prevent that.”

Under the new rule, all House bills must be sent to the Senate, and Senate bills to the House, by Feb. 26, the 50th day of the session. Exceptions will be granted with the agreement of leadership from both parties.

“Nobody thinks this is really an important idea now,” Simpson said. “But come the ninth week of the session, it’s amazing how many people will. You talk to other legislators and they say, ‘Why are we still voting on House bills? There’s not enough time for them to be considered in the Senate.”’

Simpson looked into what other states do, and many have rules to this effect. This year’s rule is just a “gentleman’s agreement,” but if it works out, it may be included in official legislative rules in the future, he said.

The Legislature already has a rule limiting most committees’ introduction of bills to the first 35 days of the session. But that’s had something of the opposite of its intended effect.

“Oftentimes, lobbyists hold off,” Simpson said. Early in the session when there are fewer bills being considered, each bill gets more attention. By waiting until the last-minute crush, lobbyists are better able to slip legislation through unnoticed.

But the new deadline will make that strategy risky, Simpson said. A bill that’s introduced at the last minute will have little chance of getting to the second house in time for the deadline.

Simpson said he hopes the new rule will make the Legislature more efficient. “That’s the whole goal. If it helps get us out of the session earlier, that’s fine, too.”

Each day the Legislature remains in session costs the state about $30,000.

“It’s not a matter of just doing it quickly,” Simpson said. “Moving the Legislature is like trying to get a locomotive going. It takes a lot of pushing to get it going to start with, then just about the time you get it going you’ve gotta put on the brakes to slow it down.”

, DataTimes

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