Feb 29 2008

The Other Side of the Tracks

Published by at 6:03 pm under Idaho

The ipoff here is is quiet – the way this bill, a bill substantive and with real practical effect on a subject of undenied importance, just quietly slid through the process. That it seems to have generated no news stories was of course beyond the realm of legislators, but the quiet and apparent lack of debate – so far as we can tell, the relevant committee minutes from weeks ago still not having been posted – constitute the tell.

The bill passed the House 61-4 and is poised (as of records on line today) for a final vote on the Senate floor.

The subject here is House Bill 465, sponsored by Representative Lynn Luker, R-Meridian, which expands local government planning and zoning authority. In the Idaho Legislature? Without hoo-rah about ever-encroaching socialism? Well, the deal in this case is that local governments essentially have been barred, under state law, from discriminating against setting up group homes for the handicapped, which in extended definition includes those suffering from addictions. A federal law which covers related territory doesn’t include that extended definition, so this bill is structured as a sort of “bring it in line with” type measure.

But that’s not why the easy acceptance, of course. Few people really want group homes for addicts set up in their neighborhoods, and this would be a nice, quiet way to keep that from happening. It’s a sweep-em-under the rug measure, the only catch being that addicts, including those released from behind bars, have to go somewhere. So the bill is almost designed to set up a circular problem – a snake that eats its tail.

The immediate impetus for the bill likely was the series of group homes which has been organized in the Boise area by Dennis Mansfield. (We toured some of his New Hope facilities last month.) The norm in this sort of legislation is that you bring together affected parties and work through a compromise position. But on his blog, here’s what Mansfield is saying has happened:

Neither I nor anyone in this recovery-based industry nor
( I believe) the Department of Corrections ever EVEN knew the bill was being drafted, ever read the RS, ever were invited to any discussion on anything about it….and only came to the Senate Committee to give comment on the bill after I vigorously requested from Rep. Luker that the bill presentation be delayed so he could hear our concerns, but was denied the chance.

Lynn, who’s been a friend of mine in the past, expressed to me that this was a “mild’ bill. Read it for yourself. The new section of the bill reads as follows:

(d) The limitations provided for in subsections (b) and (c) of this sec-tion shall not apply to tenancy or planned tenancy in a group residence, as defined in section 67-6531, Idaho Code, by persons who are under the supervision of the state board of correction pursuant to section 20-219, Idaho Code, or who are required to register pursuant to chapter 83 or 84, title 18, Idaho Code, or whose tenancy would otherwise constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or whose tenancy would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others.

What this appears to mean is that any person who is an addict AND on proba-
tion or parole SHALL NOT be allowed the equal protection of the Americans
with Disabilities Act or the Fair Housing Act.

If anyone has an alternative take on how the measure was presented an information about it distributed, let us know and we’ll post it. Assuming Mansfield is correct, what’s happened is a breach of legislative norms.

And an attempt not to try solving a problem, but to sweep it away – dump it in the landfill. Somehow. Somewhere . . .

Mansfield quoted one of his clients this way: “As I sat and listened to Representative Lynn Luker’s remarks about House Bill 465, I couldn’t help but feel the overwhelming “division” between “us” and “them”. From my perspective, he painted the perfect picture of “us” as the exclusion from “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” We were at one time included, but because we made mistakes in our lives, we have been deemed unworthy of the above aspects of the unalienable rights. It is as if to say that yes, they acknowledge that we are human beings, but just a lower level of human beings than they.”

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