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Friday, May 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Idaho lawmakers clash with Occupy Boise again

Crowd at hearing Monday morning on bill regarding rules for use of Capitol Mall properties, including the site of the Occupy Boise vigil. (Betsy Russell)
Crowd at hearing Monday morning on bill regarding rules for use of Capitol Mall properties, including the site of the Occupy Boise vigil. (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - Idaho lawmakers continued their session-long skirmish with Occupy Boise supporters on Monday, with emergency legislation clearing a House committee to allow new state rule-making regarding the site where the protest is set up across from the state Capitol and making rule violations infractions.

HB 693 passed the House State Affairs Committee on a party-line vote with the panel’s minority Democrats opposing it.

After the vote, Occupy supporters chanted in unison a message that included this line, “Please join the people later today as we issue an eviction notice to the corrupt members of this legislative body.” Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, banged his gavel and declared that the loudly protesting group would be removed; two Idaho State Police officers escorted the chanting protesters out.

State Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna told the committee that HB 693 would “better define the Capitol Mall properties,” and authorize rule-making about behavior there. “While the need for this legislation became clear because of the litigation regarding use of the Capitol Annex, this legislation is not targeted specifically at that use,” she said to a light sprinkling of laughter from the audience, which included more than a dozen Occupy Boise supporters. Luna said the bill would allow rules like requiring pets to be leashed.

It also would allow the state to issue permits for use of the grounds. The director would have the authority to sue to halt any violation or threatened violation of the rules. The Legislature earlier passed emergency legislation to ban overnight camping on the Capitol Mall; a federal judge blocked parts of it, ruling that the Occupy encampment’s tents are protected, symbolic free speech.

Among those testifying against the new bill was Mike Despot, the retired former Capitol Mall facilities manager. “This law is totally unnecessary, it is pointed at a certain group, it is to inhibit free speech,” Despot told the committee. “We are told we can have free speech by coming to your offices. As we were being told that, the offices were being locked down.”

Most House members’ office areas remain locked by order of House Speaker Lawerence Denney; he issued the order early this session out of concern for security as lawmakers sought to oust the occupiers.

Others who spoke against the bill noted that U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill has scheduled further legal proceedings on the issue. Dean Gunderson, an Occupy supporter, said, “Boy, I would sure love it if you passed this particular piece of legislation, because it would be one more nail in the coffin of the state’s case. … I would just love to have that in hand by the time we go into evidentiary hearing on June 7.”

Roger Brown, an aide to Gov. Butch Otter, told the committee that the governor supports the legislation, and the Department of Administration currently doesn’t have the appropriate rule-making authority. Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, read from current law that says the director has authority to promulgate rules. Teresa Luna, director of the Department of Administration, said the bill is needed “in order to allow the Department of Administration the authority it needs to manage and maintain its properties.”

Katie Fite of Boise told the committee, “This is another anti-Occupy bill.” She said under the bill’s language about enjoining threatened violations, she questioned whether the state would be “trolling the Internet” for signs that anyone’s planning an “illicit picnic on the Capitol grounds,” and asked, “Is this bill aimed at controlling and perhaps even spying on those you don’t like?”

Kay Marquart told the lawmakers, “I really really think that your time could be spent on much more important issues. Many of you have become an embarrassment to the citizens of Idaho that you have not tackled the real issues.” Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, gaveled her at that point; Marquart said she was done.

“We have spent a great deal of time listening to people about this particular issue,” Loertscher said. “This is not a Legislature vs. the world issue. This is what needs to be done concerning the state properties, so please confine your remarks to the issue and not to the individuals involved.”

The rules bill now moves to the full House.

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