West Views: Stalking legislation could use an update

Idaho Press-Tribune

Some Idaho lawmakers are saying it’s time to expand the state’s criteria on who can request protection orders, and their reasoning is sound.

State law currently restricts such orders to people with whom the petitioner is married or has a relationship or child with, or a relative. That’s it. So if you’re working the checkout counter at a grocery store and a customer asks you out on a date and simply won’t take “no” for an answer, then starts to stalk you, you don’t have much legal recourse.

That doesn’t make sense, so it’s encouraging to hear that Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, are among lawmakers who are looking into this issue and expressing a need for changes. Besides, given the subjectivity of what could and could not constitute a “relationship” with someone (one person may believe they are in a relationship with someone; the other person would disagree), it’s logical to simplify the language and afford protection orders to anyone being stalked, regardless of the nature of their relationship (or lack thereof).

Of course, as with any legislation that could come up this winter, the devil is always in the details. Just as there can be wiggle room in defining a “relationship,” there also can be wiggle room in defining “stalking.”

While all should agree that physically following a person around and threatening to harm him or her is stalking, technology has muddied the issue. What about the aforementioned shopper who persists with his unwanted advances on the checkout clerk via Facebook or text messages, and while being very aggressive, isn’t stupid enough to actually spell out any physical threats?

This issue came up earlier this year in the Statehouse. The 2015 Legislature killed a proposal to modify the state’s no-contact orders over fears they would give judges too much power. The bill would have changed the word “contact” to “conduct,” allowing judges to prohibit activities such as following or communicating with someone online — unwanted behavior, to be sure, but not actual “contact.” It was not a party-line vote; some Democrats also opposed the bill.

Expanding legal protection has the potential of opening the floodgates, forcing already-stretched law enforcement officials and judges to weed out legitimate protection requests from ones that aren’t.

Idaho should definitely expand legal protection from harassment and stalking beyond what state law currently allows. That’s obvious.

Nonetheless, drafting the actual legislation will have to be handled carefully in a state with lawmakers hesitant to expand judicial and police power or place too many restrictions on expression.

Another $1 million to defend who, for what?

Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter recently announced he plans to ask state lawmakers in January to dump another $1 million into the state’s shrinking Constitutional Defense fund.

He says it’s needed to continue “defending the sovereignty of our state and our citizens.” Most recently that’s meant fighting to ensure the state’s gay residents aren’t afforded the same basic rights as their heterosexual neighbors, and that women don’t have control over their bodies.

The fund was created back in 1995 to help the state deal with sovereignty conflicts with the federal government. Money from the fund can be spent to file lawsuits or defend Idaho from lawsuits.

Despite having paid out more than $2.1 million, the fund hasn’t funded a winning case since 1996.

So what has it bought Idaho residents?

According to The Associated Press, it has paid for three losing attempts at defending the state’s unconstitutional abortion laws, two lawsuits over laws that made it more difficult for Idaho citizens to get initiatives on the ballot and two failed lawsuits involving gay rights – including one in which it forked out $70,000 in an effort to prevent a Navy veteran from being buried with her wife. . .

The single largest payment was $628,000 to attorneys who challenged the state’s ban on gay marriage, according to the AP.

As the losses have piled up, the fund has dwindled. It currently has just a bit more than $300,000, or, assuming the going rates hold, just enough for four more attempts at preventing gay service members from being buried next to their partners. . .