For a party that never misses an opportunity to celebrate the Constitution, Idaho Republicans sure have a funny way of showing their respect for the document lately.
The state has spent millions defending itself from laws passed by the GOP-led Legislature but deemed unconstitutional by the courts. This week, lawmakers appeared to be preparing their next case: HB 536, a broad, sweeping bill that would enforce stiffer fines for trespassing and make a person’s third trespass a felony.
The bill passed the House Agricultural Affairs Committee despite warnings from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office that it probably won’t pass legal muster as worded.
Statewide, attorneys see the inevitable legal issues with this bill. Deputy Attorney General Paul Panther listed several examples Tuesday of innocent acts that would be considered criminal under the bill, including a resident who finds his neighbor’s pet and attempts to return it to its rightful owner.
“It has problems,” Twin Falls County Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs told the Times-News. “It’s overly broad, and legitimate people will be determined guilty.”
However, the real sin here probably isn’t the bill, although that’s flawed, too. It’s that lawmakers continue to think they know best, even when their lawyers tell them otherwise.
Here we are again, on the precipice of enacting a legally dubious bill that could result in long, expensive legal battles that Idaho will eventually lose — not to mention ensnaring a lot of innocent Idahoans who accidentally wander onto private property.
It happened with gay marriage when the state tried to challenge its federal recognition, and it happened just two months ago with the “ag gag” bill.
In both cases, the attorney general’s office foresaw the coming legal battles. Still, lawmakers charged blindly ahead and stuck taxpayers with the legal bills.
Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said the trespassing bill is aimed at habitual offenders, rather than innocent folks who accidentally cross a property line. But the intention of the bill is irrelevant. Its legality and enforceability is what matters, and the very people whose job it is to advise legislators on such matters are making clear that this bill doesn’t work.
We urge legislators to heed the advice of their lawyers in the AG’s office and surrender further efforts to make this bill a law.