Opinion » Note

Un-gagged

The Idaho Legislature was on the wrong side of history—and the law.

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The scorecard for Idaho's right-wing lawmakers isn't looking so good. Animal rights activists—and fans of the First Amendment—cheered the Aug. 3 ruling from U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill overturning Idaho's so-called "ag-gag" law. Pushed through amid widespread public outcry during the 2014 legislative session, the bill criminalized undercover recording at big agricultural operations—a naked, and seemingly successful, attempt to silence critics of the brutal conditions that exist in some factory farms.

"Indeed, [the law] not only restricts more speech than necessary, it poses a particularly serious threat to whistleblowers' free speech rights," Winmill wrote in the 29-page ruling, which also found that ag-gag violated the Equal Protection Clause.

Idaho was not alone in rolling restrictive anti-recording measures into statute. Utah has a similar law on its books, and a lawsuit is pending in that state as well.

Overturning ag-gag is but one example of the Idaho Legislature's increasing habit of not only being on the wrong side of history, but the wrong side of the law. From the voter-repealed Students Come First education reforms to the private prison scandals to the Idaho Education Network contract disaster to the child support payment fiasco to the quixotic fight against same-sex marriage, a sizeable bloc of Idaho's elected officials seem either hopelessly corrupt, incompetent or plain stupid.

That may sound unduly harsh, but the current fascination with right-wing fringe policy experiments at the Statehouse is not only counterproductive—taking time and attention away from serious issues like wages, infrastructure, health care and education—but they are costly.

At the end of the day, it's puzzling what constituency certain legislators think they are serving with these lawsuit-baiting bills and untenable ideological positions. It can't be taxpayers, because those are the people who are being forced to pay for them.