This article originally appeared on the ACLU Idaho Blog on January 3, 2019

And we’re off!

January 7, 2019 marks the kick-off of the 2019 legislative session. With Governor Brad Little stepping into his newly elected role, many new state agency leaders and significant changes to the make-up of the Idaho Legislature, we at the ACLU of Idaho are even more committed to ensuring that our elected officials and policy makers defend and protect civil liberties for all in Idaho.

With the start of a new session comes an updated list of legislative priorities we will be tackling at the Idaho Statehouse. From ongoing criminal justice reform, to protecting access to housing, and ensuring queer and transgender Idahoans are free from discrimination, we have a busy agenda of civil rights initiatives we’re ready to advance!

“Ban the Box” – Fair Emplyment Access for Formally Incarcerated Idahoans

In partnership with our bill sponsor Sen. Cherie Buckner Webb (D) we will be reintroducing our “Ban the Box” legislation to ensure that Idahoans returning to the workforce post-incarceration are able to access employment opportunities by removing requirements to disclose previous criminal records during the hiring process. Meaningful employment is key to reducing the likelihood of recidivism, allows individuals to provide for themselves and their families, and increases their ability to contribute to Idaho’s growing economy. Interested in getting involved in our legislative efforts to pass “Ban the Box” reform in Idaho? Check out our Ban the Box campaign page to learn more about what steps you can take to support our work.

Public Defense Reform – Attorney Workload Rules

2018 marked our eighth year of working on public defense reform at the legislature. This year, the Idaho Public Defense Commission (PDC) will be introducing a new workload standard rule aimed at beginning to cap the number of cases public defenders can take in a year in an effort to ensure that public defenders are able to spend ample time with their clients investigating their cases. However, the new workload standard maintains excessively high caseload numbers for attorneys and doesn’t provide enough relief to underrepresented indigent clients and overworked public defenders. Instead, we will be asking the legislature to reject the proposed PDC rule and instead replace it with longtime national caseload standards as outlined by the National Advisory Commission.

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Reform

We’ll be back for the third year in a row working to bring much overdue sentencing reform to Idaho’s draconian drug sentencing laws. By ending mandatory minimum sentencing laws for certain drug offenses in Idaho, it will restore judicial discretion and reduce the power prosecutors currently hold over sentencing. Mandatory minimums needlessly increase costs without improving public safety and continue to perpetuate the failures of the War on Drugs.

Protecting Due Process Rights of Idahoans Accused of Crimes

Commonly known as “Marsy’s Law,” this Californian campaigm to expand victims rights in the Idaho Constitution will return once again. . While we agree that victims deserve swift prosecution and meaningful justice, these expanded rights are likely to come into direct conflict with the state and federal constitutional rights afforded to criminal defendants who are innocent until proven guilty – like the right to due process, the right to a speedy trial, and the right to be informed of and question the evidence against him or her. Marsy’s Law is unnecessary for states like Idaho with existing victims’ rights protections in the state’s constitution, and is an unfunded mandate that would result in large unanticipated costs for the state, unintended consequences for counties, and increased complications to Idaho’s already over-burdened court system.

Fighting Expedited Eviction Legislation

We anticipate to see a renewed version of the Idaho Apartment Association’s (IAA) expedited eviction legislation, which seeks to make sure all evictions in Idaho are completed within an expedited timeframe. This means that a court must schedule a trial no later than 12 days from the filing of a complaint for any reason for the eviction. IAA’s proposed language purports to update Idaho landlord/tenant laws, but gives landlords the unprecedented ability to enact expedited eviction proceedings against a tenant if any person on the property engaged in unlawful business or committed a criminal act. This bill will disproportionately impact victims of crime, tenants who are unaware of criminal activity, and/or tenants who are not charged or convicted of criminal activity. It also has the potential to significantly harm the housing rights of victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, children, seniors, and low-income Idahoans.

Ensuring Equality for LGBTQ Idahoans

Equality for queer and transgender Idahoans continues to be a slow fight for justice, and we’ll return in 2019 to continue our efforts to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ folks in employment, housing and public accommodations. With thirteen cities in Idaho having passed local ordinances to prevent discrimination in their communities, many LGBTQ Idahoans live in a city without explicit protections to ensure they won’t experience unfair treatment in finding and holding jobs to support themselves and their families, finding a suitable home of their choice, or being able to access the services of businesses open to the public. When everyone is treated fair, we all prosper. 

STAY INVOLVED!

Now more than ever, your voice has the power to impact civil rights policy in Idaho by communicating and sharing your story with your elected official. Check out our Lobbying 101 Toolkit to get all the resources you need to start taking action today. Inside you’ll find a review of the legislative bill making process, the best ways to communicate with elected officials, and how to share your story with the media.

Also be sure to sign-up to receive our ACLU of Idaho action alerts for legislative updates mailed directly to you (scroll to bottom of page and look for “Get Email Alerts”). And don’t forget to follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for updates on all the inside statehouse happenings – upcoming events, when/where to take action, and how to best connect with lawmakers.