Uncertainty remains in Occupy camping enforcement

Uncertainty remains in Occupy camping enforcement
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho officials say they haven't decided just when — or how — they will enforce a new law prohibiting Occupy Boise protesters from camping overnight on state grounds in downtown Boise.

For now, Occupy Boise lawyers expect to meet Friday with the attorney general's office to sort out questions and details from a federal judge's recent ruling on a lawsuit challenging the state's new law.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the protesters could keep their collection of tents and maintain an around-the-clock vigil, but the protesters are barred from sleeping, cooking or taking part in any other overnight camping activities on the grounds.

He also ordered the state to delay enforcing the law and seizing property until Friday to give both sides time to comply with the ruling. But officials from both sides say they are confused about how to interpret the timing of Friday's deadline.

Jon Hanian, spokesman for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, said because of the uncertainty, the state will take conservative approach and delay any enforcement. He says the state hopes the protesters make a good-faith effort to end overnight stays and remove camping-related items.

"We're erring on the side of caution in an effort to follow the judge's order," Hanian said Thursday. "We fully expect and hope the Occupy camp will do that as well."

Otter signed legislation last week designed to evict the encampment from the grounds of the old Ada County Courthouse. But the protesters quickly sued, arguing the law infringed on their constitutional rights.

Winmill issued a preliminary injunction delaying state enforcement of the law. Winmill determined the Occupy Boise's tents and the around-the-clock vigil constitute symbolic political speech protected under the First Amendment. He said protesters can maintain their tents and other structures at least until an evidentiary hearing scheduled for April 27.

But with the Friday deadline approaching, Occupy Boise attorney Bryan Walker said concern has intensified among the protesters over how the state would enforce the ban on sleeping at the site and removing cooking equipment and other camping gear.

"We have a lot of property down there which the state might construe as related to camping, which is not," Walker told The Associated Press.

He says some items at the site, including a food pantry, could be interpreted as being related to overnight camping, but are being used during the day to help feed the homeless. Other items include lanterns and a wood-burning stove that are being used for meetings in the absence of electricity.

"They could construe those things as camping equipment and seize them," Walker said. "These are issues we wanted to clarify."

A spokesman for the attorney general said state lawyers have agreed to meet with the group to discuss the judge's ruling and help ease any confusion that could play out in the coming weeks.

Hanian said officials from Otter's office may also meet with Walker next week.