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ACLU legislative director offers her take on 2010 session

ACLU legislative director offers her take on 2010 session

Dustin Hurst
April 10, 2010
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April 10, 2010

Hannah Saona, legislative director for ACLU Idaho, feels lawmakers did the best they could during the 2010 legislative session considering what they were facing.  Saona, in an interview with IdahoReporter.com, explained her organization's opposition to three different anti-illegal immigration bills proposed in 2010, as well as health workers' conscience legislation, which allows medical workers to object to performing certain procedures or dispensing certain type of medication.

Saona said that the session began much like 2009, with legislators coming to Boise focused on budgets, which, she said, sets the tone of session. She said that in 2009, because so much emphasis was put on budgetary matters, lawmakers were more focused and less likely to deal with social issues. It was a different scene in 2010, said Saona, who added that issues dealing with immigration and choice, which didn't receive committee hearings in 2009, "went a little bit further" this year.

Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, successfully pushed through legislation to lower the age of consent for teens who engage in sexual activity, which Saona hailed as a success. She said that critics of the bill who argued against it out of fear that predators may have more leeway are misguided because "prosecutors still have plenty of tools in their toolbox" to go after dangerous individuals.

She also said that lawmakers in the Idaho Legislature weren't correct in pursuing state immigration reform because "it's something ... that really only the federal government can make huge changes on." She added that states that make "piecemeal changes" to immigration law only instill confusion. She also said that had the reforms been enacted into law, they would have led to racial profiling in hiring practices of employers.

The ACLU also opposed a bill proposed by Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, which allows medical workers to refuse to perform certain medical procedures, like abortions, or dispense some medications due to religious objections. Saona said that her organization, which protects both religious liberties and the rights of patients, opposed the legislation because it favored the religious liberties over patients.

Several less controversial bills were introduced into the Legislature in 2010, including a measure by Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, to ban shackling of pregnant prisoners in labor in county jails. Saona said that the ACLU worked with McGeachin and the Idaho Sheriffs Association - something she said "doesn't happen very often" - to develop the bill, which, due to opposition from the Idaho Department of Correction, never received a full committee hearing. The legislation will likely appear during the 2011 session.

"We hope to keep working on it," said Saona.

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, successfully pushed through a piece of legislation in the House limiting the use of whole-body imaging machines, though it never received a Senate committee hearing. Saona said that her organization does "have concerns about the use of that type of technology generally." Concerns of jurisdiction, meaning who has authority to regulate the use of the body scanners in airports, may have derailed the legislation, said Saona.

Another bill pitched by Hart was a plan to limit the use of radio chips in driver's licenses in Idaho. The measure, like his other, never received a Senate committee hearing. Saona said that the ACLU is generally supportive of "pieces of that bill," but is wary of other parts, including a provision designed to crack down on the issuance of licenses to illegal immigrants.

"We're definitely concerned about privacy," said Saona.

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