Sunday, June 04, 2023

EDITORIAL: Silence youth at your own peril

| January 27, 2023 1:00 AM

Damn kids.

Not only should they stay off the lawn, but they should speak only when spoken to.

That basically summarizes the recent stance taken by the Republican leaders of two Idaho legislative committees, and it’s fraught with injustice and danger.

The committee chairs have slapped an age limit — 18 and older only — on who is allowed to address the committee when it’s seeking public testimony.

The injustice part is easy. According to Idaho’s open meeting laws, “A governing body shall not hold a meeting at any place where discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, age or national origin is practiced.”

What we have here is a prime example of discrimination based on an entire group’s age, which flies not just in the face of Idaho statute, but the nation’s First Amendment, as well.

The danger part is more complicated.

Critics looking for a juicy lawsuit might just have found one, based on open meeting and First Amendment violations. Alas, it would float right along, with the cash register constantly ringing, at taxpayer expense.

Adoption of a general gag order placed on younger Idahoans also threatens to alienate tomorrow’s leaders ever further, which is perhaps part of the motive behind silencing the lambs. Doors of opportunity previously open to younger citizens, welcoming them to the legislative processes that impact their everyday lives, will be slammed shut.

To conscientious Republicans who are looking ahead a little bit, the committee chairs’ decisions should be viewed as termites in the party’s platform. If they’re banking on these potential GOP voters overlooking this blatant slap, they might be deeply disappointed.

The solution is to use guidelines already in place to ensure public testimony is heard from various perspectives and backgrounds.

People understand that public decision-makers don’t always have time to hear from every single citizen who wishes to speak on an issue. Enforcing time limits and capping testimony that becomes repetitive or unruly are tools already at committee chairs’ disposal.

In the long run, inviting testimony from all walks of Idaho life and considering what they have to say will benefit the elected officials and the people they're supposed to be serving.

And that's all the people.

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