BOISE, Idaho -- Saying the measure had nothing to do with Occupy Boise, the Senate voted 26-9 Tuesday to approve a bill that prohibits protesters from camping on the Capitol Mall.
"In my view, the mall is like our front yard for the state of Idaho -- and you don't let people stay forever in your front yard," said Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens. "What this bill is not about is who is camping, but whether this is an appropriate place for camping."
Occupy Boise formed a small encampment across from the Statehouse in November. Other than testifying in opposition to the anti-camping bill and holding up some banners and signs during a few events, the protesters haven't really indicated what their grievances are or what steps they want lawmakers to take.
"This group wants to tell us something, (but) all I've heard is testimony about this bill," said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise. "If they have grievances, let 'em come. Keep your doors open, talk to them, figure out how we can address (their issues). But as relates to whether they ought to be camping there and living there, I believe they have no more right to be there than a group I represent or sponsor, or want to help."
Lewiston Sen. Dan Johnson was one of only two Republicans to vote against the measure. He objected to the emergency clause, which allows the bill to take effect immediately upon signature by the governor.
"I'm concerned this isn't truly an emergency," he said. "I don't support them camping there, but if the bill takes effect July 1 (as it would without an emergency clause), I think this takes care of itself."
Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said when he looks at the Occupy encampment, "I really see freedom and democracy as we exercise our rights to express ourselves in whatever manner we wish, as long as it's peaceful."
"I'm asking you to exercise a little more patience," he said. "A no vote allows this group of citizens to carry out what they want to do and express themselves about an issue in our society and government This bill is aimed at a group of people who are simply exercising their rights. That's not right."
Although the original bill was approved by the House, it was subsequently amended in the Senate to address concerns about unauthorized seizure of private property. The amended bill now returns to the House, where lawmakers can either accept the changes or reject the entire bill.
Spence may be contacted at bspencelmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.
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