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Idaho lawmakers abandon meeting amid unruly spectators

by KEITH RIDLER Associated Press
| August 25, 2020 4:21 PM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — One person was taken into custody Tuesday and lawmakers abandoned the room after spectators at a House committee meeting at the Idaho Statehouse became disruptive.

The committee left the room as at least a dozen Idaho State Police formed a shield between them and the crowd of more than 100.

The committee was about to consider changes to liability laws they say are needed to protect businesses, schools and government agencies from lawsuits by people who get COVID-19. Those opposed say the changes could remove accountability for those entities.

The incident follows another on Monday when angry protesters forced their way into the Idaho House gallery that had limited seating because of the coronavirus pandemic, the window of a glass door getting shattered as protesters jostled with police. Protesters were ultimately let in when Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke stepped in, seeking to avoid violence.

Tuesday’s unrest started when the committee chairman, Republican Rep. Greg Chaney, directed two people sitting in an area reserved for credentialed members of the media to leave those seats. Press credentials are controlled by the Capitol Correspondents Association.

“I'm not sure precisely what their goal is, but I'm absolutely sure that the two individuals whom I asked to leave were intending to create a scene," he said. “At times in the last 24 to 36 hours, this building has descended into complete chaos, and the only way to make sure that all citizens feel comfortable coming here to be heard is to make sure that we don't allow rule deviations in general.”

Ammon Bundy, an anti-government activist who led the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, took one of the credentialed media seats after lawmakers left the room. He said police and lawmakers were itching to exert their authority after Monday's incident. He said he hadn't instructed anyone to disrupt the meeting, and challenged those who qualified as a credentialed member of the media.

“What does credentialed mean? Who is the freedom of the press for? Those who have credentials? No, it's not,” he told The Associated Press. “The freedom of the press is a protection for the people. You're credentials are great, and I think you guys do a much better job at it than we do, but the fact is the government is not supposed to say this person has the freedom of the press and has a right to be in a certain place and these people don't.”

The committee planned to reconvene later in the day with increased security.

Meanwhile, another committee earlier in the day killed legislation intended to allow greater opportunity for in-person voting for the Nov. 3 general election amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 10-5 to kill the legislation that was a primary reason Republican Gov. Brad Little called the part-time Legislature back for a special session.

The legislation would have allowed counties to create voting centers where residents from different precincts could vote. Elections officials say they’re facing a shortage of poll workers and potentially polling sites in November because of the pandemic.