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Legislation on militia regulations passes Idaho committee

The bill is meant to clean up outdated language from Idaho code but critics say it opens the door to dangerous militia displays and organization.

BOISE, Idaho — A House panel heard testimony Wednesday on removing an entire section of Idaho code that has to do with militias and military parades. Under current Idaho code, Section 46-802, it is illegal for a “body of men” to “associate together as a military company or organization” or “parade in public with firearms in any city or town of this state” unless they’re “called into service of the state.”

House Bill 475 Would remove that section of code from law. Major Steve Stokes, General Counsel with the Idaho Military Division (IMD), presented the bill saying it’s about cutting back on regulations, per Gov. Little’s request.

“IMD submitted proposals in previous years to eliminate outdated and unnecessary statutes. The IMD identified Section 46-802 as unnecessary for its operations and proposed to the governor's office and DFM that the section be repealed,” Maj. Stokes said.

Maj. Stokes explained to the house committee that the current language is outdated. He points out another issue too, enforcing it.

“The statute does not have a defined enforcement mechanism. There is no assignment of criminal liability attached. So, no law enforcement can enforce the provision,” Stokes said.

Critics of the bill testified that removing the Idaho code could come with negative and dangerous impacts.

“I can think of no time in our nation's history where this law is more needed than today, bearing in mind the recent anniversary of the January sixth insurrection, as well as the Rittenhouse trial. Why would we want to give the green light to vigilantism, lawlessness, and intimidation,” said citizen Ben Satterlee.

Others had similar feelings.

“I feel that repealing this law at this time without a replacement in place would be bad,” said Joe Evans of Meridian.

Several people living in North Idaho also testified to the committee about their concerns with militias, specifically after instances in 2020 that saw armed groups patrol Cour d’Alene amid social justice protests across the United States.

In testimony, concerns like those were addressed by Major Stokes who says there are other parts of Idaho law that cover militias and concerns of terrorism. Namely, Idaho code 18-8103 and the Idaho Constitution, Article I, section 12.

To be clear, Major Stokes was not advocating for or against militias or anything like that. Rather, cutting red tape per the governor’s request. Because the section of code in question is a part of title 46, Militia and military affairs, Stokes argued editing the law to add clarifying language could infringe on citizens’ rights, something not under the purview of title 46.

“If the Legislature determines that it needs to add a precise, clearly constitutional and clearly enforceable provision that restricts the behavior of the general population, it should nest that provision where it needs to be in the Criminal Code, which is found in Title 18,” Stokes said.

All citizen testimony was against the bill. The house committee passed the bill to the full house on a 13-4 vote, with no recommendation to pass or not.

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