After a debate that lasted less than 10 minutes, the House voted Tuesday to order Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna to write rules within 30 days to govern conduct on the Capitol Mall.
House Bill 693 passed 55-14, with the 13 House Democrats and GOP Rep. Tom Trail of Moscow in the minority.
Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke said the measure doesn’t conflict with U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill’s temporary stay of a bill that aimed to evict the Occupy Boise encampment. Oral arguments in the lawsuit brought by the protest group will be heard June 7.
Rules are already in place for the Capitol and its immediate grounds, but do not apply to the rest of the Capitol Mall, as Bedke’s bill does. “Nobody has a problem with the rules governing the use of the Capitol steps,” said Bedke, R-Oakley. “All are served by the orderly way that those rules are followed….These rules would apply to all and they would apply evenly.”
Bedke did note that Winmill’s temporary order said the Occupy tents are an expression of free speech and that the state has an interest in regulating the 1st Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.
“The problem is that tents equal monuments equal symbolic speech,” Bedke said. “It opens the door to creative monument erection, if you will.”
For example, Bedke said, citizens wishing to express their views on a bill banning texting while driving “could bring wrecked cars and put them on the Capitol Mall as a monument to their speech.”
Finally, Bedke argued that future protests need regulation. “When the next group comes, is it first-come first-served? Is it who has the most people? We don’t want to revert to the law of the jungle.”
Just one opponent, Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, debated against the bill. King noted that the current law requires the Department of Administration director to consult with the governor and Legislature in making rules governing the Capitol building and grounds.
“It should not be settled by just one person,” King said. “This bill needs to have some sideboards on it.”
The measure now heads to the Senate.