Idaho legislators worry protests will delay adjournment

Idaho lawmakers say they might consider restrictions to lessen Capitol disruptions.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comMarch 6, 2014 

Add the Four Words protestors blocked the entrances to Gov. Butch Otter's office at the Capitol in March 2014.

KATY MOELLER

With escalating tactics by Add the Words protesters aimed at delaying business in the Statehouse, the Legislature’s top leaders say they hope to avoid having anything postpone their March 21 target for leaving town.

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.

“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 Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

Neither Hill nor Bedke would discuss specific steps they might take.

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

Rumors flew around the Capitol on Tuesday that organizers were planning fresh drama in Round 5, including talk of protesters bound in chains, dashing into traffic and bringing children who might require calling state Child Protective Services while adults were arrested and booked.

LeFavour said Wednesday afternoon that such talk was nonsense.

“Why on earth would we do anything but continue to do what has been so amazingly powerful and effective so far?” she asked. “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 even 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 ... just because you’re gay or transgender?”

LeFavour, a Boise Democrat, was the only one charged Tuesday 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 people were charged with misdemeanor unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse and four with misdemeanor trespassing. Charges differed based on whether the protesters blocked a public entrance or a private entrance to Gov. Butch Otter’s office.

Protests Tuesday and last week were the first that resulted in substantial work disruptions. Last week, two Senate committee meetings were canceled because access to meeting rooms was blocked.

Otter said LeFavour and her allies might be “starting to hurt their own cause” to add civil rights protections for gays, bisexuals and transgender people to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

Otter said diverting ISP troopers from their regular duties might 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 a Legislature to run.

“I think Idaho citizens expect their legislators to be able to get in 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 protesters, 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. ... If we are somehow hindered from having our committee meetings and our sessions on the floor, that would prolong the session.”

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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