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Posts published in “Jones”

More to remember on Memorial Day

Beginning with the Revolutionary War, almost 1.4 million Americans have died in our nation’s wars, including about 667,000 killed in combat. We remember, honor and mourn those gallant souls every year on Memorial Day–May 29 this year. Those Americans who have served in or near war zones carry their memories throughout the year. It should not be just a once-a-year observance for everyone else.

The country’s more recent conflicts, starting with Vietnam, have seen a blurring of the battle lines, where American service personnel have teamed up with local forces to fight a common enemy. For those who have worked hand-in-hand with local forces–South Vietnamese, Iraqis or Afghans–it is hard to forget those local troops who died in the common cause. Although our Memorial Day is for commemoration of our war dead, I think it would also be appropriate to honor those foreign partners on this special day.

For most of my tour in Vietnam, I lived and worked beside South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVNs), mostly Roman Catholics or members of the Cao Dai Church. As human beings, they had the same hopes and aspirations as most Americans. I trusted them with my life and I believe most of them felt the same. I can’t think of America’s fallen without thinking of them. Almost 300,000 ARVNs died in the war and we left many more of them to a horrible fate. They deserve remembrance and respect. I know that many Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan feel the same about their foreign partners. When you form trusting bonds in wartime, it is hard to break them.

Although our bonds with the people of Ukraine are at a different level, where we are mostly non-combat partners providing moral support and weaponry from the sidelines, I have that same feeling about those valiant humans. The Ukrainians are fighting and dying in a war that serves the vital national interests of the United States and NATO, as well as our allies on the other side of the planet. Ukraine is the proverbial point of the spear that protects freedom and democracy from the despotic regimes in Russia, China and Iran.

If we allow Russia to prevail, it will give great encouragement to the autocrats, quite possibly leading to a spread of hostilities to Taiwan and any number of Asian, African and South American nations currently in the sights of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Although I rarely find issues upon which I totally agree with Senator Jim Risch, Ukraine is one such issue–an exceedingly important one. The Senator realizes that it is essential to America’s strategic interests that Ukraine prevail in Putin’s genocidal war. I agree with his view that the U.S. needs to increase and expedite the supply of war materiel to Ukraine. Senator Risch has observed that “the Ukrainians are fighting today for what our founding fathers fought for in 1776.”

Incidentally, that observation was made when the Senator recently recalled his meeting in Ukraine with a former Green Beret from Boise, Nick Maimer, who had been volunteering to train Ukrainian civilians in how to defend their country. Maimer was reported to have been killed by Russian artillery fire earlier this month. God rest his soul. He joins thousands of Ukrainians who have died in the fight.

Ukraine has reportedly suffered 124,500-131,000 total casualties, including 15,500-17,500 killed in action and 109,000-113,500 wounded. Because their fight is largely our fight, it would be most appropriate to remember and mourn them, along with our war dead and our foreign partners who died in supporting American troops. On Memorial Day, I’ll be remembering my 58,220 brothers and sisters who died serving their country in Vietnam. I’ll also be thinking of Lieutenants Dinh and Tanh, Captain Thanh and interpreter Tom, who were with us all the way until we abandoned them to their ugly fate in 1975.



Traditional values

Former U.S. Senator Len Jordan served Idaho with distinction from 1962 through 1972. He was a conservative Republican who brought courage and individualism to the Senate. He differed with Idaho’s other Senator, Frank Church, on a number of issues, but they worked together in harmony on issues affecting Idaho. Both were dedicated to safeguarding democracy They had a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

I worked for Jordan the summers of 1965 and 1966 and then served as his legislative assistant for his last three years in office. He was in the mainstream of a Republican Party that had members ranging from conservative to liberal. His Republican values were fashioned after those of the party founder, Abraham Lincoln.

Like Lincoln, Jordan stood up for the equality and dignity of all Americans. He supported the Civil Right Act of 1964 to require equal rights in employment, education and public accommodations. He supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. We now see so-called Republicans in red states trying to chip away at these protections.

Senator Jordan was a leader, not a follower. When President Nixon nominated Clement Haynsworth and  Harrold Carswell to the U.S. Supreme Court, Jordan voted against both because of their poor civil rights records. Most current GOP Senators would vote for any living and breathing human nominated by their party’s president.

Jordan voted for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1972, which removed immigration barriers to a wide range of people across the world. Until recent years, the GOP recognized that America grew great and powerful by welcoming immigrants.

Recognizing that guns were becoming a danger in many areas of the country, Jordan supported the Gun Control Act of 1968 and voted in 1972 to ban cheap, dangerous handguns called “Saturday Night Specials.” He told me we did not need gun controls in Idaho but that the legislation was necessary in other parts of the country.

Jordan was not a fan of excessive taxation. He told me Congress needed to decide what services the government should provide and then provide the money to pay for them. He believed in a balanced budget and that voting for necessary tax increases was an essential part of achieving balance. Jordan pointed out that America became the most prosperous nation on the planet after World War Two, despite a graduated income tax placing hefty tax rates on the rich. We all know about GOP pledges nowadays to never vote for a tax increase for any purpose.

That brings us to the current fight over increasing the debt limit. Presidents of both parties have contributed about equally to our national debt. Trump added over $8 trillion to the national debt during his four years. Republicans always accommodate their presidents by gladly increasing the debt limit to allow additional borrowing to cover deficits. When Democratic presidents request an increase in the limit, the GOP has threatened to let the country default on its debt.

I first learned of the debt limit when President Nixon asked Congress to increase the Treasury’s borrowing authority from $377 billion to $395 billion in June of 1970. When I told Jordan we were getting lots of mail from home opposing the increase, he said in no uncertain terms that he would vote for it. He said the country had no alternative–the debt had already been incurred and we had to pay the bills. The only way to do that was to borrow the money by issuing government securities. Jordan said those who opposed increasing the debt limit were just posturing and should know better.

Jordan would be horrified to see what passes as the official Idaho Republican Party today. The extremists have commandeered the party, but there are still many reasonable Republicans who hope to remake the party to reflect Jordan’s traditional values. Getting rid of the closed GOP primary would accomplish that.


Who’s afraid of ranked choice?

Idahoans will have the opportunity in November of 2024 to open up our elections so that every eligible voter can participate in choosing their public officials. There will be an “Open Primaries” initiative on the ballot to establish a primary election where all candidates run on a single ticket, allowing every voter to select from the entire field. The four top vote-getters will be placed on the general election ballot, where all voters can vote for the candidates in their order of preference.

A candidate who receives an outright majority of the vote in the initial vote count wins the office. If there is no majority winner, the candidate receiving the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and the votes of those who made that candidate their first choice then go to their second-choice candidate in a second count. If a candidate gets a majority in the second count, they win. If not, the process repeats until a candidate gets a majority. The beauty of this system is that every voter has a better chance of influencing the election–if their first choice does not win, their second choice might. The system is often called ranked choice voting.

This is similar to the system in Alaska, which gained wide approval from voters in the 2022 election. Voters surveyed said it was easy to use. It gave them more choices in the primary and more influence in selecting leaders. It has reportedly had a moderating effect on Alaskan politics–something that Idaho desperately needs.

The initiative is supported by a coalition of groups and individuals, including former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Bruce Newcomb and long-time Idaho Falls news anchor Karole Honas, an independent. Newcomb said the system “will give us better elections and better leadership.” Honas says “opening up the primary will force candidates to consider the perspectives of a broader group of voters in order to win.” The Alaska experience shows that both of them are absolutely correct.

The support coalition includes a national veteran’s group, Veterans for Political Innovation (VPI), and its Idaho affiliate, of which I am a member. The group supports open primaries across the country, based on the belief that veterans put themselves at risk to make participation in government open to all Americans, regardless of party.

VPI co-founder Todd Connor welcomed the Idaho initiative, saying, "Idaho has an exciting opportunity, and arguably a moral obligation, to open up their election systems to allow more people to vote and have a voice, have more options at the ballot box, and do something different to combat the toxic polarization that Americans are tired of and that is destroying our country in real time.  Military veterans, 50% of whom identify as independent, expect better politics and Idaho has an opportunity to get this right.  We're honored to support this effort."

Reclaim Idaho, which ran two previous initiatives with broad voter support–Medicaid expansion, which passed with 60%, and an education measure that forced the Legislature to increase public education spending by well over $300 million–will shoulder the burden of getting the voter initiative on the ballot.

The disruptive wing of the GOP, which brought us Dorothy Moon, Janice McGeachin and Priscilla Giddings, will fight the initiative tooth and nail. They understand it will loosen their stranglehold on the Republican Party and allow more reasonable and pragmatic people to defeat the troublemaking extremists.

In a recent article appropriately titled, “Why conservatives should not fear ranked choice voting,” the reliably conservative Cato Institute has debunked the claims of Moon and other extremists that the system would harm conservative candidates.  The article concludes that ranked choice voting “tends to help the sorts of candidates who appeal to many kinds of voters, not just a narrow, super‐committed base.” That is exactly the objective of the “Open Primaries” initiative. Conservative need not fear the initiative, but disruptive extremists probably should.


Limony Snicket prize

A bright ray of love and compassion has just broken through the ugly cloud of misinformation about transgender kids that was created in the just-concluded legislative session. At a time when extremist legislators, particularly from the northern climes of the state, seemed hell-bent on punishing these kids, a courageous panhandle librarian was selected for a national award for supporting LGBTQ teens, despite backlash from some in her community.

Denise Neujahr, a librarian at the Community Library Network based in Post Falls and Hayden, will receive the American Library Association’s “Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity” in June. The award is for the Rainbow Squad Program she initiated in 2019 to bring LGBTQ kids and their allies together on a monthly basis to interact in a non-threatening atmosphere. Neujahr said the program lets the kids “be themselves without any judgment or bullying, which they experience daily at school, church or home.”

Neujahr’s work is important because of the hysteria raised about transgender youth by some legislative troublemakers this year. Transgender-bashing has become the foremost national culture war issue this year, designed primarily to stoke fear and score political points. In spite of the fact that nobody has been able to point to evidence of a transgender problem in Idaho, legislative miscreants targeted this bullied minority, causing untold grief and dread for them and their families. And it is not as if these kids did not already have more than enough derision, severe depression and suicidal ideation to deal with before the legislators piled on.

Legislators who have claimed to be dead set against the government meddling in family medical decisions, could not wait to prohibit families with trans kids from getting the gender affirming medical care prescribed by their doctors. In fact, the Legislature provided in House Bill 71 (HB 71) that those doctors could spend up to 10 years in prison for providing that care. That will certainly give more doctors a good reason to move out of state, making it more difficult for even the extremists to find a doctor.

Dorothy Moon, the head of the extremist branch of the Idaho GOP, appears to believe that people choose to be in the LGBTQ community, speaking of the “LGBTQ+ ideology.” It is not a choice and it is not an ideology. Rather, according to medical experts, it is biology with an element of genetics. As one expert put it, “The idea that a person’s sex is determined by their anatomy at birth is not true, and we’ve known that it’s not true for decades.” Gender identity “comes from the brain, not the body.”

Moon claims that doctors must be prevented from providing gender affirming care because it is harmful to children. Mainstream doctors in Idaho and across the country say that is flat wrong and attest that gender affirming treatment is essential to the well-being of transgender kids. Indeed, one recent study showed 60% less depression and 73% less suicidality in kids who received such care.

HB 71 will be challenged in court and likely be declared unconstitutional. The state will be stuck with paying substantial attorney fees for both sides. The proponents of the legislation probably knew this would be the result but decided that point scoring with their base was more important, even if it caused immense fear and heartache for transgender kids and their families.

In this combative atmosphere, where facts have played little part in the war against transgender kids, it is encouraging to see people like Denise Neujahr standing up for an oppressed minority group and extending a hand of compassion and inclusion. Despite the ugliness emanating from the Legislature, decency is still alive and well in the Gem State.


Back to live and let live

Idaho has never been perfect but over the long haul Idahoans have generally been practical in their politics and tolerant in their dealings with one another. Idaho Territory was given life by Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. Statehood followed in 1890. Idaho residents were concerned with real problems–getting the Gem State up and running, bringing water to the arid soil, establishing businesses to serve the natural resource industries and setting up a government that would operate with a light, pragmatic hand to do what individuals could not accomplish on their own.

I have followed Idaho politics since 1966, when I cut my teeth in the re-election campaign of former Republican Senator Len Jordan. With glitches here and there along the way, we have done a pretty good job of working together to advance our common interests. Things occasionally got contentious, but throughout the 20th century there was a live-and-let-live attitude amongst Idahoans, both in the personal and political spheres. That has largely disappeared in this new century.

In recent times Idahoans have been turned against one another by disruptive out-of-state actors. I attribute it to two main factors–the influence of extreme-right media outlets, primarily Fox News, and the closure of the Republican primary in 2012. Fox has fueled fierce culture wars over imaginary issues that are designed to fill its corporate bank accounts. Fox talking heads have spewed out a wide range of misinformation on fake issues to increase its viewership by sowing fear and outrage.

For just one instance, Fox host Tucker Carlson practically invented critical race theory as a nationwide issue in September 2020. With the help of extremist groups like Idaho’s Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), the hysteria spread to Idaho in 2021, resulting in the passage of a confusing law that will eventually be found unconstitutional. There have been so many similar issues that Carlson and other Fox troublemakers have invented to inflame viewer anger that it is hard to keep up.

Perhaps no issue has grabbed more public attention than the Fox lies regarding the 2020 election–that Donald Trump actually won the election. Despite failing to produce any evidence to back up the false claim, Carlson and others have flogged the claim on a continual basis for the last two years. That is, until Fox had to answer for its election lies by handing over 787.5 million dollars to a voting machine company for those falsehoods. That, plus the fact that Fox faces an additional gigantic liability to another voting machine company for those lies, might explain why Fox just canned Carlson.

The other factor that has influenced the toxic nature of Idaho politics is the closing of the GOP primary election in 2012. It was intended to result in a much more conservative Republican Legislature and it has succeeded beyond belief. Just a small minority of Idaho voters have a say in who serves in the Legislature in most districts of this one-party state. Since the extremists have captured the party machinery in most counties, an even smaller group of voters is able to elect the most extreme candidates in most districts.

Extreme right groups like IFF and the Idaho Family Policy Center, which engineered the recently enacted transgender medical care prohibition, took their lead from Fox to interfere with the family medical decisions of this bullied population. It would never have been possible without the extremist-controlled Legislature brought into being by a primary system that allows a minority of Idaho voters to control a majority of the seats in the state’s law-making body.

I’m dreaming of a day when Idaho can return to its roots as a tolerant place where people are willing to live and let live. An Idaho where a minority is no longer able to capture the governmental machinery and employ it against the majority of Republican, independent and Democratic voters. It will all start with eliminating the closed GOP primary. That time may be closer than many suspect.


A risk of discipline

Idaho’s new Attorney General, Raul Labrador, pledged during the election campaign that he was going to represent the people, not the bureaucracy. Voters seemed to assume this was just campaign rhetoric and that he would settle down after the election to do the work required of the Attorney General–to faithfully advise and represent the state government. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Labrador has shown a decided preference for representing his friends and supporters, regardless of the interests of the state. He has been helping “his people,” rather than “the people.”

The only reason Idaho has an AG is to serve the people as the lawyer for their government, which is sometimes called the bureaucracy. Under our system of representative government, the “people” means the government of Idaho and its officers and agencies. When Idaho’s Constitution was being fashioned in 1889, one delegate said that the Attorney General “has to be the adviser of all state officers.”

Section 67-1401 of the Idaho Code sets out the duties the AG swears, upon oath, to carry out for the state. Chief among them is “to perform all legal services for the state” and its officials and agencies. All of them are his clients and he is obligated under the Idaho State Bar’s ethical rules–the Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct (IRCP)--to act in their best legal interests. The rules require all lawyers, including the AG, to act with undivided loyalty toward their clients and to take no action adverse to client interests without first obtaining written client consent. Any lawyer violating these duties, including the AG, can expect disciplinary action by the Bar, up to and including disbarment.

One of Labrador’s first acts was to dismiss a trespassing charge against one of his prominent supporters. He was supposed to be the people’s prosecutor in that case but he acted in favor of his supporter who was charged with violating the people’s law.

More recently, Labrador has taken action against some of his own clients in apparent violation of his oath and Bar ethical rules. Labrador served long lists of demands for records upon the Director of the Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) and two other employees, without any prior notice or legal justification. The action appeared to have been instigated by the Idaho Freedom Foundation and egged on by a publication called the Idaho Tribune. That publication headlined a March 22 article, “ KINDERGATE: Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Caught Misappropriating $30M Tax Dollars — Insiders Say Scandal May Lead Back To Governor’s Office,” in an apparent attempt to besmirch the Governor. One might wonder if this is a prelude to another Labrador shot at the Governor’s office.

The IDHW director filed an action in district Court to nip Labrador’s aggressive action in the bud—a strange thing to be forced to do because of the misconduct of his own official lawyer. The Director then revealed that Labrador had been hounding him for records about a child protection case involving another Labrador pal, Diego Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez, a sidekick of Ammon Bundy, is the grandfather of the child, whose parents have indicated an intent to sue the state for damages. The Director rightly refused to hand over the records because of Labrador’s clear-cut conflict of interest.

It is unknown why Labrador would repeatedly risk disciplinary action for taking the side of his friends and supporters over the interests of his clients, but it is extremely troubling. There may be other concerning situations that have not yet come to public attention. It is hoped that at some point Labrador will acquaint himself with the laws and rules that govern his new position and decide to scrupulously observe them.


An independent judiciary

No doubt about it. A large swath of the legislature is still honked off about the Idaho Supreme Court’s 2021 decision overturning a raw legislative power grab.

In reaction to voter approval of Reclaim Idaho’s initiative to expand Medicaid coverage, indignant legislators passed a law designed to make it virtually impossible for the people to ever again exercise their constitutional right to legislate. The Supreme Court issued a well-reasoned opinion, affirming the constitutional right of Idahoans to make laws they want when the Legislature stubbornly refuses to act. Legislators have retaliated by denying cost-of-living pay raises for our judges.

Last year, the Legislature provided  7% cost-of-living pay increases to most state employees, including court staff members, but failed to provide any increase for Idaho judges. Legislators did approve a bill that made substantial changes to the selection process for district and appellate court judges, tying it to a judicial pay increase for judges. The bill would have increased high court salaries by only 2%. The Governor vetoed the bill because of obnoxious changes to the judge selection process. Even though legislators had time to pass a separate pay raise for judges, they refused to act.

Legislative observers thought the lawmakers would correct their ill treatment of judges in the 2023 session, but that was not in the cards. In January, Rep. Bruce Skaug, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the judges “were robbed” last year, but the Legislature took no action to require the robbers to provide restitution to the judges. The Legislature did approve a pay increase for judges this year, which boosted pay for Supreme Court Justices by 3%, while all other state employees got 4%. That leaves an 8% cost-of-living gap in pay for high court judges.

A case can be made that the Legislature has violated Article 5, section 27 of the Idaho Constitution by failing to provide cost-of-living increases to judges during these last two years. While the provision allows the Legislature to diminish or increase judicial compensation, it may not do so during a judge’s term in office. When the Legislature determines that an increase in compensation is necessary for state employees to compensate for an increasing cost of living, haven’t legislators diminished the compensation of the only state employees who were deprived of the increase? It would be interesting to see how a court might decide such a case.

Make no mistake, the Legislature has long been aware that judicial recruitment, particularly for district court positions, has been hampered by the low statutory salaries.

The current salary for Idaho’s district judges, who handle felonies and heavy-duty civil cases, ranks 49th in the nation, as compared to other states’ general jurisdiction judges. With the 3% increase this year, Supreme Court Justice will make $165,212, which equates to about $79 per hour. The Legislature was more than happy to pay $470 per hour to the private lawyer it hired to represent it in the initiative lawsuit that it lost in the Supreme Court in 2021. In comparison with another government position, the Attorney General’s new Solicitor General, who is not even authorized to practice law in Idaho courts, is making $158,000. With the 7.5% pay raise for the AG’s office this year, he will receive about $170,000, almost $82 per hour. District and appellate judges take a substantial pay cut to serve the people. They need to be compensated adequately if we hope to keep the remarkable judiciary that we currently have.

The Take Back Idaho PAC, which supported reasonable, pragmatic Republicans in the 2022 primary election, will make judicial pay a high priority as it gears up for the GOP primary next year. Hopefully, those in the Legislature who want to financially starve the courts into capitulating to their way of thinking will take heed. Idaho has a remarkably even-handed, competent judiciary, but it will not remain so if vindictive lawmakers keep trying to make judgeships financially unattractive. Idaho’s judges need the strong support of the public to keep our justice system operating as the founders intended, which includes acting as a check on power abuses by the other branches of government. All fair-minded people need to speak up for our judges.


A plus for schools

Public education came through the 2023 legislative session much better than anyone had expected. It was not a banner year, but the prospects for Idaho’s public schools appeared dim at the outset of the session because a number of new anti-education legislators were elected last year. Fortunately, because of their inexperience or overzealousness, they were not able to disable our public school system. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they will redouble their efforts in the 2024 session.

A bright spot is the $378.6 million increase in funding for public schools, with $145 million earmarked for increased teacher salaries. That allows for a pay increase of $6,359 per teacher and a minimum statewide starting salary of $47,477. The additional compensation will stem the flow of teachers to other states.

The substantial increase is due in large part to the hard work of Reclaim Idaho, which had qualified an initiative for last November’s general election ballot that would have raised school funding by $323.5 million. In order to nip the initiative in the bud, the Governor called a special legislative session before the election to provide a somewhat larger school funding increase. The session produced a bill raising school funds by $330 million. It provided for repeal of Reclaim’s initiative, which was expected to receive voter approval. The Governor certainly gets a great deal of credit for following up on Reclaim’s groundwork and getting the Legislature to appropriate the $378.6 million.

Going into the legislative session, it was almost a foregone conclusion that legislators would force taxpayers to start paying parents to send their kids to private and religious schools. Outside interests had targeted good legislators who thought taxpayers should only fund public schools, which are run by, and accountable to, the people. The Idaho Freedom Foundation and a fellow traveler called the Mountain States Policy Center worked hard on a variety of so-called “school choice” bills. Surprisingly, they failed in their effort to divert public money away from public education.

After examining how these schemes have played out elsewhere, rural legislators figured that school choice would devastate rural school districts while subsidizing people who already send their kids to private or religious schools in our cities. Also, there would be virtually no accountability for how the hand-outs of taxpayer money were spent. Make no mistake though, the school choice people will be back in force next session.

The Legislature passed a bill that took a tiny step toward meeting its court-ordered mandate to pay the lion's share of the cost of constructing and maintaining public school buildings. In 2005, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the Idaho Constitution placed this responsibility directly on the Legislature, not property owners. House Bill 292 will provide $100 million to school districts to pay off bonds and levies. When you consider that the cost of repairing existing school buildings is about $1 billion and that over $1 billion in bonds and levies were on the ballot this March (most bonds failed), it is clear the Legislature has just scratched the surface of fulfilling its constitutional duty.

HB 292 also eliminated the March bond election date, which has been the most important time for seeking voter approval of bonding measures. Let’s not forget that these measures are only required because the Legislature has refused to honor its constitutional mandate to pay for construction and maintenance of school buildings. The bill provides a dab of property tax relief, but not enough for anyone to really notice. But still, the bill provides a puny start for state funding for school building construction and maintenance, which would provide significant property tax relief. Idahoans must demand more meaningful action next session.

Reclaim Idaho volunteers laid the groundwork for public education successes this year. The Governor stood up for the State’s education system, with effective support from the chairs of the Legislature’s education committees–Dave Lent in the Senate and Julie Yamamoto in the House. Idahoans should thank them all for standing up for our kids.


A groovy new toy

Before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Roe v. Wade decision in 2022, Idaho legislators were looking for a way to put a stop to all abortions in Idaho. The Roe decision had placed restrictions on what a state could do to limit abortions. Legislators cast their eyes upon the State of Texas, which had just passed a statute designed to bypass those restrictions. The Texas law allowed private citizens to sue anyone who knowingly aided or abetted an abortion after a fetal heartbeat could be detected. Someone bringing a successful suit was entitled to a bounty of at least $10,000.

Our legislators were captivated with the Texas bounty law and followed suit in the 2022 session with a statute that gives the abortion patient and her family members the right to recover a minimum amount of $20,000 apiece from an abortion provider. After the Roe decision was overturned later in the year, another Idaho abortion law went into effect. The new law totally banned abortion from the point of fertilization, providing a minimum two-year prison sentence for a doctor performing any type of abortion. That pretty much eliminated the need for the bounty law, because the total ban was effective to intimidate doctors and chase pregnancy care physicians out of the state.

Having seen the utility of giving private citizens the ability to accomplish what the government might not legally be able to do, the Legislature has sought to use the private lawsuit strategy in any number of situations. Senate Bill 1100, which the Governor signed into law on March 23, allows a student to recover a bounty of $5,000 from the school each time the student encounters a person of the opposite sex in a restroom or certain other school facilities.

House Bill 314 provides a $2,500 bounty against a library each time a kid gets his hands on material “harmful to minors” in the library stacks. The House passed the bill, but is not clear whether the Senate will have time to consider it.

The “drag show” bill, House Bill 265, provides for a $10,000 bounty each time a minor is exposed to some loosely defined “sexual conduct.” This bill passed the House by a wide margin, but there may not be time to act upon it in the Senate.

These bounty bills and a number of others have attorney fee provisions that benefit only the person suing.  The party defending can’t recover fees if it wins the case. This is a strong incentive for filing frivolous suits. I could envision dozens of overzealous parents filing harassment suits against their local libraries, causing the libraries to rack up thousands of dollars in defense costs without a means of recovering those fees when they prevail in the suits. Almost all other civil suit statutes call for the winning party to recover its attorney fees from the loser. That prevents most abusive lawsuits.

The fixation of legislative extremists with solving problems that do not really exist is troubling enough. Writing and passing poorly-drafted legislation that is designed more to intimidate than to accomplish worthwhile goals is an abuse of our governmental system.

This proliferation of culture war lawsuit legislation reminds me of those days when the baby discovers a groovy new toy and simply won’t let go of it. Some legislators are so fascinated by their new civil suit strategy that they can’t get enough of it, regardless of the fact that their strategy is likely to clog the court system with cases that simply have no merit. They would do us all a favor by working to address Idaho’s real problems.