The Idaho Department of Administration has announced changes in the rules that regulate public usage of the state Capitol Mall area as well as some other state properties. The new rules are in effect now, but will be subject to the approval, and possible modification, by the Legislature in the 2014 legislative session.
Basically, the new rules permit around-the-clock usage of the Capitol Mall, but the department is now limiting such usage to seven consecutive 24-hour periods.
Back in 2012, in the midst of the Occupy Boise demonstrations and so-called “encampments” at the state Capitol, the Legislature imposed several new regulations regarding public gatherings in the Capitol Mall area.
In accordance with the legislative decisions, the Department of Administration adopted new rules that stipulated specific times and durations that groups and individuals were to be allowed to gather and demonstrate in the Capitol Mall area, while at the same time forbidding around-the-clock, 24-hour demonstrations. The new rules also sought to provide audio amplification equipment to groups who seek official government permits for their event, while groups without official permits would not receive amplification.
However, on Jan. 16 of this year, the Senate State Affairs Committee reviewed several of the new rules changes from 2012, and questioned the Department of Administration director, Teresa Luna, about them. While noting that the department was not to blame for the 2012 changes to the Capitol Mall rules, the Senate committee nonetheless expressed regret over several of them, and voted to strike the regulations on time periods and durations of demonstrations, and the rules regarding audio amplification equipment.
“I wish we had allowed the Department of Administration more time to do what they needed to do last year,” Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, noted at the January hearing. “It’s remarkable they were able to do what they did, and by no means do I wish to demean those who work at the department or its director as we make these decisions.”
Davis expressed particular regret over the prohibition of overnight, 24- hour usage of the Capitol Mall, stating “I’m troubled by some of the time constraints that we impose. I may want to participate in an around-the-clock faith vigil, for example, but as it stands, I cannot.”
“I mean no disrespect to the department either,” Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, stated in agreement with Davis. “Whether people are gathering to pray, or veterans are gathering to speak out about their military benefits, or whatever it is, we must safeguard the right to speak freely.”
According to Jennifer Pike, assistant to Teresa Luna, these new rules are temporary, yet are currently in effect. Pike also told IdahoReporter.com they are subject to review by the Legislature in the 2014 legislative session, where they can either be approved for permanent placement in the Idaho Code, or can be amended.