An Idaho bill that would have banned targeted picketing outside the homes of elected officials and others died in the House on Tuesday.
In a 38-31 vote, legislators rejected House Bill 283, which would have barred protesters from demonstrating on the street or sidewalk in front of a residential home with an intent to harass or intimidate.
Reps. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, and Brooke Green, D-Boise, sponsored the bill. They said protesters, both liberals and conservatives, have shown up at officials’ places of residence as a dangerous intimidation tactic.
“It’s the left, it’s the right, and they’re taking it to your doorstep,” Green said.
Chaney said that minority points of view should be heard, but that elected officials sometimes have the duty to listen to the majority over “those who bully you.”
CHANEY SAYS BILL IS BACKED BY STATE LAW, PASSES CONSTITUTIONAL MUSTER
In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court justices heard a lawsuit that questioned whether the city of Brookfield, Wisconsin, was allowed to ban picketing in front of residential homes. The city passed its law after anti-abortion protesters picketed in front of the home of a doctor who offered abortions.
In a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled that the city law didn’t violate free speech rights, concluding that Brookfield has a legitimate reason to protect residential homes.
Chaney cited the Supreme Court case as a reason to believe it would pass legal muster and is not a First Amendment violation.
Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, said the bill infringes on free speech rights and people’s rights to assemble.
“I’m not willing to give up on our constitutional rights and the people that we represent,” Hanks said.
Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, recalled a time his father, once a sergeant in the Boise Police Department, met a group that threatened to kill him and his family outside their home. Palmer said he himself has faced death threats as a legislator. But he still believes the bill is the wrong move.
“Do I think it’s OK to come and picket in front of our homes , our policemen’s homes? No, I don’t think it’s OK,” Palmer said. But he added that “we put ourselves in this position” and should learn to de-escalate situations.
Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, said that there are ways people can abuse their rights and that members of the public should be held to standards of moral decency when they want their voices heard.
“The right of free speech and the right of assembly are not absolutes. Never have been,” Marshall said. “I believe sincerely and honestly that demonstrating, picketing in front of a private residence is wrong. It’s inherently wrong.”
Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, claimed that protesters aren’t given alternative public forums. She said the Idaho Capitol building had been restricted and said it was a slippery slope to creating “free-speech zones.”
The Capitol has some capacity limits due to social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is not a law enforcement bill. This is a free speech bill,” Nichols said.
Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, said she’s concerned the bill could fault gatherings that are “entirely peaceable” if the intent is misconstrued. She criticized the bill for being too broad on whether it could criminalize someone who could “annoy.”
“If we’re going to criminalize speech or assembly, we need to be very careful that we’ve identified what’s criminal and what’s justified in that action. We have a right to be secure, but we don’t have a right to always feel secure or to not have anyone make us uncomfortable,” she said.
Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said he doesn’t think members of the public have been told the hard truth — that there’s a difference between getting their voices heard and always having their way.
“The right to participate in a constitutional republic, the right to be heard, does not mean you always get what you want,” Ruchti said.
PROTECTING LAW ENFORCEMENT AND ELECTED OFFICIALS
The Fraternal Order of Police, Chiefs of Police and Idaho Sheriffs Association supported the bill.
Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue, who testified in favor of the measure last month, said it would protect law enforcement officials who have increasingly become targets of doxing. Protesters showed up in front of a Meridian police officer’s house last spring after the arrest of a woman at a playground for violating safety measures put in place during the pandemic.
“What I am vilifying today is a technique,” Chaney said. “It is a behavior, it is an action, and I am criticizing its place in our discourse.”
Rep. David Cannon, R-Blackfoot, who supported the bill, said opposing the bill would have unintended consequences. He believes increasing activities at people’s homes will have a chilling effect on the people who choose to run for office.
Chaney and Green said they didn’t craft the bill to protect themselves but to protect law enforcement. Green said officers “want more teeth to be able to do their job,” and said the bill would help protect law enforcement officers’ families.
“This is the reality,” Green said. “This is what’s unfolding here across the United States and unfortunately what unfolded here in Idaho.”
Rep. Codi Galloway, R-Boise, said she doesn’t believe the bill would protect police officers. She said legislation wouldn’t solve the problem.
Chaney cited an example of the U.S. Capitol riot, when a rioter beat a Capitol Police officer with a flagpole. The officer was dragged, then beaten by a group of insurrectionists.
“This is an example of our words not being enough,” Chaney said.
Protests also took place in Boise and Meridian last year outside the homes of Central District Health board members over possible mask mandates and other safety measures being considered to address the coronavirus pandemic. At least one of those resulted in arrests.