Robert Ehlert: Not all Republicans backed gun, ag-gag bills

March 12, 2014 

Ehlert, Robert smiles.JPG

Robert Ehlert

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

Two of the most controversial and landslide votes in the Legislature this year had to do with the so-called ag-gag bill, SB 1337, and the guns on campus measure, SB 1254.

Both prevailed in the House and Senate on mostly party-line votes. But what I found interesting was that the ag-gag bill elicited "no" votes from Republican Sens. Cliff Bayer and Russ Fulcher, both of Meridian, as well as Sandpoint Sen. Shawn Keough and Nampa Sen. Curt McKenzie. Republican Sens. John Goedde, of Coeur d'Alene, Dan Johnson, of Lewiston, and Keough voted against the guns on campus measure — Keough being the only senator to vote against both.

Only two House Republicans voted against the ag-gag bill: Meridian's Steven Harris and Boise's Lynn Luker. Six Republicans voted against the guns on campus measure, with Luker being the only one to vote against both.

Luker is the lawmaker who crafted two controversial religious freedom bills in the House that were later withdrawn. Conventional wisdom might be that he would find the ag-gag and guns bills irresistible. Wrong. I was so impressed with Luker's thoughtful deliberations, which he supplied via email, that I decided to share them here:

"Regarding 1337 (ag-gag), I thought it was unnecessary and counter to our efforts at public defender and criminal justice reform. I believe the issue of concern in 1337 is already covered under our current criminal trespass, malicious injury to property and other laws. I did not think that adding yet another criminal law for a specific group was consistent with the efforts to simplify and consolidate overlapping criminal laws.

"HB 1254 (guns) was a more difficult decision. I appreciated the arguments on both sides. I am upset with the lax security that universities employ. The universities complained that HB 1254 would cause them to spend more money on increased security, yet that is exactly what they should be doing anyway. None of the campus police or security personnel on campus are armed. It is undisputed that there are people already carrying on campus in violation of current law. The university presidents don't seem to be much concerned about that, but are concerned about letting people with legally authorized permits from carrying to protect themselves. I agree with the sentiment that there is a large 'sign' out at all Idaho schools, whether K-12 or Higher Ed, that says: 'We are unarmed.'

"On the other hand, I had some technical concerns with the bill, because it excluded dormitories, but not frat houses that are on university property, which is particularly relevant at the University of Idaho. I also recognized the general uneasiness that rests with a large part of the public about opening up campuses for guns. That was reflected in email, phone and letter communications from a wide spectrum of District 15. I received a lot of comments from around the state, and while I consider those, I look particularly at comments from District 15 because that is who I represent.

"This issue generated more commentary from District 15 than any other issue this session. Also, I did not receive comments only from the usual activists, but from a wide spectrum of Republicans and Democrats who were concerned about the bill - people who don't usually write unless they are very concerned.

"There were actually also a few very strong Second Amendment supporters who did not like the bill because it did not go far enough or because it added penalties for permit revocation. My unscientific tally was 20 percent in favor and 80 percent against. So, despite my concerns about security on campus, and the legitimate concerns of permit holders to exercise their right to protect themselves, I had to balance that with the technical flaws in the bill and the feelings of my district.

"Also, I did not see this as a constitutional issue, but rather a policy issue. Idaho Constitution Art 1, Sec 11 has a carve-out to allow the state to regulate concealed carry. (The bill) did not implicate any constitutional right, but rather was a policy decision on how much or how little to regulate concealed carry under the constitutional carve-out given to the Legislature."

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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