In January, Idaho Rep. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) introduced a bill that would have allowed more sexual assault survivors in Idaho to get protection orders against their assailants. But that bill is dead after lobbying from the National Rifle Association.
The way Idaho law is currently written, many sexual assault survivors can’t get a civil protection order. Wintrow said survivors who don’t file a criminal complaint can only get a restraining order if they’re in a domestic relationship with the perpetrator.
“If I’ve been raped by a classmate, a neighbor, a teacher, etcetera, that doesn’t qualify under the domestic violence act, it’s a different definition,” she said. “So courts have been turning these folks away, saying, 'I wish I could help you, but you don't fit in the qualifying relationship.'”
Wintrow’s legislation aimed to close that loophole. While it did not mention firearms, emails obtained by Boise State Public Radio show NRA lobbyist Brian Judy raised concerns about gun rights. He wrote Wintrow’s Sexual Assault Protection Act would result in “loss of firearms rights.”
Those concerns prompted Wintrow to seek input from the Idaho Attorney General’s office. In an opinion, the office wrote: “The proposed legislation would not impact an individual’s right to possess a firearm under federal law.”
Despite this — and the support of six Republican co-sponsors, Idaho law enforcement and legal groups — the bill has languished without a vote in the House Judiciary Rules and Administration Committee. Wintrow called it a travesty.
“We again, have allowed a big, special interest group to make an unsubstantiated claim on the table, and then we just back away, and now we've turned our back on sexual assault victims,” she said.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell), who said he personally supports the bill, downplayed the influence of the NRA but admitted that its opposition hurt the bill’s chances.
“If anything, they were the last little weight on the balance scale,” he said.
Chaney said even the attorney general's response wasn't enough to keep the bill alive. He said he pulled it to give it a better chance of passing next year.
“Sometimes even an attorney general's opinion, irrespective of where you're at on the political spectrum, has more or less credibility, depending on where your points of view are,” he said.
Judy, the NRA lobbyist who wrote the email, did not respond to requests for an interview.
Wintrow has pursued several bills dealing with sexual assault victims over the years, including one that passed last year that requires all rape kits in the state to be tested. Despite the roadblock this year on the civil protection bill, Wintrow, said she’ll try to get the bill through again next year.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include an interview with Rep. Greg Chaney that took place after initial publication.
Follow Heath Druzin on Twitter, @HDruzin
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