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Bill to repeal Idaho's anti-militia law goes to the House

Heath Druzin
Boise State Public Radio

The Idaho House could soon take up a bill to repeal a state law that bans private militias.

Republicans on a House committee Wednesday voted to send the bill to the floor – but without a recommendation. Typically, committees add their stamp of approval.

The bill would repeal a state law that prohibits groups of armed people from organizing as a militia, except for the Idaho National Guard.

Everyone who testified wanted to keep the law on the books, including Ben Satterlee.

“I can think of no time in our nation’s history where this law is more needed than today, bearing in mind the recent anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection,” Satterlee said.

Idaho has a reputation as a hotbed for militias and current elected officials are counted among their members.

Maj. Steve Stokes with the Idaho National Guard proposed the bill with the blessing of Gov. Brad Little, saying the law was vague and outdated.

Stokes said there’s no enforcement provision in the law now.

“Do you want these kinds of policy decisions to be decided in the court or do you want them to be decided through the legislature,” he asked.

Idaho’s Constitution also outlaws private militias, saying the “military shall be subordinate to the civil power.” That means the elected governor and state legislature hold the ultimate authority over Idaho’s military groups.

The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law sent a letter to legislative leaders earlier this month, emphasizing the importance of the current law and that it’s constitutional.

That group is behind the successful civil lawsuit against a Pennsylvania militia and its involvement in the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

Given Wednesday’s testimony, Rep. Scott Syme (R-Caldwell) said he needed more information before being able to vote on the bill and moved to keep it in committee for now.

Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise) wanted to amend the proposal on the House floor, but Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt (R-Eagle) overrode them both, asking that it go to the floor without recommendation.

Lawmakers sided with DeMordaunt 13-4 to do so.

The House could vote on the issue as early as this week.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!

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