Thursday, June 28, 2007

Silverdocs: State Legislature

Yes, it’s been over a week since my documentary-a-thon. I needed some distance before I could process everything I saw. The first film I went to see was State Legislature by Fredrick Wiseman. was the first day of the festival, Wednesday. There was insanity at the box office. People were buying all their tickets for the entire festival coupled with people picking up tickets purchased in advance online who are desperate to get to their seats before the standby line is unleashed 15 minutes prior to the start time. Pass holders budge with identical ID tags dangling from lanyards around their necks and swag bags slung over their shoulders get to budge in front of the line. We are in the fabulously utilitarian Theater 3. A big rig could drive between these gorgeous seats. As we are waiting for the lights to go down, firmly attached to our seats lest they be mistaken for empty and auctioned off to the nearest standby line, someone is snapping along to the muzak accompanying the PowerPoint of sponsors. Standard uniforms: earthtone golf shirts with khakis or suits deconstructed, haircuts slightly longer than average, thinning, grey, professional Einstein impression. Someone is whistling improvisational accompaniment. More filmbuffs sitting on the ends of the rows rather than the center. The movie is 217 minutes long. They choose to suffer through a less than optimal sight-line in exchange for easy access to the loo. Someone is fanning through their inter-screening Borders purchase: Lolita . . . what happens at Silverdocs stays at Silverdocs or lands you an Adam Walsh Act civil commitment. Near-univeral post-dinner gum chewing. We will all have TMJ by hour three. No fear of neighbors reading my notes over my shoulder given the near-universal reading glasses. The metallic gold curtain closes.This is Wiseman’s 35th film. Technically, it is the North American debut. But it is showing on PBS immediately following this screening. Hence the empty seats in the smallest theater. Wiseman couldn’t make it to the screening because he’s working on his next film (a comedy?) in Paris. He sent a videotaped introduction which he said was about two minutes long and is actually five minutes long, the irony of which is lost on none of the fools sitting here wishing they were like the rest of the world tuning into PBS, curling up on their couch with their TiVo ready to pause when they have to go to the loo. He looks like an aged hobbit wearing a grey hooded sweater over a golf shirt with a red collar. The film is shot on 16mm. Wiseman is dedicated to shooting on film. He shot the entire 12-week 2004 legislative session in the state of Idaho. His goal was to show the democratic process in action. He shot 160 hours of film. It took him over a year to edit. He says he makes long films because he has a responsibility to the people who gave him permission to make a fair response. Ideas change from shooting through immersion in editing. Each film is a report on what he thinks he’s learned studying the material. He has done a series on institutions. All institutions he has studied are touched by the actions of a state legislature. Idaho is a citizens legislature, meaning they all have occupations aside from being legislators.The introduction ends, the film begins. It’s not the cleanest print. It opens with shots of the Idaho state capitol. The speaker of the house talks to guests in the rotunda. He analogizes the election of state legislators to cattle. The first 105 is who you get. No better people that you are. Makes them cognizant of their impact on their constituents.Cut to opening prayer on the floor. They pray for specific sentators’ sons who are ill. Refers back to Iwo Jima 59 years ago. Entreats them to taste and hear each word they say in the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge is modified. Cut to a senator crying while saying pledge.Tours Committee64% of democrats? think monetary contributions change votes. This needs to be addressed systematically. Representative government is core of American values. How do we protect public confidence? The institution of representative government is worth fighting for.One committee discusses a threat of an attack on school and the lack of a law pursuant to which the threatener could be arrested.Another committee discusses mad cow disease and a proposal that imported cattle from Canada be branded with the letter “C” as cows from Mexico are already branded with the letter “M” and also chipping cattle.Another committee discusses electronic waste, i.e. obsolete computers.Another committee discusses adding a provision to allow organ donors to specify that the do not want their organs to go to a for-profit entity.Another committee hosts a police chief who describes the problem of video voyeurism and the problem posed by imaging devices like camera phones. They’re discussing the wording of a law that would criminalize such acts. Limited to places with reasonable expectation of privacy. Nothing on books addresses upskirting. Also hotels recording what’s happening in their hotel rooms. Taping in women’s locker rooms. Father posting video of himself having sex with his daughter - there is a law against the act but not posting the video.Information desk, rotunda.Discussion in back of committee room about the difference between legislation and rules. “RS” means “routing service.” Once committee votes to print the R.S. it becomes a public bill. Chairman can refer the public bill for a hearing. Chairman has discretion because he or she controls who speaks and how long. The power of the committee chairman is very great.Another committee discusses who is allowed to speak at public hearings about proposals to use land for a confined animal feeding unit. But the subject matter is not revealed until toward the end. Mostly the discussion of who has a right to speak and who doesn’t without reference to what it is they may want to speak about. A person does not have a right to be heard if they do not own a primary residence within one mile of the proposed site. Freedom of speech can be inconvenient. Do we allow the government to say who can and who can’t comment? Notice is a separate issue. This is an issue of government power versus the power to be heard. Unlimited hearing rights might be cumbersome. What if the radius is increased to ten miles? Otherwise people get bussed in to jam up the system by special interest groups. All lines would be arbitrary. Let them all talk. Rather have them talking to us than talking about us. These unlimited hearings would kill projects. It’s a $2 billion industry. Private property right to build one of these things. This is the moment when the subject of the hearings at issue is revealed. We don’t have a right to tell people they can’t talk. Roll call vote. Motion dies on a tie.LobbyRobot demonstration of AI. Scientist is pitching to a legislator who appears most attentive to the free food.Another committee tries to honor a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, but forgets his name and it’s just embarrassing to all involved. Then they launch into a discussion of increasing utility and medical costs.Another committee discusses teachers. Some people refer to experience teaching as “seat time.” Four years of experience is worth more money than one year of experience. The current pay scale is driving old teachers out. Tough budget year so you have to prioritize. Give school boards more freedom. Even if we give them more money, local government might not use it on our priority.Another committee discusses a law about sex offenders. They don’t want pranksters to have to register. They want deviants to have to register. Not the football team and frat boys on the sex offender registry. What if they make the first offense a misdemeanor and the second offense a felony? What if they remove the registration requirement from the law? What if they make a different law for juveniles than for adults? Dissemination of images should be a felony. Dissemination is not a prank. A prosecutor present for the discussion suggests giving egregious offenders without dissemination a misdemeanor at most is problematic because the victim is no less victimized. The prosecutor is not opposed to limits on who has to register, but is not sure making a first offense a misdemeanor is a solution. Only register if second offense? Only register for dissemination? If he shows three friends in his basement but doesn’t post it on the web is that dissemination? What is more important: punishment or who registers? Rationale of the registry is to track recidivists with a problem. Overcriminalizing for 18 year old kids. Does it make sense that it’s a misdemeanor to expose one’s genitals but a felony to take a picture of another’s? Could petition for waiver to prosecute a minor as an adult for this offense, but prosecution as a minor is not automatically waived. What are we trying to address? Should we come at it from the victims point of view? What about this act offends us? Is it the sexual nature? Concerns of video broadcasting websites trying to avoid liability are what brought this to our attention. Are fraud investigators going to be in trouble? That’s why “sexual nature” language is there. We need to statisfy the business community and address the needs of law enforcement officers and prevent pranksters from cluttering up sex offender registry.Interview in lobby about legislation proposed by Congress regarding undocumented people without drivers licenses. If we are willing to hire them we should be willing to let them drive. Not an immigration issue. Reality is these people are here and working hard. Didn’t get a hearing on the issue. Going to keep trying.People talking to legislator about illegal immigration. We can’t address federal issues. We need to deal with people in our community. I employ people by helping them get here legally. This is a transportation issue not an immigration issue. Do you know why people come here? If you fix immigration you fix the drivers license issue. But we’re not at the federal level.Chess in rotunda.Pianist in rotunda.Another committee is hearing a rabbi. He is speaking about a proposed American Heritage Monument which would include the most important documents. He suggests Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. in which Jefferson introduced the idea of a wall between church and state. This is theocratic grandstanding to place the ten commandments in the statehouse. There are three versions of the ten commandments. Whose version will we use? What religion’s version does this state want to endorse over the others’? A person with an opposing viewpoint says that what the rabbi suggests is we should rewrite our heritage to say the founders were evil, godless men. This is the work of the United Nations and humanism. If we forget our foundations like San Fransisco and New Orleans, where people are ruled by their hearts and not the rule of law, destruction will come. Take a stand so more people may be submissive before the lord. Another person suggests they establish a committee of historians to determine appropriate documents to include. For example, the proposed monument does not include the constitution (, John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (, Montesque’s Spirit of the Law (, Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (, The Age of Reason ( which describes deism, The Rights of Man ( The Federalist Papers ( Pericles Funeral Oration ( This smacks of the Inquisition. There is no emergency as the proposed legislation states. So let’s do it right.RotundaOfficesDiscussion between the Speaker of the House and a reporter. The reporter says it is hard to get readers interested in water politics. Native American issues and interstate contracts intertwined with water rights. Here, an otherwise bumbling Speaker of the House rattles off the technical and political issues of every body of water in the state.Support staffAnother committee discusses the jail population. The number of females is increasing at an increasing rate. The jails are not prepared. Females need more programs. They don’t do time as well as mails. This increase is a consequence of methamphetamine and equal rights in that judges are not letting women off with light sentences as often.Exterior of the statehouse.Mailroom, senate pages.Rotunda.Debate on the Senate floor about banning smoking in restaurants and bars. A senator is reading facts and figures about second hand smoke. When he switches to extemporaneous speaking there is a huge increase in his persuasiveness. Insert a computer screen of votes. Businesses should be in control. People choose where to eat. Free enterprise. We have to be business friendly. Less government is good. Free choice. Every time the legislature gets together we lose another freedom. Free agency versus risk to others. When the risk is too great, then we must act. In the case of second hand smoke, the risk is too high. We don’t want to go too far into private homes and cars. Free enterprise and individual initiative. A Senator reads the Republican party’s platform. Government provides people only those critical functions that cannot be performed by individuals or private groups. Private property rights. Strong enforcement of the Takings Clause. With freedom comes responsibility. Government regulation is not new regarding public health and safety. Regulation protects majority from the few without regard for others.RotundaLatino kids dancing in traditional ethnic outfits while white people look on disparagingly.Another committee discusses the level of detail they went through the health and welfare budget in years past. What effect do we want to make during the debate on the house floor? We are sending a message to the people who care with no effect on the body. There will be press conferences before and after. Write letters to constituents. The department is making the budget unintelligible intentionally.Support staffAnother committee hears the testimony of a representative of the hotel and hospitality industry seeking legislation that would protect them from suits related to obesity. He is tripping over his words. A legislator says she understands his concerns regarding frivolous lawsuits but would the industry be willing to include in such legislation a requirement that they publish nutritional information? Another legislator says no attorney in Idaho would file such an action. Special legislation for a special interest group. We have civil procedure protections. Do we trust our judicial system? Do we have to protect every company? We have good judges and we get rid of frivolous suits. Government shouldn’t regulate common sense consumption.MailroomDebate on the house floor about bill requiring all children of age to attend kindergarten. Right of parents to decide whether they’re ready for kindergarten. Insert of reflection of computer screens on legislator’s glasses. Kindergarten is parents passing the buck. Mandatory public schools don’t solve the problem. Government should stay out of the way. Children are at risk and allowing them to fail is not acceptable, particularly if budget is the reason. While it is primarily a parental responsibility, society has a right to be involved in raising kids. Society pays the price if those kids fail in the form of jails and unemployment. Insert of people in the gallery. Parents know best whether kids are prepared. The Communist Manifesto ( included government control of education.RotundaAn organization called ( is pitching to the legislators. A legislator doffs a virtual reality headset that allows people to experience a day in the life of a schizophrenic. Helps people to empathize with people who have an invisible disease. It is not a lifestyle choice. Mental health drugs are currently covered by Medicaid. We shouldn’t tinker with what doctors know works. The consequences of untreated mental health problems are severe. Parity in private healthcare coverage of mental health care. Most private insurance covers all mental health drugs. Value of advocacy groups.Two legislators talking about their positions on a bill. Matter of fundamental fairness. Where are the Blues? I.e., what position does Blue Cross/Blue Shield take on this issue?Debate on the floor about telephone rates. Local landline rates are determined by Qwest. Qwest did not show effective competition. Price deregulation means there would be no limit on the price they could charge. In all other ways the telecom industry is already deregulated. There will be excessive rate increases without competition. A telephone is a vital service. Deregulation would allow Qwest to haul huge profits out of Idaho. Deregulation is not always good.Another committee discusses victim impact statements. These are relevant and admissable in capital cases within Booth v. Maryland and Payne v. Tennessee. [Booth v. Maryland, 482 U.S. 496, 504-05 (1987), held that introduction of a victim impact statement at the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial violated the Eighth Amendment. Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 827 (1991) overruled Booth holding that the Eighth Amendment erects no per se bar if a state chooses to permit the admission of victim impact evidence and prosecutorial argument on that subject; the state may legitimately conclude that evidence about victim and impact of murder on victim's family is relevant to jury's decision as to whether to impose death penalty, in the same manner as other relevant evidence.] The Eighth Amendment does not bar victim impact statements in capital cases. Cathy Figoretto testifies before the committee about her daughter, who was murdered in her town of Mountain Home. We need to have a voice for victims, who are powerless.Another committee discusses a bill that would require contractors to be registered with the state. The committee hears testimony of an attorney representing the builders association. Currently there are no standards. This bill would create a registry with grounds for discipline and state intervention for fraud outside the civil court system, which is cost prohibitive. I can change my name if my reputation is ruined. It’s a shell game. When drafting this bill we surveyed people who have opposed similar bills in the past and tried to work out our differences. Committee notes no one signed up to testify against the legislation though they see people in the room who rallied the opposition to similar bills in the past. The committee hears testimony of a representative of Idahoans for Tax Reform. He opposes any permit issued by the government to go to work. Bad guys are still going to be bad guys. He sent the committee members copies of John Stossel’s book Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media... ( Established players control the licensing board and keep competition out. Licensing is a restriction on trade and inhibits small businesses from forming. A committee member counters that we already license a lot of things. He’s never heard this witness except on the issue of contractor licensing. These other professions are licensed, so what is your position on that? The ITR representative says he’s resistant to licensing in general. The committee member starts reading the different professions that are licensed asking the man if he opposes the licensing of each profession in turn. The man says school teachers should not be licensed. There should be no liquor licenses. Attorneys are a tough question but are licensed by their own bar. He doesn’t know whether physicians should be licensed. Auctioneers should not be licensed. He’s not familiar enough with bail agents to have an opinion. Stock traders are bound by a fiduciary trust which allows consumers particular protections. He gives the UL ( as an example of a non-governmental compliance oversight. The committee member and the man go through the entire list of licensed occupations. The man says he thinks consumers should not be protected by government agencies. Another committee member moves that the committee should pass the bill to the floor with a recommendation that it be passed. The motion is approved unanimously by voice vote.Support StaffFour men meet in an office. It initially appears that two legislators are telling jokes to the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate. The joke is about Governmentonium ( ). Actually, the two men telling the joke are lobbyists. They are meeting to discuss a public transportation funding bill. There are three ways to fund public transportation: federal, state, or local option funding bills. Local option could mean a personal property tax on personal passenger vehicles. The lobbyists are trying to get the bill into interim committee. The legislators tell the lobbyists to talk to other legislators and generate interest in the bill then give them a list of who is interest. These legislators are running unopposed so they have time to do this in an election year. People won’t use an inadequate public transportation system. Right now we can’t generate sufficient local funding to get matching federal funding. Lobbyists have drafted a resolution and are asking the legislators how to proceed. The speaker explains how.Rotunda - choirAdministrative staffMarine showing off his Purple Hearts to administrative staff.A legislator and an administrative staff woman are looking through the rules together. If the committee doesn’t do what the body wants it to do the body can intervene. Bills are referred to the committee not to the committee chairman. The committee can call the bill from the committee chair.Another committee discusses whether local people have a say in charter school grants. Should a commission in the capital do whatever it wants? There are incentives for the charter to work with the local board. When the local board has animosity toward the charter, then there is an alternate route through the state commission. First era of charter schools were started by dedicated visionaries. This era is corporate education management lobbying the state board trying to get money from the state. The committee votes to reject the amendment.The ITR representative who was involved in the committee hearing on construction licensing talks to another man about what they’re going to argue. They’re going to propose bonding and self-certification. They are going to draft legislation for voluntary registration.Senate pages.A small group gathered on the floor discusses running a roll call vote on the phone rate issue. Two senators are talking about tactics. We lost this vote because of organized labor. It is easier to get things from people who aren’t the regulators, like the legislature. Newspaper reporter is among those discussing.The legislator we saw discussing the rules with the administrative staff woman calls for a hearing on a bill despite the committee chairman’s opposition. She says the tactic shows this issue is a litmus test and lack of trust in the State Supreme Court. We have to rise above that fear. At this point it is revealed that the issue in question is an amendment to the Idaho state constitution prohibiting same sex marriage. The law already describes marriage as between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court will not overrule it. The bill proposes an amendment to the Idaho state constitution. This is divisive. The legislator who called fo a hearing says it is a vote on the faith in the strength of government. Idaho has an expanded privacy right in its constitution which is broader that the Equal Protection Clause so that gives cause for pause. An appellate court would be compelled to take a closer look at a challenge brought to this law. No negativity toward chairman. The motion is within the procedures allowed. We need to do our due diligence to bring this issue to the floor. With a hearing we’ll give the citizens the chance to express their views. Fostering debate and expression of the will of the Senate. Then a ballot measure to express the will of citizens. Not an expression of the Chairman’s will alone. Another legislator says this is misdirecting their attention and resources. We have immediate problems. What is the magnitude of the problem? Another legislature says he has respect for the chairman and the committee process. What this does is strengthen the current law. The legislative process has obstacles because the minority needs to be protected from an overzealous majority. There is no imminent threat. We’re Idahoans. We have faith in the Supreme Court and future legislators. The motion fails so the topic of a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage is not going to hearing.RotundaA woman is giving a eulogy for a former legislator who recently passed away. Inserts of bored legislators not listening. Reading of a psalm. Prayer. Bagpiping police officer plays Amazing Grace and walks alone from the room. The doors close behind him. The film ends.

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