Meridian’s mayor and city council pushed back on Rep. Bruce Skaug’s decision to forbid those under 18 years old from testifying to the Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee, unless he invites them.

Mayor Robert Simison and all six members of the city council signed a letter to Skaug, R-Nampa, dated Jan. 20.

“We are writing today encouraging you to listen to the voice of youth,” the letter said. “Meridian prides itself on its open and transparent access to government and policy making, and the involvement of youth in that process.”

Skaug did not return a request for comment. He previously said if there are students who wanted to weigh in he might ask them to choose one spokesperson.

“It prevents adults and taxpayers from being able to. … We have 16-year-olds taking the place of 40-year-olds,” Skaug told Boise Weekly. “I just want some control, to be able to get the testimony of all the adults, taxpayers in the room.”

A Meridian spokesperson said Skaug told Meridian leaders he would consider their views on the matter.

In the letter, the elected officials wrote about the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, which “encourages youth to be involved.” Youth council members have been active in state law changes and testifying on issues, the letter said.

Five city commissions have youth as voting members, according to the letter. Plus, youth have testified at land-use and local ordinance hearings.

“What we found is that youth provide their own unique and equally valuable perspectives on issues. They have great perspective, and are the future of our community and state,” the letter said. “As a leader in Idaho, you help set the tone for, and perception of the Idaho State Legislature. If others adopt your position in the legislature, we are effectively silencing the voice of Idahoans who are valuable contributing members of our community.”

Meridian’s Youth Advisory Council has worked on several projects, including working with lawmakers to lower the minimum organ donor age, working on legislation to allow 17-year-olds to vote in the primary election if they will be 18 by the time of the general election, and installing recycling bins downtown, according to previous Idaho Press reporting.

The council has been in continuous existence since 2006.

Simison in recent months has been taking more political stands.

In March, Simison and other Meridian leaders condemned doxxing related to Ammon Bundy’s trespassing arrest at St. Luke’s Meridian. Bundy had been protesting outside the hospital, where the grandchild of his political acolyte Diego Rodriguez had been taken by child protective services after officials determined the child was malnourished.

In his state of the city address in June, Simison decried division and criticized the state House’s attempt to throw librarians in jail for checking out allegedly “harmful” materials to minors, and said their approach did not reflect not the Idaho he grew up in. He said Idahoans used to find ways to work together, welcome new ideas and work out disagreements.

Simison also pushed back against new Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador earlier this month, after Labrador moved to dismiss trespassing charges against a Meridian woman who went to a playground that was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020 and, after refusing to leave, asked police to arrest her.

“The Attorney General’s apparent philosophy to selectively dismiss cases of his choosing and endorse illegal behavior is abhorrent,” Simison said at the time. “These actions are distressing and Attorney General Labrador’s decision today is a breach of his oath of office to uphold the rule of law.”

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, also said she would not accept testimony from minors to the House Local Government Committee, according to Clark Corbin with the Idaho Capital Sun.

“It seems that some legislators forget that students are constituents and the best legislation is made when all constituent input is taken into account,” said Shiva Rajbhandari, Boise School District board member and youth director for BABE Vote. “When government begins cutting certain constituencies out of the process, it undermines the legitimacy of the policies they are creating.”

Carolyn Komatsoulis covers Boise, Meridian and Ada County. Contact her at 208-465-8107 and follow her on Twitter @CKomatsoulis.

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