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Lawmakers seek oversight of local monuments, place names


BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The House on Tuesday approved legislation requiring cities, towns and schools to get permission from the Legislature to change the historic names of streets and parks or remove monuments or memorials.

The House voted 51-19 to send to the Senate the measure backers say is needed to prevent the altering of history through obliterating historic though imperfect figures.

But an attorney general's opinion, requested by a Democratic lawmaker and received after the vote, said the proposed law likely didn't have the force of law because it was put forward as a concurrent resolution that doesn't include a governor's signature.

The opinion also said it likely violated the Idaho Constitution prohibiting the Legislature from passing local or special laws concerning changing the names of places. Finally, the opinion also said the proposed law could run afoul of the First Amendment involving freedom of speech.

During the debate on the House floor, Republican Rep. Doug Okuniewicz said such decisions as renaming streets, parks and landmarks and the removal of monuments or memorials shouldn't be left to local leaders.

"The decision whether or not to permanently remove a historically important monument or memorial is important to everyone in our state, not just the people who happen to live next to it," he said.

Some of the impetus for the bill appears to come from actions around the country, including the toppling and removal of Confederate statues in the South as well as the potential renaming of U.S. military bases named after Confederate leaders. Former President Donald Trump made a campaign issue of those events leading up to the November election.

"Everything some of these people are trying to do is absolutely, again, despicable," Republican Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger said. "Trying to change the names of military bases. Trying to change the face of the South. All the mayors in these big cities that did absolutely nothing in the face of leftists and sometimes Marxists were absolutely weak, and they need to be not allowed to be making these decisions because if they are not going to lead, the people in the statehouse should."

Opponents said the proposed law is an affront in a state that prizes local control.

"Representative from Ada County should have no say in what people in Driggs or Post Falls or anywhere in the state want to do in their local communities," Democratic Rep. Steve Berch said. "The state has done just fine for over 130 years without the need for this legislation."

Democratic Rep. Ilana Rubel, the House minority leader, asked for the attorney general's opinion, and commented after receiving it. The Associated Press also viewed the opinion.

"I think there are provisions in our Constitution that wisely try to keep every branch of government in their own lane and ensure that the Legislature is not overstepping its bounds to encroach on things that are the appropriate area of local government, which I think definitely includes things like naming your own parks, naming your own schools and naming your own roads within your own community," she said.

Article Topic Follows: Idaho Politics

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