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Another Idaho House of Representatives committee bans testimony from people under age 18

Special Session - Giddings censure
Otto Kitsinger
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Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, at the statehouse in Boise, Idaho on November 15, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Chairwoman Barbara Ehardt said she would make exceptions for people who are invited by legislators or receive her permission first

The Idaho Legislature’s House Local Government Committee is now the second committee of the Idaho Legislature to prohibit public testimony from people under age 18.

Committee Chairwoman Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, announced the policy change at the beginning of Tuesday’s committee meeting at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise.

Earlier this month, House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, announced his committee would not accept testimony from anyone under 18. Now, a message appears at the bottom of House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee agendas stating “*YOU MUST BE AT LEAST 18 YEARS OLD TO TESTIFY*.”

Ehardt told her committee members Tuesday she “was inspired by a fellow colleague” to make the change.

“We are going to also include as part of our rules for this committee, at the chairman’s discretion, that we will not hear testimony from individuals who are not at least 18 years and older,” Ehardt said during Tuesday’s meeting. “There would be the exception, and that is should they contact me or should we be in a position where one of you (committee members) are desirous to hear them and, you know, you let me know. Having heard many testimonies in the past, I think that that will be a good use of all of our time.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, Ehardt told the Idaho Capital Sun that she got the idea from Skaug. Skaug also serves with Ehardt on the House Local Government Committee.

“I thought that point made a lot of sense,” Ehardt said after the meeting.

Boise High School student who serves on local school board opposes decision

Shiva Rajbhandari, an 18-year-old Boise School District student who was elected to his local school board in September, said he strongly opposes the decisions from Skaug and Ehardt. Rajbhandari has been testifying at committee meetings in the Idaho Legislature since he was 16.

“I’m furious,” Rajbhandari said in a telephone interview. “I think that this is a total attack on the democratic traditions of our state. It really speaks volumes about where Republican legislators’ priorities lie, which is not in representing the will of their constituents.”

Rajbhandari said he doesn’t think the prohibition on testimony from people under 18 is enforceable. He also thinks the bans on youth testimony could alienate young people from the Republican Party.

“Idaho students aren’t going to tolerate that,” Rajbhandari said. “Many of us can’t vote, but we are not going to be kids forever, right? We will remember which legislators cared about our voices and which ones didn’t.”

“Increasingly students especially are better informed as to what is going on with the Legislature,” Rajbhandari added. “In the last three years we’ve seen really egregious attacks on education, we’ve seen restrictions on what we can learn at school, what we can say at school, what our teachers are allowed to teach at school, restrictions on how we can express ourselves and our gender identity and restrictions on our reproductive health care and our bodily autonomy.”

Boise Democrat says new rule changes could affect Idahoans’ First Amendment rights

Rep. Steve Berch, a Boise Democrat in his third term of office, said he is concerned about prohibiting testimony from people based on their age.

“I have never seen where an entire group of people is prohibited from testifying, and it’s hard for me to see how that is not a form of age discrimination in regards to being able to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Berch told the Idaho Capital Sun after Tuesday’s meeting.

Berch said he has regularly seen examples of committee chairpersons using their authority to control public testimony, including alternating speakers on a pro and con basis, placing time limits on testimony and declining to accept all testimony due to deadlines or time constraints.

“If someone is out of order or out of line, the chairman has a gavel,” Berch said.

“I understand and respect the responsibility that a committee chairman has to manage the public hearing process, I just don’t think this is the best way to go about it, and I am concerned about the unintended consequences of a decision like this.”

When asked about her decision, Ehardt told the Sun she has seen entire classrooms of students from schools located close to the Idaho State Capitol in Boise come and present testimony on issues. Ehardt said she wasn’t sure that was the best use of legislators’ time.

Ehardt also told the Sun she would be willing to make exceptions if an issue before the House Local Government Committee affected young people, or if there were young people who were uniquely qualified to testify on a given issue. When asked what the best way for young people to get in contact with her, Ehardt listed her Idaho House of Representatives email address, which is published in the legislative directory and on the Idaho Legislature’s website.

In past legislative sessions, both Ehardt and Skaug sponsored bills and laws that attracted a lot of public testimony and opposition from LGBTQ+ youth. During the 2020 legislative session, Ehardt sponsored House Bill 500, which was signed into law and bans trans girls and trans women from participating in girls and women’s sports.

In 2022, Skaug sponsored House Bill 675, which would have banned gender confirmation surgery from being performed on children, even with parental consent. House Bill 675 passed the House but did not advance in the Idaho Senate and died.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.