Bracing for more Add the Words arrests, Idaho lawmakers take steps to limit disruptions

March 5, 2014 

With escalating tactics by "Add the Words" protesters aimed at delaying business in the Capitol, the Legislature's top leaders say they hope to avoid disruption that might postpone their March 21 target for adjournment.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said he met with Idaho State Police and civilian security officers Monday to plan.

"We've tried to look at the different scenarios and prepare for those," Hill said, declining to get more specific.

"If we're having to postpone and cancel because of (protesters interrupting business), then I think that some of the time, place and manner restrictions on free speech need to kick in," said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

On Tuesday, the fourth round of arrests added another 23 mug shots to the Ada County Jail roster, including the movement's organizer, former Sen. Nicole LeFavour.

Rumors flew around the Statehouse on Tuesday that organizers were planning fresh drama in Round 5, including talk of protesters bound in chains, dashing into traffic and bringing minor children who might require state child protective services while adults were arrested and booked.

LeFavour said on Wednesday that such speculation was nonsense.

"Why on earth would we do any thing but continue to do what has been so amazingly powerful and effective so far?" she said. "Why would we do anything but just peacefully continue to stand in the statehouse to show how we've been silenced by eight years without even a public hearing -- without ever the dignity of that chance to let families tell what it's like to lose a gay child to despair and suicide; to let us say what it's like to be beaten in an alleyway, fired, evicted or denied service by a business just because you're gay or transgender."

LeFavour, 50, a Boise Democrat and the party's 2012 nominee for 2nd District Congress, was the only protester among the 23 arrested Tuesday to be charged with restricting and obstructing officers, a misdemeanor.

Police say she interfered with the arrests of other protesters and encouraged them not to cooperate with arresting officers. Eighteen were charged with misdemeanor unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse, and four were charged with misdemeanor trespassing. Charges differed based on whether the protesters were blocking a public entrance or a private entrance to Gov. Butch Otter's office.

Tuesday's arrests and those made last week were the first that resulted in substantial work disruptions. Last week, two Senate committee meetings were cancelled because access to meeting rooms was blocked. On Tuesday, Otter and his staff were delayed from their morning work.

After Tuesday's arrests, Otter said LeFavour and her allies may be "starting to hurt their own cause" to add civil rights protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

Otter said diverting ISP troopers from their regular duties on the highways may compromise public safety and noted that each day of delay in the Legislature's adjournment would cost taxpayers an estimated $30,000.

Bedke said he has no intention of provoking activists, but he also has a Legislature to run.

"I think Idaho citizens expect their legislators to be able to get and out of the Senate and House chambers, and in a like manner, their committee rooms," Bedke said. "To the extent that those are being blocked and the business is being disrupted that's a bridge too far. To the protestors, I say, 'Welcome to the Capitol, make your statements, do your thing.' But at the same time, we're going to be conducting business."

Said Hill: "If people come in and stop us so that we can't get our work done, we don't have any choice but to continue to work until we do get it done. We have to have the budget set, it takes a certain amount of time to get those bills through. If we are somehow hindered from having our committee meetings and our sessions on the floor, that would prolong the session."

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