by Andrew Crisp
Along a party-line vote this afternoon, the House Ways and Means Committee moved to print a bill that would authorize the state Department of Administration to create their own rules for Capitol Mall property, and requiring permits for use of those lands.
"We believe that the state has not only the right but the responsibility to maintain state property," said Teresa Luna, department director. "This is necessary to be able to maintain and manage our property in an appropriate manner."
Luna said that after a group of protesters parked on the lawn in opposition of Occupy Boise, they were removed because of parking restrictions. However, the Department of Administration had no rules stopping them from driving on the lawn, which Luna said they later did.
Lewiston Democratic Rep. John Rusche asked why the bill required an emergency clause, and noted that the state was already involved in a lawsuit related to the lands. Deputy Attorney General Julie Weaver said that the rules would be "general and neutral in scope" and would not affect the lawsuit.
"This seems to go just opposite of what we did with our oil drilling, where we gave all rights and control to the land board," said Rusche. "We’re in the middle of a lawsuit, I don’t think it’s going to help. The broad application: anybody can use these rules on the request of the owner of the property. I don’t believe its an emergency, and I do think it has a chilling effect on free speech."
Rusche and Boise Democratic Rep. Brian Cronin both expressed concerns about the scope of the bill, as well as the message it sends. The legislation comes after other attempts by the Legislature to limit camping on state property, an initiative many say was aimed at Occupy Boise.
The bill comes after a ruling by a federal judge allowing some leeway for the Occupy protesters, which allowed leaving tents on the lawn as a symbolic act of free speech. However, if the bill passes, it would give the department more leeway in how to address the way the compound works.
"This keeps in place [Judge B. Lynn Winmill's] order, and the judge has equated the erection of monuments as symbolic speech," said Oakley Republican Rep. Scott Bedke. "But if the erection of monuments is speech now, or expression, then it becomes no different than the four pages of rules we have if you’re going to exercise your First Amendment rights on the Capitol steps."
The bill could receive a full hearing in committee before the end of the week.