State lawmakers acted properly a few days ago when they refused to consider an Otter administration plan to have the National Guard function as “law enforcement” in the state. You read that right; the proposal in House Bill 367 was to formalize in law something that the National Guard has already, apparently, been doing: “assist federal and state law enforcement agencies in interdicting the importation of controlled substances in the state.” It is called the Idaho Counterdrug Support Program.
That’s a questionable policy indeed; you always thought the National Guard served a military role, at most assisting in the event of a disaster or emergency. Working drug cases? Not so much. And House Bill 367 asked that the Guard be “deemed a state law enforcement agency for the purpose of participating in the sharing of property seized or forfeited and receive property and revenues.”
In other words, the National Guard wanted to “share the loot” from participating in drug cases in the state.
The bill passed the House Transportation and Defense Committee on a voice vote.
“There seemed to be no major opposition to this bill,” said Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls. “It seemed like a good idea to me and I supported it.”
Republican Rep. Brandon Hixon of Caldwell said, “there are certain parameters set with this bill that make sense for the National Guard’s collaboration with law enforcement.”
No offense, Rep. Hixon, but no. There were no parameters. In fact, what you see in this commentary is what the bill did. Did the bill apply to emergency situations? Battling international drug smugglers or cartels? Threat of injury to life and property? No. Not at all. Not that I’d argue that the National Guard should ever function as an extension of the state police; it shouldn’t.
But don’t be fooled into believing that this was a tightly written, narrowly constructed piece of public policy. This was an open-ended affair, and with financial motive to be engaged in drug cases, it’s easy to envision an ever-increasing place for the Guard in the war on drugs.
It’s a point that House Majority Leader Mike Moyle got; the Republican from Star convinced his House colleagues to return the bill to committee, just before it was scheduled for a floor vote. He told IdahoReporter.com, “I didn’t like the military police power component of the bill. I didn’t like that at all.”
Moyle says he doesn’t know if a modified version of the bill will see new light. I’d hope not, and I hope members of the House Transportation and Defense Committee don’t want to see it either. The state shouldn’t be using the raw power of military might against citizens as a mechanism of “law enforcement.” There’s a reason the military has jets and tanks and law enforcement doesn’t. Finding ways to militarize the police does not serve to advance the interests of freedom.
At least there’s this: Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, one of the Legislature’s most liberal members, isn’t losing sleep over the decision to send the bill back to the starting line. A member of the committee that advanced the bill, she told a constituent, “I must admit this one slipped by me and the committee and we messed up by voting for it.” An admirable admission on her part.
I hope the governor, who agreed to have the bill considered by the Legislature, will make a similar statement of contrition.