Audience member clashes with police at Statehouse, delaying liability hearing

A meeting over liability protection and immunity was derailed Tuesday afternoon as a member of the audience clashed with Idaho State Police in a Statehouse committee room.

The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration was about to begin its second day of hearings on a series of bills aimed at providing liability protection, or immunity, during the pandemic.

Chairman Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, ordered people to leave a table reserved for credentialed members of the press. When a man didn’t leave, state troopers surrounded him, led him out of the room and placed him in handcuffs, as some members of the audience stood and yelled obscenities.

The 33-year-old Boise man was arrested for trespassing and removed from the premises, ISP said.

“Idaho State Police are working to carefully balance people’s right to participate in the legislative process while ensuring that process stays peaceful and safe,” ISP Communications Director Lynn Hightower said.

Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, and KTVB reporter Joe Parris posted video of the disruption on social media.

Idaho State Police officers formed a wall between the public seating area and the dais as legislators left the Lincoln Auditorium.

Police form a wall as legislators leave the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee meeting Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Idaho Public Television/Idaho In Session.

“Anyone who is still creating a disturbance is invited to leave so we can return to the business of the state,” Chaney said before leaving the room himself.

The meeting resumed in a different hearing room at about 4 p.m., after a delay of more than an hour. The hearing was brief and devoid of drama. The committee introduced, or printed, a new version of a civil liability bill. Chaney said the committee will hold a full hearing Wednesday.

Civil liability is the sole issue in this limited — and restive — special legislative session with a direct tie to education. School administrators said liability protection is important because insurance carriers told them they won’t cover costs if someone catches COVID-19 at school and sues.

However, the liability and immunity bills proved unpopular during the first day of testimony, which ran overwhelmingly against immunity.

Idaho State Police and Boise Police Department patrol cars converged at the Statehouse Tuesday afternoon, as a second contentious day of the special legislative session drew to a close. (Kevin Richert/Idaho Education News)

As the House adjourned for the day at about 5 p.m., an uncommonly strong law enforcement presence gathered at the Statehouse. Dozens of ISP and Boise Police Department patrol cars were parked outside the Statehouse’s main entrances. Capitol Boulevard and Jefferson Street south of the Statehouse were closed to vehicles. Police reopened the streets by 6:30 p.m.

The committee disruption was the latest headline from an eventful second day of the special session.

Earlier Tuesday, House Republicans handed Gov. Brad Little a sharp rebuke in passing House Concurrent Resolution 1, intended to end a statewide emergency declaration over the coronavirus pandemic.

That debate raged on for more than 90 minutes and became tense at times.

That resolution passed the House on a 48-20 vote. It now goes to the Senate, but its prospects are unclear. During the lengthy morning debate, some lawmakers suggested the Senate has no plans to take up the resolution, which would render the House action moot.

Little did not include his March 13 emergency order on his list of topics the Legislature could consider during the special session. But sponsoring Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, said he believes concurrent resolution would have the force of law and be sufficient to end the emergency order.

The five-month-old order has affected public welfare and caused “devastating” economic harm, according to the resolution.

“There has been extensive collateral damage,” Harris said in opening debate.

Significantly, a concurrent resolution does not go to the governor’s desk; if it passes both houses, a governor has no power to veto it.

Hours later, the House State Affairs Committee killed an elections bill to create centers for in-person voting, so people would not have to go to their precinct. Little had included in-person voting and election centers as one issue he wanted the Legislature to address. On Monday, the voting centers bill easily passed the Senate.

Tuesday’s disruptions raised questions about how long the session would last. As of late afternoon, no bills had passed both houses.

“They may be preventing this from wrapping up in two days,” Colin Nash, a Boise Democrat serving as a substitute legislator during the special session, wrote on Twitter.

The Senate adjourned for the day shortly after 4 p.m., after taking up no legislation and spending part of Tuesday in closed-door caucuses. The Senate will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday — after another GOP caucus at 9 a.m.

The House will reconvene at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Shortly after the House floor session, the Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee will be in the spotlight again, as it holds a public hearing of the latest version of the civil liability bill.

This is the fourth special session in the past 20 years. Previous special sessions took place in 2000, 2006 and 2015.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

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