An Idaho legislative hearing Wednesday devolved into a screaming match at times over a bill to criminalize protests at someone’s home.
Tensions were high at the outset. The bill from Rep. Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell) would make it a misdemeanor to target anyone – whether they’re a public official or not – and picket in front of their home.
Chaney said he’s not trying to demonize anyone over their outrage due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“But even the Nazi Party started with good-intentioned persons who were frustrated and they were used over time to allow bad people to take power,” he said.
The bill stems from several protests last year at the homes of elected and appointed officials, and even a police officer, due to COVID-19 restrictions and their enforcement.
That includes former Ada County Commissioner and Central District Health (CDH) board member Diana Lachiondo and a police officer who arrested a woman for trespassing at a Meridian park.
Lachiondo spoke about multiple protests at her house over the past year, which disrupted two of her children’s birthday celebrations. But on one occasion, she was away from home and virtually attending a CDH board meeting when she got a call from one of her children.
“What many of you may have seen on video was a mother in, I can’t even explain to you, complete fear for my children.”
Chaney’s co-sponsor, Rep. Brooke Green (D-Boise), said they’re trying to protect those who were “held captive in their homes by angry protesters expressing their rage for simply doing their jobs.”
“We are instilling that they can go home, tuck their families into their beds, and ensure that what occurs on their doorstep isn’t going to be intrusive,” Green said.
All but one person who testified opposed the bill.
Several of them, including a man calling himself Dale Chappel, said they’ve been part of these kinds of protests.
“And I freaking hated it. It sucked, man, I hated it,” Chappel said. “But I felt I had no option. I’m out of options. Where do I go?”
Sara Walton Brady, the woman who told officers to arrest her at Meridian’s Kleiner Park last April after they asked her several times to leave, also testified Wednesday.
“If someone showed up to my house and didn’t step foot on my grass or my front porch … that’s a legal place to be,” said Brady. She said she understood the fear people being targeted might have, but that the right to protest is enshrined in the Constitution.
David Pettinger, who’s currently facing a charge of disturbing the peace related to the protest at Lachiondo’s house, also spoke. Pettinger hasn’t yet entered a plea in the case, according to court records, and it’s unclear if he has an attorney.
On Wednesday, Pettinger placed the blame for these protests on lawmakers.
“By not stopping the state of emergency, by not following the Constitution of the state of Idaho and the United States of America, [you] are smearing me, a law-abiding citizen, until you guys started this sham that is COVID,” he said.
Pettinger had been arrested shortly before testifying on two misdemeanor warrants for resisting an officer and assault or battery on an officer. No further details on that case were immediately available.
Another man, who said his name was Mario Parrilla, said the bill wasn’t about “securing peace.” Instead, Parrilla said it would prevent the people from airing their grievances with “tyrants,” and brought up Chaney’s 2009 domestic battery in front of a child arrest. The committee soon quickly found him out of order.
Chaney’s charge was later amended to disturbing the peace and two other charges were dropped.
At times, the room turned into a screaming match, with one man saying, “If it’s going to be a crime to show up to protest, we might as well commit one, right?”
The House Judiciary and Rules Committee will again take up the issue Friday.
Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.
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