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Idaho House passes bill requiring permission for local governments to remove monuments

Idaho State Capitol - 2021
Otto Kitsinger
/
Idaho State Capitol building and a statue of Lincoln on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho State Historical Society board must OK monument removal or renaming of schools or buildings

The Idaho House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would require local governments or schools to get permission from the Idaho State Historical Society’s board before removing a monument.

If passed into law, House Bill 531 would also require school districts to get the same permission to rename a school dedicated to the memory of or named for a historical figure or event.

Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, is sponsoring the bill, which is a rewritten version of House Bill 65, an unsuccessful bill from the 2021 legislative session.

One of the major changes from the new bill is dropping the previous requirement that the Idaho Legislature must approve the removal or renaming of monuments or schools and replacing it with the requirement that two-thirds majority of the historical society’s board of trustees must provide the approval.

“All this does is it provides an opportunity to pump the brakes and remind everybody that removing a statue of Abraham Lincoln is an extremely important thing to everyone in the state, not just the people who happened to move next to it in the last 5, 10, 20 years,” Okuniewicz said.

Legislators from both political parties who opposed the bill argued the bill is another example of the Idaho Legislature blocking local control.

“This is the heavy hand of the state,” Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, said during debate over the bill.

Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, said the bill could create a slippery slope of additional oversight.

“This sounds to me like an opportunity to create a whole new bureaucracy around establishing monuments or changing monuments and with that I am going to vote against this bill,” Troy said.

The bill would not require local governments or schools to get permission if they temporarily removed a monument for repairs or improvements.

One legislator who backed the bill said the Idaho Legislature shouldn’t always defer to local control.

“One principle that I think we ought to think about as we talk about local control is that local control is not our gold standard in the United States of America, or we wouldn’t need a state government and we wouldn’t have the United States of America,” said Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot.

Young said passing the bill would be a way to protect from those who would “erase a part of history.”

“In light of the rampant cancel culture that we see across the United States this is a prudent attempt to balance the interest of citizens across the state,” Young said.

By way of example, legislators who backed the bill said there would be statewide interest and concern if a local community removed a statue of President Abraham Lincoln.

But the bill would appear to apply to any historical monument or memorial in place. Across the United States, more than 100 Confederate monuments were removed in 2020, NPR reported.

In the end, House Bill 531 passed 44-24.

The House will send the bill to the Idaho Senate for consideration.