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A tougher job

Mike Moyle, the new Idaho House speaker, provoked a subject worth considering early in this session when he proposed the legislature change the way it approves, internally, state budgets.

For more than half a century, the process has worked like this: From the beginning of each session, the 10 members of each of the two budget committees - Senate Finance and House Appropriations - convene together nearly every day the legislature is in session. (Together, it is called the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee, or JFAC as Statehouse people usually call it.) It has by far the most physical building space of any committee, and it long has had a substantial year-round professional staff.

At first committee members get budget and revenue overviews, then hear public requests and proposals from state agencies (that’s where they are right now in this session). Then they pause to catch their breath, and start negotiating and voting on the dollar amounts. Those budgets, mostly agency by agency, are sent in bill form to the Senate and House floors - they’re split between them, with first one then the other chamber voting. Usually they pass the bills as written by JFAC and send them on to the governor for signature.

Occasionally there’s a controversy in the process, and JFAC sometimes has been known to rewrite a budget after a floor rejection, but mostly it has for decades worked like a factory process.

Not every state does it this way. Some split the budget-writing between two committees that have little to do with each other (and often then have to negotiate later), or simply divide the voting rather than have a single joint committee do the job at once.

The latter approach seems to be what the speaker is aiming toward. There’s political logic to it: Actually, more rationales than just one. Moyle pointed out, accurately, that in recent sessions House Republicans (the caucus as a whole) have had divided reactions to budget bills coming from the joint committee, and a bill which has pre-approval from a majority of the House members on the committee (since it would be possible for a bill to progress with a majority of the senators but a minority of House members) might have more traction on the House floor.

Of course, that wouldn’t address some of the inevitable discrepancy. The JFAC members, exposed to extensive testimony and detailed budget analysis from staff and other people, simply have deeper grounding in the fine grain of the budget than most other Senate or House members do.

Getting the Senate and House committees to vote separately might do something else too: Weaken JFAC, which usually is considered by far the most powerful legislative committee. The Senate and House members there traditionally work closely together and the budgets they develop are challenged on the floor only uncommonly: Those 20 legislators ordinarily set the terms of state government as much as all the rest put together.

The down side is the complexity of the process. Which side, House or Senate, develops a budget proposal first? If the other side rejects it, what sort of process would they go through to come to an agreement? Eventually, House and Senate committees both still would have to come to terms on numbers. A broken-up vote process would make that much more complex.

It’s not hard to imagine it adding two or three weeks to a legislative session - unless, of course, the members quietly met to hash out behind-closed-doors deals on what would get majority votes on both sides. And considering the many times that quiet negotiations among JFACers have determined important budget bills in the past, you can imagine that as more likely in the future rather than less. A good deal less of the sometimes frustrating work of budget crafting might take place in public.

Of course, as noted, various states use a range of procedures in building their budgets at the legislative level, and none are perfect. In Idaho, after half a century and more of one procedure, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at alternatives.

As legislators do consider the options, though, they may be wise to consider whether they’re looking at taking a step forward, or back.

 

Praise

When it’s hard to give praise, it should be worth more. This is going to be very hard for me to offer. It shouldn’t be. When ideas are the subject, not behavior or intentions, we should look squarely at the ideas and consider praise or rejection. That’s not hard, is it?

So, I want to praise a bill in the Idaho legislature offered up by Representative Heather Scott. I don’t want to praise Heather when she wraps herself in the Stars and Bars or her disruptive tendencies in the Idaho House. I just want to offer my support to a simple bill she has introduced.

House Bill 20 adds a misdemeanor criminal penalty to bad faith reporting of child abuse, neglect, or abandonment.

Why is such a penalty needed? Shouldn’t we protect anybody who is trying to prevent or report child abuse? Here’s where we get into the real world. The laws we write should have a clear awareness of the real world.

We see so many ideas floated in the swirling pot of the Idaho legislature that are just dog whistle attempts to protect us from the boogey man. I could list them, but I’m sure we would not agree on the real-world threats we face. Your fear of Sharia Law might be as great as my concern about ground water.

But I digress. I must move forward with the real-world reason this law makes sense.

For many years I served on my county Multidisciplinary Task Force for the Prevention of Child Abuse. Every county in the state is supposed to have one. I got chosen to participate because the law that established these groups called for a member of the healthcare community to serve. At the time, I was the county coroner. I was also a practicing family physician. So, I went to these monthly meetings on my lunch hour. They agreed to meet at that time so I wouldn’t have to miss clinic time. Every other person on this task force was a state, county, or city employee, not a private businessman. Doctors are businessmen. Time out of clinic is lost income.

We would start each meeting by reviewing the month’s list of Child Protective Services referrals. We, as a task force were charged to make sure proper handling of these cases was being done.

There were usually twenty or thirty, maybe up to forty referrals in our little county. They were graded by risk to the child, high to low. Each month there would be just one or two high risk situations. The vast majority of the referrals were found to be either low risk, unfounded, or even false.

It was not uncommon for there to be disputed custody, an acrimonious divorce and custody battle going on. One parent might make an allegation against the other and, through investigation CPS could determine the allegation was sometimes false, sometimes unfounded, and sometimes offered in bad faith to try to influence the court.

False claims take up time and effort. Bad faith claims are an attempt to use the power of the state for malicious purposes. It is quite fair that there should be consequences for such bad behavior. Thank you to Representative Scott for putting this forward.

I wish all people behaved with integrity. I want to believe most people do. But I live in the real world, so I know this is not always true. I take cash when I sell on Craigslist. I count the bills before the buyer leaves. And I give cash when I buy.

It is only fair that the laws we write express such expectation of integrity. And it is only fair that bad faith actions have consequences.

 

Moyle’s speakership

After 15 years as House majority leader and 24 years in the Legislature, Rep. Mike Moyle of Star has taken one of the two most powerful positions in the Idaho Legislature – speaker of the House. And there is no shortage of role models for him to follow, having worked with three former House speakers.

Bruce Newcomb was known for his humor, but could be firm and decisive. Lawerence Denney, who recently retired as Idaho’s secretary of state, had a sense of calmness and gave considerable latitude to members of the leadership. Scott Bedke, Idaho’s new lieutenant governor, had expertise on almost all parts of state government – including budgeting.

What will people be saying about Mike Moyle when it’s over?

“Ah, they’ll probably hate my guts,” he said.

Maybe they won’t go that far, because Moyle is likeable and he leaves no one guessing about what he thinks – especially when it comes to taxes. His frankness will put him on the wrong side of his colleagues from time to time, but there is no question about his ability to work around (and through) the legislative process. That’s why he stayed on as majority leader for so long.

Now, he’s holding the gavel in the House – a position that he never really wanted. There’s a lot of administrative work, and egos to manage, that go with being the speaker. And, as he well knows, the speakership signifies a countdown to the end of a legislative career. Most likely, the 58-year-old Moyle will be out of there after two or three terms.

Moyle is the longest-serving member of the Idaho House, which reminds me about how much older I am. He was a 34-year-old freshman representative when I met him in 1999, soon after I came to the Idaho Statesman as opinion page editor. He dropped by the office at least a couple of times, probably to check out that “new guy” writing editorials. Later, I was communication adviser for the Idaho House during Moyle’s early days as majority leader.

In the beginning of his career, Moyle was brash and full of confidence – with no shortage of opinions about state government. Reporters generally liked him, because he’d say what he “really” thought, rather than what made good sound bites. Taxes were too high, spending was out of control and government was too big. Everything pretty much was black and white to Moyle in those days.

Then he advanced in leadership.

“There’s a lot of gray … there’s gray all over the place, and I hate gray,” he said, laughing. “There are two sides to every story, and that was a hard part for me to learn. Gray makes it tough, but there are areas that we can agree on and we need to focus on those areas.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done in a room full of legislators who see no gray beyond the color of suits.

Something else that he learned over the years was that success in the Legislature doesn’t mean hitting home runs. “Generally, if you swing for the fences, you lose. You need to work with everybody … and that’s what I’d like to bring back to Idaho. Back in the olden days, people didn’t have offices. They had to sit at their desk on the floor and look at each other – and they could work things out. You used to have a good debate, then go to lunch and it was no big deal. Now everything is personal. People don’t necessarily say the truth. Now, it’s all about the money – and I don’t care if it’s IACI or the Freedom Foundation – it’s all about money and control. We’ve gotten away from ‘let’s do something right for Idaho.’”

Moyle’s rein as speaker got off to a rocky start. He took away one of the two House seats reserved for Democrats on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, then removed senior Democrats from private office spaces – putting junior Republicans in those offices. Recently, he received some criticism for plans to change the method for voting on budgets in the joint committee.

None of those actions went over well with Democrats, but Moyle says that in the end, “It will work out fine.”

Considering the scrutiny that comes with his new job, and controversy that is sure to come with legislation, things like office space most likely will be the least of Moyle’s worries as time goes.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com

(image/Idaho Ed News)

 

Hard times a’coming

It's easy to write critically about the angry mess facing us in Congress.  Almost too easy.

The 118th such gathering along the banks of the Potomac may pose a significant danger to our way of life.  In the House, matters are being led by a fellow with the largest political ego since Napoleon.  This bunch, on his watch, could actually do harm to our Republic.  Great harm.

Fearing no contradiction here, Kevin McCarthy has to be the most flawed, ignoble and dangerously narcissistic human to ever hold the high office of Speaker of the House.  No one in my long memory has shown such utter political depravity in searching for power than the Bakersfield Flash.  On CSPAN.  In our living rooms, no less.

And for what?

To lead a band of misfits and mental midgets so entangled in intra-party schisms and internecine warfare they couldn't vote in unison on a motion to adjourn if the chamber was on fire.

To make matters worse, here's a factoid.  Of the 221 Republican House members in the last Congress, 139 voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.  Sixty-two-percent!  It was eight of 51 in the Senate for about 16-percent.  Hardly raw material from which anything even approaching positive legislation can be expected.

Kevin McCarthy will not even come close to containing and managing his own GOP caucus in the House.  As we saw him scurry about the Chamber, begging for votes, we could only imagine what he was giving away.  Chunks of power of the Speaker's office being proffered for short-term support.  Little pieces of power lost to say nothing of his own self-respect.  Forget that!

Ask McCarthy to define "service above self" and he'll immediately say, "No.  No, you've got that backwards."  "Service above Self," by the way, is the motto several million people around the world profess as members of Rotary International.  Wouldn't expect Ol' Kevin to know or even understand that.

McCarthy is kicking good people off committees and replacing them with grossly unqualified faces.  Soon we'll know which of his Party were able to bargain the shrewdest and which he'll shunt off to House oblivion.

We'll see cohort-in-crime, Jim Jordan, digging into the political and personal lives of last year's January 6th Committee.  He's already pointing to Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff as his chief targets and, given Jordan's past at Ohio State University and in the GOP Caucus, you can expect the lowest-of-the-lowest witch hunts.

The questions that should be in the mind of any right-thinker is who will be "serving the people's interest" and what those "interests" will be.  It's quite doubtful those will be the subjects of any "orderly" Republican gathering.

Again, the "angry mess" of Congressional Republican politics is a too-easy target for anyone watching our national trauma.  We've seen the "worst-of-the-worst" play out on flat screens at home and the corner pub.  From denouncements of acceptable political discourse to attempted bare-knuckled threats to a theatrically desperate attempt to gain personal political power, it's been right in our faces.

It goes without much elaboration to say we have a Democrat in the White House and a slim, but working, Democrat majority in the Senate.  Those are good things to act as keepers of the flame of democracy and to thwart dangerous legislation.

But, what of the rest of us?  We pay for and expect a functioning three-legged stool of Constitutional government.  The White House is O.K. for now.  SCOTUS, which had been expected to be a showplace of Conservatism because of the nature of the President(s) who appointed the majority, is not always so.  The U.S. Senate - one half of the Legislative branch - seems to be "in-check."

At least for now, it's just the U.S. House of Representatives we need be wary of.  Oh, and McCarthy.  And Jordan.  And Biggs.  And Taylor-Green.  And Gaetz.  And Rogers.  And Boebert.  And George Santos.  And...players to be named later.

It's going to be a rocky couple of years.  Dangerous, at times, too.  The inmates in the House cellblock will be in charge of things.

But, I'm looking down the line at 2024.  Will we have people of character - strong character - stepping forward, trying to recapture sanity and decorum in that chamber?  Or, will good, right-thinking folks look at the wreckage and say, "No, not me."  Like Katie Porter - one of the best in the House.  She's bailing out already to run for the Senate in California.  Will others follow?

The "brain drain" is a real possibility.  Unless Democrats and moderate Republicans make a concerted effort.  A concerted effort to overcome the craziness, brazen ignorance and vile activities of a bunch of crazies being led by a true political narcissist.

There's gonna be some tough sledding between now and November, 2024.

 

MSPC big spenders

The Mountain States Policy Center (MSPC), which bills itself as a “free-market-oriented think tank,” has been promoting what it calls a “school choice” plan. The words conjure up visions of parents being offered a variety of school options from which they can pick and choose. Actually, the options are the same ones that are presently available to parents–public, private and parochial. The only change with MSPC’s plan is that all options would be paid for with dollars extracted from Idaho taxpayers. It is, in essence, a tax-and-spend proposal that would force taxpayers to finance private and religious schooling, in addition to paying for the public education system.

If implemented, the MSPC plan could well provoke a taxpayer revolt, presuming that the State finally begins financing the public school system in the manner required by the Idaho Constitution. Idaho has long been in violation of the constitutional mandate to adequately fund its public schools. It has also failed to shoulder its legal obligation to pay for new school buildings and maintenance of existing facilities, forcing local school districts to finance those heavy costs with property taxes.

Governor Little has proposed a substantial increase in public school funding and the Legislature is finally looking at ways to provide state funding for construction and maintenance of school buildings. It will be very expensive to fund both of those essential constitutional mandates. If we do, can we really afford to also start paying for private and religious schooling with taxpayer dollars? If we don’t, the State may well find itself in court, defending a school funding lawsuit.

In any event, we already have school choice in Idaho. The voters essentially adopted a school choice program when they ratified the Idaho Constitution in 1890. The Constitution commanded the Legislature “to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools” and gave it the authority to require “every child” to “attend the…public school…unless educated by other means.” So, parents had the right to educate their kids, free of charge, in public schools, but they were given the choice of sending them to private or religious schools, at their own expense. So it has remained to the present day.

School choice is merely a plan to shift some of the cost of private schooling from parents of private and parochial students to the tax-paying public. MSPC has touted the school choice program recently implemented in Arizona, describing it as giving “all families in the state a $7,000 Education Savings Account (ESA). An ESA is one education freedom tool that allows parents access to some or all of the dollars that were supposed to be allocated to their child’s education.” However, the plan has mainly been a bonanza for folks whose kids don’t go to public school. Last fall, over 8,100 families applied for the $7,000 ESAs and it is reported that 78% of them did not then have a child in Arizona’s public schools.

MSPC has tried to show that Idahoans support its choice plan, commissioning a poll showing 40% of respondents had a favorable opinion of “school choice” and 47% supported “education savings accounts.” However, veteran political reporter Betsy Russell has pointed to a larger Idaho Statesman poll showing that 63% of respondents opposed spending taxpayer money for private school education. When tax revenues are at risk, those who pay taxes are not so keen about paying for private schooling.

Reclaim Idaho, which forced the State to substantially increase education funding in last year’s special legislative session, has the best answer for improving education outcomes–fund public schools adequately and don’t waste precious tax dollars by subsidizing private and parochial schooling. Taxpayers can have their say by supporting a petition launched by the group that opposes big-spending ESA-style schemes.

 

Constitution changes by the dozen

Lawmakers face 38 proposed changes to the state constitution this session.

Few will pass. Massive and drastic change is something to be wary of when it comes to altering the state’ core governing document, though the voters do approve changes from time to time.

But the proposals do carry messages, including of Republican frustrations in Oregon.

Constitutional amendments are introduced as joint resolutions (a form also used to create interim committees and take some other actions) which, unlike bills, require no action by the governor for passage.

There are two bipartisan proposals. Senate Joint Resolution 10 would shift control of the legislative and congressional redistricting process from the Legislature to a new Citizens Redistricting Commission, along the lines of those in the states bordering Oregon. Early in the decade-long cycle before the next remapping effort would be the optimal time for passage. And the sponsors, Sens. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook; Jeff Golden, D-Ashland; Bill Hansell, R-Athena; and Reps. John Lively, D-Springfield; and Greg Smith, R-Heppner; are split between the parties.

Two alternative Republican proposals, SJR 9 from Republican Sen.  Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, and SJR 25 from Sen.  Fred Girod of Stayton, have a similar goal.

Another bipartisan proposal, House Joint Resolution 8, lists seven Republican sponsors and one Democrat (Sen. Lew Frederick of Portland), and is aimed at requiring citizenship for voting.

Democrats contributed three amendment proposals. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan asked to allow same-day voter registration (HJR 4). Sen. Chris Gorsek of Troutdale asked for expanded uses for motor vehicle tax revenues (SJR 2). Rep. David Gomberg of Otis proposed a simple word change (HJR 14), replacing “declaration of emergency” in referring to bills intended to be effective quickly, replacing that with “early implementation date.” Only Fagan’s measure seems likely to generate much discussion.

All the other ideas were  proposed by Republican legislators, and one of their biggest concerns is the Legislature itself. Some Republicans have not made peace with the relatively recent addition of regular, short legislative sessions in even-numbered years. Sens. Art Robinson of Cave Junction (SJR 4) and Fred Girod of Stayton (SJR 24) proposed amendments to eliminate them.

Other legislation-limiting proposals were suggested. Two (SJR 16 and SJR 20) would require two-thirds vote for passage of certain bills in even-numbered sessions.

Rep. Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls, urged in HJR 6 that the supermajority or three-fifths requirement on revenue-raising bills cover more subjects, and Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, proposed SJR 1,  which would raise the 60% supermajority to two-thirds. Measures deemed an emergency would need a two-thirds vote under an amendment (HJR 11) from Reps. Kevin Mannix, R-Salem, and Lily Morgan, R-Grants Pass, and another (SJR 5) from Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer.

The executive branch, under Democratic control yet again, has come in for attention in ways large and small. Proposals would allow the Legislature to overturn administrative rules by resolution (SJR 18), skirting a gubernatorial veto, or go further in requiring legislative approval before any rule could take effect (SJR 21).

A budgeting proposal from Girod (SJR 22) would “limit increase in state governmental appropriations for general governmental purposes in biennium to least of percentage increase in projected personal income, percentage increase in projected population growth plus inflation or percentage increase in projected gross domestic product of Oregon for biennium.”

Some are more specific, requiring legislative approval for some specific spending decisions (SJR 15), road tolling (SJR 19) or even Senate signoff on gubernatorial pardons (HJR 10 and SJR 11).

The state’s pandemic experience led to a proposed amendment “to place durational and other limitations on declarations of emergency by governor” (SJR 14 and HJR 9), the latter drawing 10 Republican legislative sponsors, the most of any proposed amendment. Yet another is more specific (HJR 7), prohibiting Oregon’s executive branch from “requiring medical procedure or vaccine or type of vaccine to be administered to any individual or class of individuals, unless legislative assembly has enacted law that expressly identifies medical procedure, vaccine or type of vaccine and individuals or classes of individuals for which medical procedure or vaccine administration is required.”

Oregon is the only state that doesn’t provide for impeachment of elected officials, and Senate Republican leader Tim Knopp of Bend offered a corrective (SJR 13) to provide that “officials could have been impeached for malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty or other high crimes or misdemeanors.”

Substance as well as process has turned up as some of the more intriguing ideas. Some are simply constitutional versions of normal Republican legislative ideas, such as carrying concealed firearms (SJR 3 by Robinson), enacting a Right to Work labor law (HJR 15), legal provisions concerning aggravated murder (HJR 3), and property tax help for owners who live in their residences (SJR 6, SJR 17, and SJR 8, the latter aimed at seniors).

Another would establish a right to hunt and fish (HJR 5), but does allow for legal restrictions, which raises the question of what its effect would actually be. Even more explanation might be useful for SJR 7 from Sen. Cedric Hayden of Roseburg, who proposed a “constitutional right to subsist,” which would include a “right to save and exchange seeds and grow, raise, harvest and consume food of one’s own choosing.” Depending on what this might mean on a concrete level, it might get either a lot of support at the Legislature, or very little.

Good thing the Legislature has about half a year to work: Lots of paperwork has piled up already.

This article first appeared in the Oregon Capitol Chronicle.

 

Uses and abuses

The distinguished Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan – she’s most famous for a marvelous book Paris 1919 that deals with the aftermath of World War I – has written that “history is something we all do … we want to make sense of our own lives … so we tell ourselves stories, not always true ones, and we ask questions about ourselves.”

MacMillan wrote that in 2007 in a smart little book entitled Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History.”It might as well be the handbook for our times.

Many Americans, including many on the far right of American conservatism are embracing something like “the end of history.” The very teaching of history with all its manifest contradictions and confusion is under a broad and sustained assault from the far right, which, in some cases seeks to eliminate rather than elevate historical understanding. The evidence is plain and troubling: a systematic deemphasis of teaching history at every level, blatant misrepresentations of historical events and a willful embrace of historically fraudulent characters in our national life (read George Santos).

One of the most Orwellian examples, not surprisingly, involves the crackpots now running the U.S. House of Representatives. As Kevin McCarthy sacrificed what little was left of his soul in order to become speaker of the House earlier this month he made a historically bad deal with many of the same people who helped create the narrative of a stolen election and empower the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capital. Among his many bad bargains, McCarthy agreeing to create a Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. The radicals immediately christened this partisan witch hunt a “new Church Committee.”

What unmitigated rubbish.

The original Church Committee, chaired by Idaho senator Frank Church, a profoundly decent, honorable and intelligent public servant, conducted one of the most important and remarkable investigations in congressional history, uncovering and documenting various abuses by the country’s intelligence agencies. The probe began after the investigative reporting of a New York Times reporter, Seymour Hersh, who revealed a CIA domestic spying program, a clear violations of the agency’s charter.

The Church investigation resulted in serious legislation and a permanent commitment to congressional oversight of the CIA. We wouldn’t know a tenth of what we know today about what the intelligence community does in our name had not Church been serious, meticulous and committed to democracy.

That’s the history, that’s the fair and balanced interpretation of what Church’s committee did. To warp that history by equating the seditious Jim Jordan, the hyper partisan, Trump protecting show pony congressman from Ohio, with Frank Church is analogous to comparing a four year old’s finger painting to a Monet masterpiece, with apologies to four year old’s everywhere. Or as Loch Johnson, who worked for Church on that investigation in the late 1970s told the Washington Post, comparing Jordan’s partisan act of performance with one of the most significant congressional investigations in history “is really an absurd comparison.”

Jordan’s real aim, aided and abetted by McCarthy, is to, as Greg Sargent wrote, “harass and undermine criminal investigations of Trump and even prosecutions of rioters” who attacked the Capitol looking to harm Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi.

Where this “new Church Committee” application of historical analogy really goes off the rails is to remember that for years conservatives smeared Church and his investigation for allegedly doing vast damage to the CIA. But the true damage done was to the country and its ideals when administrations of both parties tolerated or encouraged assassination plots against foreign leaders, domestic surveillance of political activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and even opening the mail of Church and fellow committee member Howard Baker, the Republican senator from Tennessee who served on Church’s committee.

The Idaho senator, in other words, was a conservative pariah before he became a role model, historically appropriated by a collection of clowns and fakers whose intent is not to legislate, but to lacerate political opponents.

The radical right’s efforts to downplay the Capitol insurrection by discrediting the history of that awful, unprecedented day is, of course, about protecting Trump and people like Jordan, but it’s also propaganda and about power. They want you to forget or at least be confused about what happened. I mean, who you gonna believe, Jim Jordan or you’re lyin’ eyes?

The radical right’s mindless fixation on “woke” history, Critical Race Theory and books that “offend” delicate snowflakes is also part of the “end of history.” As anti-Semitism spikes they resist education about the Holocaust. As conservative voter suppression efforts in places like Milwaukee, a city with a large Black population, drive down minority participation in elections they demand an end to history that informs about the country’s original sin of slavery, the bitter historical legacy of America that haunts our country.

History, as one scholar put it, “is not facts, but interpretation of the record of the past,” and the interpretation must be honest. It must be fair. And it must not be abused.

Do yourself a favor. Read some good history by Margaret MacMillan, by World War II historians Max Hastings or Richard Evans or Rick Atkinson. Read political biographies of the Roosevelts, Churchill, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman and Reagan. Read about the Great Depression. Read about Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Subscribe to the widely available work of scrupulous historians like Heather Cox Richardson, the Boston College scholar whose voluminous daily output puts people like Jordan and Trump in context.

Be skeptical. Consider the sources. Read separate accounts of the same events and weigh the evidence. But don’t, for goodness sakes, act like none of it matters unless it confirms comfortably with your own bias.

Historian MacMillan quotes the journalist and historian David Halberstam from the last piece he wrote before his untimely death. “It is a story from the past that we must read again and again, that the most dangerous time for any nation may be that moment in history when things are going unusually well, because it’s leaders become carried away with hubris and a sense of entitlement cloaked as rectitude.”

“The past can be used for almost anything you want to do in the present,” MacMillan has written, but that isn’t history. It’s propaganda meant to control and conform.

A great commentator on the present state of America, Jon Stewart, said it well. “We cannot mistake absurdity for lack of danger because it takes people with no shame to do shameful things.”

Now, that is a lesson from history.

Just the text, ma’am

As I sat down to write this, a total of 12 House bills and nine Senate bills have been introduced in the Idaho legislature.

As is normal, some of them are housecleaning measures designed to clear up details, errors or obsolete language in state law.

What follows is the statements of purpose, and in a couple cases, clarifying quotes from the bill text, of all of the other pieces of legislation - everything really substantive - introduced so far in 2023. Judge for yourself what they say about the state of Idaho.

House Bill 1 “Ensuring that post-election audits of paper ballots are conducted using a hand count of those paper ballots.” (Rep. Julianne Young)

HB 2 “The new section adds 18-8709 to provide for withholding of sales and use tax revenues from local government entities that issue proclamations, or take similar actions, to defy state law and refuse to investigate or enforce Idaho criminal abortion statutes. Said funds may be released to an offending local government if compliance occurs within a certain time. Should the local government entity not comply, said funds shall be forfeited and deposited in the state general fund.” (Rep. Bruce Skaug)

Senate Bill 1002 ("criminal abortion") This legislation amends Idaho's criminal abortion law, section 18-622, to change the definition of abortion. The key effect is to put the focus on whether a living human child is being killed, and this legislation offers clarity on medical intervention in the case of ectopic pregnancy and other medical situations. (Senators Scott Herndon, Daniel Foreman)

SB 1003 “This legislation amends section 67-2802A regarding segregation requirements for the public works contracts of Idaho's political subdivisions.” (Herndon)

Since that’s unclear, here’s the relevant change in the bill, adding this to state law: "Unless specifically required pursuant to applicable federal law or regulation, a bidder, offeror, contractor, or subcontractor shall not be required to provide access to a multiple-occupancy restroom, a multiple-occupancy shower facility, or a multiple-occupancy changing room on any basis other than biological sex. For purposes of this subsection, ‘biological sex’ means the physical condition of being male or female as stated on a person's birth certificate. A bidder, offeror, contractor, or subcontractor shall have standing to challenge a violation of the provisions of this subsection, and such party shall be awarded costs and attorney's fees in the event that such challenge prevails."

SB1004 “The purpose of this legislation is to enhance Idaho's Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws. This legislation protects an individual if they merely threaten the use of force in a lawful self-defense situation, and it offers a person who uses lawful force a legal opportunity in the courts to claim self-defense immunity. The legislation also provides opportunities for the recovery of costs in certain prosecutions.” (Herndon)

SB 1005 “This legislation requires licensed daycare facilities to notify parents or guardians of their right to vaccine exemptions anytime the licensed daycare facilities communicate with parents regarding vaccination requirements.” (Herndon)

SB 1006 “... to provide for the enforcement of federal immigration law, and provides procedures for the Idaho Attorney General to seek equitable relief from a government entity found in violation of Title 19, Idaho Code, to include the denial of sales tax distribution funds.” (Foreman)

SB 1007 “This legislation repeals Section 46-802, Idaho Code, that prohibits members of organizations other than the National Guard, unorganized militia, or select other groups from associating and parading in public with firearms. This legislation supports the Second Amendment Rights afforded to Idahoans under the U.S. Constitution.” (Foreman)

SB 1008 “This legislation amends Chapter 33, Title 18, Idaho Code, to prohibit the administrations of public colleges and universities from placing limitations on the possession, carrying, or transporting of concealed weapons or ammunition on campus grounds.” (Foreman)

SB 1009 This section establishes health rights under the law for medical patients, their family members, and legal guardians. (Foreman)

The measure says Idaho governments cannot “Order Idaho residents in general to remain in their homes, close their businesses, social distance, or wear masks or other facial coverings because of an emergency, extreme emergency, or medical emergency,  whether declared or undeclared; or Advertise via any medium, electronic or otherwise, for the recommended public use of any vaccine, drug, or medication classified as experimental by competent medical authority (and related similar language) …. Visitation by a patient's family members or legal guardians shall be allowed unless the patient refuses visitation or visitation is expressly denied by the attending physician for sound medical reasons in the best interest of the patient. General denial of visitation by family members or legal guardians shall not be instituted as a matter of administrative policy.”

Comment on most of this would be superfluous. Or should be.

(image: Legislation by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free)

 

Freedom

Our founders thought some freedoms should be in our Constitution. They couldn’t agree on all of them, so they became the first ten amendments. amendments. The Bill of Rights was passed after the Constitution was ratified. These first ten amendments had the effect of limiting how government could impose itself on a citizen.

The Idaho legislature has worked hard for many years to define freedoms for “the unborn”, so now we have a real mess of conflicting laws saying abortion is illegal. I doubt they will get to work cleaning up any of these conflicts this session, but I wonder, given the recent events in my town, whether any legislator would consider protecting us against unwarranted searches.

By the way, if you didn’t know, I live in Moscow, Idaho. Yeah, we’ve been in the news a bit lately.

The Fourth Amendment protects us from “unreasonable search” and specifies that warrants for searches shall specify probable cause. The courts describe the details, and they are being redefined as the world changes.

No founder knew about DNA. But we have a case in our town that just might pivot on such evidence.

Some states have decided to weigh in on their interpretation of this freedom. Idaho should too. Clarity for the investigating agencies helps convictions stick when the rules are followed. Otherwise, convictions can become lake house payments for appellant lawyers.

Defining this freedom for modern times would take some careful consideration and study. DNA databases are often proprietary. And these private companies can and do develop their own rules for how their information can be used. But they can also be bought and sold. And with these transactions, their assets, their DNA databases, are transferred.

Think about it. You sign on to get some genealogical information. Maybe you read the long legal document before you give them your credit card info. You don’t plan on committing any major crimes soon, so you figure it’s just for the lawyers to argue about.

But your information can also tell an investigator about your relatives. The DNA they got from a crime scene might suggest some relation of yours. That relative didn’t give permission. You may not know your crazy uncle really was crazy, maybe homicidal. But you just fingered him. Maybe you’re alright with that use of that information. Uncle Charlie might not be. And if he has good lawyers we’re now on shifting sands.

I would challenge the Idaho legislature to consider this work. Indeed, given their embrace of freedom, I would hope the Idaho Freedom Foundation would get on board. Maybe they have, I don’t know.

I have no idea if any legislators are considering this. Given their track records, I bet they are just waiting for some “model legislation” from ALEC. That’s too bad. I believe we here in Idaho have some thinking and some work to do.

We want crimes solved. We want to feel safe in our communities. Given the crowds down at the pool hall last week, I’d say the students have returned here to our college town from their Christmas break and feel pretty safe. But there is a long road ahead for trial and conviction. Maybe just seeing a suspect in orange coveralls makes people feel safe.

Defining the legal limits of DNA database searches will help law enforcement know how to search. Further, it should protect us from unwarranted searches by our government. Balancing this is the work our legislators should be doing. I want our system of justice to serve us all.

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