Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Idaho newspapers:

Bundy requires no encouragement to create anarchy

The Lewiston Tribune

Aug. 26

Ammon Bundy is an anarchist who craves public attention.

He’ll challenge authority at the slightest provocation.

Which is just about all the time.

If it gets him on television, all the better.

Monday, however, Idaho’s Legislature made it easy for him.

As they approached the House gallery, Bundy, or at least some of the 30 to 50 people he brought to the Idaho Legislature’s special session, found the doors closed to them.

The reason: In order to practice social distancing, seating was limited.

Since the coronavirus pandemic struck in March, Bundy has taken every opening to knock down restrictions.

When Gov. Brad Little imposed a stay-at-home order, Bundy held Easter Sunday services.

He mocked social distancing and face-mask-wearing protocols while engaging in Statehouse protests.

He led a mob to the home of a Meridian police officer who had been goaded into arresting an activist at a closed city park.

And when the Southwest District Health Department at Caldwell contemplated its response to surging infections, Bundy barged his way into its offices.

Was it any surprise, then, that the people following Bundy forced their way into the gallery, shattering a glass door in the process?

“We ended up having to push our way in; eventually they yielded to the people’s voice and they allowed us in, after some pushing and shoving and shouting,” Bundy said. “That’s sometimes the way democracy, if you want to call it that, is.”

It was left to House Speaker Scott Bedke to accommodate them — provided they acted like “good citizens.”

But on some level, what Bundy delivered to Bedke and other legislative leaders was a taste of their own medicine.

Boise is a COVID-19 hot spot.

The 114 new cases it reported earlier this week took Ada County’s total to 9,913.

The city’s bars are closed.

Boise schools offer distance learning.

The city and the Central Health District have limited groups to no more than 50 people. Social distancing and face masks are required.

Everywhere, that is, except those offices operated by the Legislature.

As assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane observed in a review of the law, legislative chambers and meeting rooms are subject to the rules of the House and Senate.

And the House and Senate enacted no limitations on their members.

While a few did wear masks, operate behind protective windows and kept their distance, most did not.

The special session itself may well have been the largest single gathering of people within closed quarters in Ada County and possibly the state as well.

On the floor and in hearing rooms, unmasked lawmakers, staffers and members of the public packed in closely to one another.

One Democratic member, Melissa Wintrow of Boise, excused herself.

“This is not social distancing,” she said. “I’m here to represent my constituents, but I can’t do it in an unsafe manner.”

Another, House Democratic Leader Ilana Rubel of Boise — who solicited Kane’s legal review — called it a “super spreader event.”

In other words, legislators who had insisted the COVID-19 pandemic demanded they be called back into special session to help Little manage the crisis refused to follow rules set in place to avoid making anything worse.

Everyone else in Boise has to follow the rules.

Everyone, that is, except the lawmakers.

Legislative leaders placated a Republican base that believes the coronavirus is a hoax and may agree with 57 percent of the GOP that — according to a CBS News poll — believe that 180,000 COVID-19 deaths have been “acceptable.”

In so doing, they played by a different set of rules.

That’s no excuse for the unruly Bundyites. Case in point: Bundy and two of his acolytes managed to get themselves arrested Tuesday over a dispute about seating reserved for credential reporters at a committee hearing.

By engaging in hypocrisy, however, legislative leaders made themselves a target for the opportunistic Bundy the day before.

This fellow thrives on confrontation. He requires no encouragement.

Online: The Lewiston Tribune

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Idaho legislators declaring an end to the emergency won't magically return us to normal

Idaho Statesman

Aug. 26

Idaho representatives voted Tuesday (48-20) to declare an end to the state of emergency that Gov. Brad Little declared back in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

For sure, there were some compelling arguments in favor of making the declaration during the more than two-hour debate in the House chambers.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, made a pretty straightforward case with a “plain reading” of the part of Idaho Code, 46-1008, that deals with declaring an emergency.

“No state of disaster emergency may continue for longer than thirty (30) days unless the governor finds that it should be continued for another thirty (30) days or any part thereof,” according to the statute. “The legislature by concurrent resolution may terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time. Thereupon, the governor shall issue an executive order or proclamation ending the state of disaster emergency.”

But there was disagreement about the constitutionality of whether the legislators could even debate ending the emergency declaration because it wasn’t enumerated in the governor’s proclamation calling the Legislature into session.

Article IV, Section 9, of the Idaho Constitution, about calling for an extra session of the Legislature, states clearly, “when so convened it (the Legislature) shall have no power to legislate on any subjects other than those specified in the proclamation.”

In other words, if it were a regular session, the Legislature could take it up, but not during a special session. The governor’s proclamation listed the election and liability as the subjects to be discussed, not whether to end the emergency declaration.

Some legislators, such as Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, and Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, felt the unconstitutionality of the resolution made it a nonstarter.

“I just feel that we are taking up something that we’re not constitutionally authorized to take up,” Syme said.

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office weighed in Tuesday with a legal analysis requested by Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill. The upshot: The resolution is indeed unconstitutional and likely wouldn’t withstand a legal challenge, according to the letter signed by assistant chief deputy Brian Kane.

“It appears that (the resolution) would carry no legal effect and likely be the subject of a successful legal challenge to its validity,” according to the letter. Kane cites Article IV, Section 9, of the Idaho Constitution as his reasoning.

I think there were some cogent arguments about “taking back” legislative power when it comes to spending money and running the elections, and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, made a rare step down to the floor to debate, giving an eloquent defense of the legislative branch. I’m certain that come the next regular session, as is likely the proper time to do so, these issues will be debated. Rep. Gayann Demordaunt, R-Eagle, said there were 75 statutes that were changed by the governor’s orders.

There was kind of a weird undercurrent of an argument from a couple of legislators suggesting that since the governor has allegedly violated the Idaho Constitution with his orders, the Legislature could go ahead and violate it too.

Of course, as could be expected, many of the arguments were really, really bad.

In a nutshell, the bad arguments had the underpinning of “getting back to normal.” A few legislators minimized COVID-19, with Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, on the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives accusing hospitals of making up numbers so they can get money for COVID-19. He also said wearing masks is a political statement and that cloth masks and N95 masks are of no value.

Barbieri, who’s no stranger to making outlandish claims in the Legislature and elsewhere, said his “hair cutter’s” husband hurt his shoulder and the hospital said they were going to categorize it as COVID-19.

This is what the legislators are basing their decisions on, folks.

Many legislators clearly showed they think what’s to blame for “what’s happening in society right now” is government overreach and not the coronavirus.

“The citizens of the state of Idaho feel that they have endured enough and it’s time to remove the emergency declaration,” said Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett. “It’s time to return to normal, not a new normal, to normal, to freedom, to liberty, to being Americans in a free country.”

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said, “Individuals like myself who happen to disagree with this declaration are going to do what we can to ensure that our people can get back to work, that our children can go back to school, that they can play sports again, that individuals can go back to church, and that we can get life back to normal.”

As if the coronavirus were gone.

What a return to “normal” is, though, are the days when Blaine County experienced a sharp spike in cases, infecting health care workers and shutting down the hospital there. That’s what “normal” will look like in the pandemic. The coronavirus didn’t go anywhere.

Thinking we’ll return to normal by ending the emergency declaration is like saying we’ll have no new cases if we just stop testing, or that we can stop drunk driving by getting rid of DUI laws.

Since the Legislature can’t seem to escape a session without irony, outgoing Rep. Tim Remington, R-Coeur d’Alene, who is a pastor, launched a speech about turning to God’s message of loving one another and caring for others. He doesn’t seem to understand that wearing a mask and social distancing is a form of caring for others. If Remington has coronavirus, unwittingly, asymptomatic, he’s spraying down droplets of coronavirus on those members of the House sitting right in front of him.

There was a pretty good debate about losing out on federal disaster relief money if Idaho gets rid of the emergency declaration, with folks like Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, pointing out that the relief money being handed out doesn’t even really exist and that the federal government is trillions in debt as it is.

Freshman lawmaker Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, cut right to the chase and didn’t get caught up in the constitutionality, the money or the politics.

“We can have a conversation when we’re back in session about making changes in the balance of powers between our body and the gentleman on the second floor,” she said. “That will be very lively, I’m sure. That’s not what this resolution is about. This resolution takes away our emergency declaration during the worst pandemic of our lifetime. And if there were ever a moment to take advantage of emergency dollars to help our struggling Idahoans and keep them safe, this is absolutely it.”

To me, that’s the bottom line. It’s an interesting discussion about whether the Legislature can overturn the emergency declaration. More important is the question of whether the Legislature should overturn the declaration.

Right now? No way.

Online: Idaho Statesman

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The most predictable of failures

Post Register

Aug 23

A pair of controversial bills sponsored by local lawmakers have failed in utterly predictable — and repeatedly predicted — fashion.

House Bill 509, sponsored by Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, prevents transgender Idahoans from obtaining a birth certificate matching their gender, subjecting them to the possibility of ridicule when they need to present identifying documents that don’t match their appearance or self-experience. The bill essentially reestablished a set of rules that had already been ruled unconstitutional.

House Bill 500, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, bans transgender women and girls entirely from playing in high school or college female sports. It also subjects women and girls to intrusive inspections if their biological sex is challenged — inspections boys and men are not subject to. For this reason, it was obvious from the moment it was proposed that the bill would run afoul of the Equal Protection Clause.

Most Republican lawmakers supported both bills, and Gov. Brad Little signed them.

They could perhaps be forgiven for undertaking unconstitutional acts if this was some unsettled, unpredictable area of the law. But it isn’t. They were warned repeatedly of the obvious outcome. The ACLU warned them. Major employers warned them. The Idaho Attorney General warned them. The press warned them.

But the officials who supported these bills proved impervious to reason and ignorant of the Constitution.

In exactly the predicted fashion, federal courts blocked both bills in recent weeks. HB 509 has been found to violate a permanent injunction, originally issued on constitutional grounds, that requires the state to allow transgender people to obtain birth certificates matching their gender identity. HB 500 was found likely to be unconstitutional, and the state has been enjoined from enforcing it pending a full hearing.

So in practice, neither transgender women athletes nor the broader transgender community will be blocked from doing the things they had before — participating in sports after meeting requirements established by sports regulatory bodies and changing their birth certificates. But Idaho will rack up a few more losses in court, and taxpayers will likely be on the hook for hundreds of thousands in attorney fees.

The state’s track record in lawsuits over its anti-LGBTQ policies is well-known and costly. In its effort to defend its ban on same-sex marriage and its unsuccessful fight to keep a transgender inmate from receiving gender confirmation surgery, the state has spent nearly a million dollars in attorney fees and court costs. That’s your money swirling down the drain.

It also remains possible that the NCAA will move the initial rounds of the Division I men’s basketball tournament out of Idaho, costing businesses opportunities in the midst of a terrible recession.

All for the sake of expressing cultural disapproval for a small, vulnerable group of our neighbors.

What should Idaho voters conclude about the competence of their representatives in the Legislature? With a variety of pressing concerns, including an impending pandemic, the Idaho Legislature had to set priorities for its time. There appeared to be no time to prepare for the pandemic, for example, by expanding a contact-tracing infrastructure that has proven grossly insufficient.

But there was plenty of time to attempt to restrict the rights of transgender Idahoans.

The Democrats stood in universal opposition to HB 500 and HB 509, and there were standouts among the Republican caucus in both chambers — Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow; Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee; Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon; Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston; Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland; and Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle — who opposed HB 500. Two — Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg; and Rep. Linda Hartgen, R-Twin Falls — opposed HB 509.

The rest failed to make constitutional policy.

There are no victories in this exercise of legislating-as-culture-war, just tax dollars wasted in court and a lasting stain on our state’s reputation.

Online: Post Register