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Lawmakers Want More Public Input on Statehouse Rules

“They’re an unnecessary overreach of government.”


Idaho's Department of Administration was hoping for quick lawmaker approval of its new rules governing citizen access to the Statehouse and buildings throughout the Capitol Mall complex.

"Many of these guidelines have been in place for many years," said Teresa Luna, the department's director.

Luna spent her entire morning on Jan. 14 shuttling between the Senate State Affairs Committee and a subcommittee of the House State Affairs Committee, asking two sets of lawmakers to codify new rules outlining what's allowed and what's not at the Capitol and its surroundings.

But Luna was quizzed by both House and Senate members, who wanted to know how the rules were crafted and how much public participation was involved.

"During the [2012] legislative session, we worked with Occupy Boise to come up with what we thought were acceptable guidelines," said Luna, referring to the encampment which spun off numerous Statehouse protests. "But it was met with much disdain. We didn't feel there was any hope in coming to any sort of negotiated rule-making for this process."

Terreton Republican Sen. Jeff Siddoway didn't like what he heard.

"Is that legal for an agency to just not take on that responsibility?" he asked Luna.

"Yes, it is," she responded.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis told Luna that he worried that another of the new rules--restricting demonstrations beyond 30 minutes after any day's adjournment of the Legislature--might be a restriction of First Amendment rights.

"Are you limiting their free-speech protections?" asked Davis.

Luna said "no."

Things didn't sail through the House subcommittee either, with the majority of the legislators asking that rules be opened to a public hearing before the full committee of the House State Affairs Committee.

"I'm comfortable with the rules, but there is some concern here that constitutional rights are being stepped on," said Lava Hot Springs Republican Rep. Ken Andrus. "It's a good idea to have a hearing."

Monica Hopkins, ACLU Idaho executive director, agreed, telling the House subcommittee that the new rules were onerous.

"They're an unnecessary overreach of government," she said.

Hopkins, and more members of the public, will have an opportunity to weigh in on the rules when the Senate committee take up the issue on Wednesday, Jan. 16.