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Illustration by David Dees at ddees.com

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The House Transportation and Defense Committee, on a voice vote, has approved legislation that would significantly broaden the role of the Idaho National Guard. House Bill 367 seeks to amend existing law to allow for circumstances when the Idaho National Guard and the Idaho Military Division could be utilized as a state law enforcement agency.

“There seemed to be no major opposition to this bill,” commented Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls. “It seems like a good idea to me and I supported it.”

The bill also seeks to forma

lize what is known as the Idaho National Guard Counter Drug Support Program by declaring that it may “assist federal and state law enforcement agencies in interdicting the importation of controlled substances into this state.”

Additionally, the bill declares that the military unit will be “deemed a state law enforcement agency for the purpose of participating in the sharing of property seized or forfeited and receive property and revenues.”

When reached for comment about the new legislation, Monica Hopkins of the Idaho chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union noted that “I think there should be growing concern among citizens at the militarization of our police forces. We have seen communities where federal dollars are going toward the use of tanks and other military weaponry. American citizens should be concerned at the growing militarization of local government power.”

Similarly, Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation added that “every Idahoan should be alarmed by the continued use of the military for law enforcement purposes. That is not what the military is for, that is not what the National Guard is for. Yet we’re continuing to see our military deployed for law enforcement purposes or military equipment used for everyday law enforcement purposes. It is a very frightening trend.”

Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, a member of the committee, told IdahoReporter.com that “there are certain parameters set with this bill that make sense for the National Guard’s collaboration with law enforcement.” Hixon said that under the provisions of the bill, the National Guard would be used only in drug crimes and what he referred to as “related lawful property seizures.”

The distinctions between military power and domestic law enforcement power have a long and varied history. The Posse Comitatus Act, passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878, sought to limit the power of the federal government to use military personnel for domestic purposes although state National Guard units are generally regarded as exempt from the law.

Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, chair of the committee, told IdahoReporter.com that the new legislation will be beneficial to the Idaho National Guard’s budget. He added that Gov. Butch Otter has read the proposal and approves of it.