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News >  Idaho

Lawmakers seek oversight of local monuments, place names

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 9, 2021

By Keith Ridler Associated Press

BOISE — The House on Tuesday approved legislation requiring cities, towns and schools to get permission from the Legislature to change the historic names of streets and parks or remove monuments or memorials.

The House voted 51-19 to send to the Senate the measure backers say is needed to prevent the altering of history through obliterating historic though imperfect figures.

Republican Rep. Doug Okuniewicz said such decisions as renaming streets, parks and landmarks and the removal of monuments or memorials shouldn’t be left to local leaders.

“The decision whether or not to permanently remove a historically important monument or memorial is important to everyone in our state, not just the people who happen to live next to it,” he said.

Some of the impetus for the bill appears to come from actions around the country, including the toppling and removal of Confederate statues in the South as well as the potential renaming of U.S. military bases named after Confederate leaders. Former President Donald Trump made a campaign issue of those events leading up to the November election.

“Everything some of these people are trying to do is absolutely, again, despicable,” Republican Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger said. “Trying to change the names of military bases. Trying to change the face of the South. All the mayors in these big cities that did absolutely nothing in the face of leftists and sometimes Marxists were absolutely weak, and they need to be not allowed to be making these decisions because if they are not going to lead, the people in the statehouse should.”

Opponents said the proposed law is an affront in a state that prizes local control.

“Representative from Ada County should have no say in what people in Driggs or Post Falls or anywhere in the state want to do in their local communities,” Democratic Rep. Steve Berch said. “The state has done just fine for over 130 years without the need for this legislation.”

Specifically, the legislation is called a concurrent resolution that would need only the approval of the House and Senate but not the signature of the governor. However, the attorney general’s office, in an opinion requested by a Democratic lawmaker earlier this session, said concurrent resolutions circumventing the governor and resulting in laws aren’t contained in the Idaho Constitution. The opinion said such resolutions don’t have the force of law, but only express the House and Senate’s wishes.

Democratic Rep. Ilana Rubel, the House minority leader, pointed that out in arguing against the bill.

A concurrent resolution “can’t take the place of law to regulate otherwise lawful activities of political divisions or sub-divisions,” she said. “So I think that it would not actually be legal to be doing this.”

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