Friday, January 12, 2007

Legislature may revive parental consent bill

Short session, lack of support may hinder chances

Express Staff Writer

Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum

A bill that would require minors to get their parents' permission to have an abortion could make a comeback this legislative session. But if it looks like previous versions, it won't get the support of some Democrats.

"There may be an attempt to run that bill again," Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, said Wednesday. "It has not passed constitutional muster. Idaho always tries to be out on the very far edge—the right-wing edge—of developing policy on that issue. Therefore, it's always unconstitutional. I'm a little tired of that."

The Legislature has made several attempts—most recently last March—to pass legislation requiring underage girls to get their parents' permission before having an abortion. Each time the laws have been struck down by judges as unconstitutional—but not before the state spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending them in court against challenges from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The state's previous laws have been struck down because they require a report to law enforcement if a minor has engaged in criminal activity. In Idaho, a 1921 law makes it illegal for minors to have sex.

In a July 2005 ruling, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said the loss of anonymity that a girl suffers when her sexual activity must be reported would have a "chilling effect" on her decision to have an abortion.

The state spent more than $350,000 on the failed defense of a 2000 parental consent abortion law challenged by Planned Parenthood. A judge ruled last April that the state must also pay Planned Parenthood's more than $380,500 legal bill.

Because Legislative leaders are trying to get their work done quickly this session to clear out of the Statehouse in time for a Capitol renovation project scheduled to start in April, some proposed bills may not be introduced.

Lawmakers are already looking at a full plate of issues for the upcoming session, including changes to the grocery tax, a new energy plan for the state and public transit improvements.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he thinks lawmakers should come back to parental abortion consent again this session, and that it's still possible to craft a legally viable bill over the course of the session.

"I actually hope we do see a meaningful, positive, constitutionally sound parental consent bill," he said. "If they can meet that standard, I would be pleased to vote to print it and pleased to vote to pass it, and I hope that's what we do this year."

Stennett's support of a parental consent bill hinges on how it's written.

"I might consider supporting something if they would ever write it so it does pass constitutional muster and isn't such a testing ground to push the issue further away without providing exceptions. Unless it goes a lot further toward meeting constitutional muster and providing some exceptions, it wouldn't get my support."

"I presume not everyone in our caucus will vote the same way," Stennett added. "It's certainly not a caucus decision."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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