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Idaho Governor Flips Off Libertarians With Both Hands, Vetoes Asset Forfeiture AND Licensing Reforms

Friday, April 7, 2017 11:49
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Idaho Gov. Butch Otter gave the double bird salute on Thursday, vetoing a pair of bills that would have reformed civil asset forfeiture laws in his state and made it easier for Idahoans to practice cosmetology without a state-issued license.

You get the feeling he’s just trying to make libertarians angry.

Both bills reached his desk after sailing through the state legislature with bipartisan support. The asset forfeiture bill would have required law enforcement to convict a suspect before seizing property and cash (it’s a reform that has been adopted in several other states), while the licensing bill would have freed makeup artists and cosmetology students from having to obtain expensive, unnecessary state licenses before practicing their chosen trade (a small blow to state licensing regimes similar to reforms passed in several other states).

Otter blocked both, deferring to the special interests that opposed the bills.

In a veto message, Otter said he blocked the asset forfeiture reforms because “it is my view that it is right and proper for drug dealers to have a health fear of losing their personal assets if they are caught breaking the law.” Overwhelming support in the state legislature is canceled out, Otter wrote, by “compelling opposition from law enforcement.”

If the cops don’t like it, he’s not gonna sign it.

And the cops don’t like limitations on asset forfeiture laws, which allow police to seize property suspected of being used in a crime and require the original owner to prove otherwise. It’s a fundamental violation of the basic premise underpinning the American criminal justice system, and there’s no shortage of examples of how police departments and prosecutors have abused asset forfeiture laws.

Don’t bring those facts to Otter’s office, though. In fact, don’t even ask Idaho’s police departments to tally-up how often they use asset forfeiture laws to rob innocent people of their property—something that the bill would have required departments to do on an annual basis.

Reasonable request, right? Nope. Otter called that reporting requirement “a misplaced effort to hold those responsible for protecting us from crime more accountable.”

Who needs accountability from the police? Certainly not Otter, who seems willing to believe anything the law enforcement special interests’ lobbyists tell him.

Last year, Reason uncovered the close relationship between law enforcement lobbyists and Otter’s inner circle, a relationship that seemingly convinced Otter to veto another libertarian-friendly bill in 2015. That bill would have allowed Idahoans suffering from intractable seizures from using a form of cannabis to treat the condition. To date, Otter is the only governor in the country to veto a bill like that.

In doing so, he used the same reasoning that he employed on Thursday to block the civil asset forfeiture reforms, cowing to the wishes of law enforcement special interests.

When he’s not putting the interest of Idaho police ahead of the interests of Idaho residents, Otter is bending to the wishes of other special interests. In vetoing the licensing reform bill—a bill that would have done little more than reduce the number of hours of training before someone could be licensed to cut hair or apply makeup from 800 to 600—Otter said objections voiced by the state Board of Cosmetology and the State Board of Barber Examiners should overrule the majority of the state legislature.

Republican governors in Arizona, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin have supported licensing reforms that went much further than the limited changes passed by the Idaho legislature. There’s a growing bipartisan consensus that licensing laws for many professions do little to protect public health and safety, while driving up the cost of services, limiting competition, and making it harder for people to pursue work.

Like his opposition to asset forfeiture reform and his opposition to loosening Idaho’s ban on marijuana, Otter’s veto of this licensing bill puts him well outside the mainstream of both major political parties.

“For years, Butch Otter has given great speeches about the need for a free economy and limited, constitutionally-based government,” said Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a free market think tank, in a statement about the two vetoes. “Yet once again, Gov. Otter has rejected sensible, conservative, bipartisan liberty-based legislation that would have put Idaho entrepreneurs back to work and would have protected constitutional rights of Idahoans.”

Believe it or not, Otter used to claim an interest in libertarian policies. Reason profiled him in 1978 when he was an upstart gubernatorial candidate and again in 2006 when he returned from a stint in Congress to seek (and win) his first of three terms as governor. In the decade since, it would appear that he’s lost any libertarian leanings he ever had—or maybe he’s just given up pretending.


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