The Idaho House State Affairs Committee gaveled-in its pre-dawn hearing session today, continuing its consideration of proposed new rules governing public access to the buildings and grounds of the Capitol Mall.
The new guidelines, giving stronger authority to the Department of Administration over the Statehouse and its surroundings, have been met by a steady stream of backlash, including a lawsuit led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.
“I do hope you’ll all treat each other civilly this morning,” said Iona Republican Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher. “We are here to discuss the topic and not the individuals involved.”
Teresa Luna, director of Department of Administration, said many of the rules mirror guidelines that have long been in in place. In particular, Luna cited guidelines limiting use of the Capitol steps to the hours between 6 a.m. and midnight, and a rule that prohibits citizens from hanging signs inside the Capitol building as examples of existing rules she says have become difficult to enforce.
“I think you’ll find these rules are very similar to the ordinances the City of Boise uses to regulate its public spaces,” Luna said.
Luna's presentation included video she said demonstrates the need for new rules—one taken from security footage of an armed man rifling through desks in the House Chamber after hours and one of protesters hanging signs from rotunda railings and ignoring Capitol security guards’ requests that they stop.
“Our first effort is always to inform the citizen of which rule or guideline they are breaking and ask them to stop,” Luna said, explaining that because these rules are currently only guidelines and not law, Capitol security guards have struggled to enforce them. “Eventually, we could call the Idaho State Police and they would be ticketed.”
But most of those signed up to testify this morning pushed back against the rules.
“Nothing in the rules before you addresses the interior of the Capitol building,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of ACLU Idaho, in response to the videos presented by Luna, both taken inside the Capitol building. “The ACLU opposes these rules because they are an extreme and unnecessary approach to regulating Idahoans’ freedoms.”
Ann Hausrath, one of the first community members to testify, spoke to the necessity of rules but felt that the ones being proposed were not adequate.
“We need rules, but they need to be carefully written, they need to be easy to understand, and they need to be enforced fairly,” she said. “These rules were written in haste and they appear to target the very freedoms granted by the U.S. and Idaho Constitutions. We Idahoans really care about government. We care about the work here. We think that it matters. We want to be involved. Please do not try to stifle all voices with these clumsily written rules.”
Following discussion, the committee moved to approve the docket regarding the use of the interior of state buildings, not including the State Capitol. The dockets regarding of the exterior of the Capitol and other state buildings in the Capitol Mall were held in committee for further review.
“Nothing like this has ever been necessary, and I believe it is not necessary at this time,” said former Occupy protester Barbara Kemp. “I take it very personally because I’m going to be asked to live by these rules.”