JFAC approves $1.75M increase for state police presence at Idaho Capitol

Some legislators voice support for more permanent police presence at Statehouse

By: - April 13, 2021 1:46 pm
The Joint Finance Appropriations Committee room

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee room at the Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. The powerful committee is responsible for setting the state’s budget. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Members of the Idaho Legislature’s top financial committee approved a one-time funding request of $1.75 million to provide additional Idaho State Police trooper security staffing at the Idaho Capitol building and the Idaho Supreme Court.

The request is a continuation of funding approved by the Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee in December that allocated $350,000 to provide eight additional troopers for security at the Capitol during the 2021 legislative session. The Idaho State Police requested an additional $30,000 for the remainder of the 2021 fiscal year, and $1.7 million for fiscal year 2022 to continue the extra security efforts at the Capitol and Supreme Court.

Normally, four troopers are assigned to the Capitol, with one for the legislative body and three for Gov. Brad Little’s security. Eric Milstead, director of the Legislative Services Office, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that with the governor traveling the state over the summer and the original funding set to expire, security would be reduced to a single trooper.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, asked why the number jumped from $380,000 for fiscal year 2021 to $1.7 million for 2022, to which an ISP officer replied the original amount was just for the 2021 legislative session. The new funding would provide continuous coverage at the Capitol regardless of the session.

Nate said he understood additional security during the election year in 2020 but asked why continuous coverage would be needed and if there are “continuing threats” the Legislature should know about.

“We do not have any specific information on any threats,” Lt. Col. Sheldon Kelly said. “I, like you, wish that I could tell you exactly how much we are going to need and when we would need it. But we didn’t see 2020 coming, either, and we had a huge amount of staff deployed to the Capitol over numerous weeks. That was a drain on our manpower, and we didn’t see that coming either.”

During the special legislative session in August, protesters outside were angry that some sections of the House of Representatives’ gallery, which is normally open to the public, was closed to enforce social distancing. During the protest, people began banging on the doors and eventually shattered the glass and rushed into the room. Idaho State Police were present for that event.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said she would support the funding as a permanent change rather than a one-time adjustment. Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, agreed.

“I want to remind everyone that this building was violently defaced last summer with graffiti,” Horman said, referring to an incident in June 2020 when anti-police sentiments were spray painted on the front of the building. “This is a priceless treasure that we meet in, and if this is the amount it takes to protect and preserve this building, I am all in. … There is civil unrest in our nation right now. We have had some in Idaho. This cost, in my estimate, is a small price to pay for preserving and protecting this building and maintaining law and order.”

Committee members voted unanimously to approve the additional $30,000 for fiscal year 2021, but the vote on the $1.7 million for 2022 was 17-2, with Reps. Nate and Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, voting no.

The budget request will next receive a full vote in the House of Representatives.

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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.