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Mask burning in Boise in March violated Idaho Capitol rules. Will there be any charges?


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The Idaho Statehouse is frequently the site of protests and demonstrations. | DARIN OSWALD, DOSWALD@IDAHOSTATESMAN.COM

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) – No charges will be filed after a protest at the Idaho Statehouse featured adults and children burning masks in an open flame.

Though the activity was a violation of the Capitol’s administrative rules, as open flames are not permitted on Statehouse grounds, none of those involved in the event will face criminal charges, according to Idaho State Police spokesperson Lynn Hightower.

“Each incident on state Capitol grounds is a careful balance between the right to free speech and the needs of public safety and security,” Hightower said in an email.

Idaho made national news when the March 6 event outside the Statehouse featured dozens of adults — and children — burning face masks to protest health measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

RELATED | Protesters burn masks at Idaho Capitol rally against rules

Diane Blume, program specialist with the Idaho Department of Administration, said having an open flame on Statehouse grounds is a violation of its public use policies.

ISP said in a news release the same day that it would be reviewing the incident, and those involved were told before and during the event that open flames were not allowed.

Blume told the Statesman that future gatherings will be under more scrutiny both before and during events, though her department and ISP have yet to meet to determine what that looks like. That discussion likely would happen after the current legislative session, which is on pause after six state lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19 last week. The Idaho House and Senate will resume the 2021 session on April 6.

Blume added that the March 6 event was approved with the Department of Administration, though the department did not OK an open flame and didn’t know ahead of time that would happen.

Videos of the masks being burned spread quickly on social media, including some instances where adults encouraged children to throw masks into a burning barrel. The event was attended by roughly 100 people, according to The Associated Press, including Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and Rep. Dorothy Moon, both Republicans.

Nearly two weeks before the March 6 mask burning, members of the Boise-based Central District Health voted to ditch the mask mandates for Ada and Valley counties. Members of the board pointed to the counties’ dropping COVID-19 numbers as a reason for transitioning the mandates into advisories, which suggest the wearing of masks rather than requiring wearing one.

Boise currently has a mask mandate, which was enacted after the countywide order was dropped. Idaho does not have a statewide mandate on masks and never has.