House Resolution 1 — House Rule 64

House Resolution 1 — House Rule 64

by
Parrish Miller
January 19, 2021

Bill Description: House Resolution 1 would amend House Rule 64 to limit how and when individuals may participate in legislative committee hearings. 

Rating: -6

Does it in any way restrict public access to information related to government activity or otherwise compromise government transparency or accountability? Conversely, does it increase public access to information related to government activity or increase government transparency or accountability?

HR001 amends and adds to House Rule 64, which presently allows only for the House lobby or gallery to be cleared in the event of a disturbance or disorderly conduct. 

HR001 adds a new provision allowing that "in the case of any disturbance, disorderly conduct or breach of decorum in a committee meeting room, a committee chairman shall have the power to order the same be cleared."

This is concerning because it allows all individuals observing or attempting to testify before a committee to be forced from a committee room based upon the alleged misconduct of just one person. Enshrining the "heckler's veto" into a House rule is excessive and unnecessary, and it unfairly infringes on the ability of Idahoans to observe and participate in legislative committee hearings.

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Does it violate the spirit or the letter of either the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution? Examples include restrictions on speech, public assembly, the press, privacy, private property, or firearms. Conversely, does it restore or uphold the protections guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution?

HR001 adds another new provision dictating that "banners, placards, flags, and other forms of signage are not allowed in House regulated spaces such as the chamber, lobby, gallery or committee meeting rooms."

While prohibiting flags and large signs may be reasonable given the small size of some committee rooms, this broad prohibition against placards and all "forms of signage" is not intended to preserve the ability of citizens to participate. It is intended to prevent them from expressing their opinions on legislation by displaying small paper-sized signs or colored indicators of agreement or opposition. This prohibition goes beyond what is necessary to preserve decorum and unfairly denies individuals their right to express their grievances to the government. 

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HR001 adds another new provision, under which "clothing designed to promote political platforms may not be worn in the House lobby, gallery or committee rooms while the House is in session or during a committee meeting." It also says that wearing such clothing "may be cause for removal at the direction of the Speaker of the House or the Chairman of the Committee."

As with the prohibition on placards above, this rule is intended to prevent individuals from expressing their opinions on political issues. This rule is even more concerning, however, because it does not define what might be construed to "promote political platforms," nor how overt such promotion must be in order to be used to trigger removal. Would a shirt with an NRA logo on it or a small lapel pin supporting a labor union conflict with this rule? 

This rule is highly subjective and raises significant First Amendment concerns.

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HR001 adds another new provision allowing that "bags of all types may be subject to a visual inspection for items capable of injuring, damaging or harming persons or property in House regulated spaces." On its surface, this is concerning because it allows for unreasonable searches, but it also raises several procedural questions as well. 

Idaho allows most people to legally carry concealed weapons without first having obtained a permit, and the Capitol building is included within the scope of these statutes. This means that a person can legally carry a firearm, knife, expandable baton, and other such self-defense tools while visiting the Capitol and testifying in committee. Would these items meet the definition of "items capable of injuring, damaging or harming persons or property in House regulated spaces"?

This rule also contains no specific provisions for seizing such items or even for denying an individual access to the building or a room based on having such items. Why, then, is this language being inserted? At best, such searches are merely a perfunctory effort to discourage legal behavior. At worst, they are intended to deny individuals their constitutionally protected rights.

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HR001 adds a final provision prohibiting "all noise-amplifying devices, powered or non-powered" in "all House regulated spaces without prior approval of the Speaker of the House."

While prohibiting the use of bullhorns and similar devices in such spaces is generally consistent with allowing equal access and encouraging reasonable degrees of decorum, this provision has two problems worth noting.

The first problem is the broad definition of "all noise-amplifying devices, powered or non-powered," which would technically prohibit the use of an electrolarynx, hearing aids, and other devices designed to aid customary, nonpolitical communication between individuals.

The second problem is the provision does not merely ban the use of noise-amplifying devices but also their mere possession. For example, if individuals who had been legally using such devices to participate in a rally outside the Capitol enter the building to observe or participate in a committee hearing, merely having the devices on their persons or in their bags or backpacks would violate this rule. 

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In addition to the specific issues addressed above, there are some broader implications to consider.

The Idaho Constitution guarantees, "The people shall have the right to assemble in a peaceable manner, to consult for their common good; to instruct their representatives, and to petition the legislature for the redress of grievances." Wearing a shirt with a political slogan on it or carrying a placard can certainly be done "in a peaceable manner," and being denied access to a committee hearing makes it very difficult for individuals to "instruct their representatives" and "petition the legislature for the redress of grievances." The prohibitions contained in HR001 impede Idahoans' ability to exercise their constitutional rights.

An additional concern is that several of the provisions above refer to "House-regulated spaces." This term lacks a clear and publicly accessible definition, and it is not found in any existing statute or House rule. While there are other references to the "chamber, lobby, gallery or committee meeting rooms," it appears that the prohibitions against "all noise-amplifying devices" and "banners, placards, flags, and other forms of signage" could also apply in House offices and possibly even the hallways outside of House committee rooms. The provision related to bag checks also references "House-regulated spaces."

If rules limiting the behavior and choices of individuals are to be enacted, the places where these rules apply need to be clearly defined.

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