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Government, like dust, wants to cover everything

by REP. HEATHER SCOTT Contributing Writer
| February 18, 2021 1:00 AM

It's abundantly clear from ancient and recent history that human nature bears three types of people: those who want to govern, those who want to be governed, and those who are self-governing. All are critical to a well-functioning society. The rope that binds these peopled together is “control” and the ebb and flow of control between them is always the bellwether of the state of decay in any given society or country.

Currently, the decay meter in the United States is heading rapidly toward the “rotten” reading because many in governing roles believe their power allows them to incrementally dismantle our federal and state constitutions while trampling individual rights under the guise of “it’s best for the population.” This is the “death by 1,000 cuts” tactic.

In D.C. and in Boise, the president and the governor believe government is the hammer and the citizens are the nail. I provide one such nefarious example below happening today in Boise.

Bureaucrats in the governor’s office appear to be attempting to undermine our statutory language and, ultimately, our Idaho Constitution. There are numerous instances during this session where the executive branch is pushing to change the wording in many laws, rules, and statues. They are pressing to replace use of the word “shall” with use of the word “must.”

The objective behind this effort appears to be changing the meaning of words. The word “shall” currently means something that is mandatory. The words “shall not” currently means that something is strictly prohibited. Those words have had clear meaning for centuries.

The scheme seems to be replacing the word "shall" with the word “must” in Idaho Code, rules, and the Idaho Constitution. The Legislature is being told that if you want things to be strictly required, or strictly prohibited, only the word “must” will suffice. 

In this case, the word “shall” is no longer sufficient to compel strict compliance, and the words “shall not” will no longer be sufficient to strictly prohibit conduct. Who suddenly decided this? An emperor? A dictator? Where the word “shall” remains, it would now be interpreted by courts as a discretionary term, rather than a compulsory term. “Must” then means “shall,” and “shall” then means “may.” When wiggle words are used, the government can create confusion and chaos and can get away with shenanigans.

The word shall is well understood amongst the general public and has been used since biblical times. Most citizens can recite at least two or three of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shall not murder,” “thou shall not steal,” “thou shall not bear false witness,” etc. In the founding of this country, the word shall was one of the most commonly used words in our constitution.

Idaho citizens are quite clear on the language of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which states “… the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Using and replacing well-understood words with ambiguous terms confuses citizens and cedes more power to the courts. If you want to undermine a well-established constitution by changing just one word that is currently accepted and well-understood by nearly everyone, what better word than shall?

A brief Government 101 review shows us just how important the word shall was to the framers of our U.S. Constitution, and how deceitful this new effort seems to be. Imagine how destructive to your liberties changing the meaning of the word shall would be. Take a look at the first nine amendments in the Bill of Rights and you will see the word shall is very important, purposely used and well understood when it comes to our relationship with government.

What do you think about replacing it with the word must? I can think of many other things more worthy of legislators’ time rather than this word shell game being pushed by an out of control executive branch and a governor that acts more like a dictator.

If this issue concerns you, you may want to consider doing one or more of the following:

Call or email your legislators and ask them to abandon efforts to replace the word shall with must in administrative rules and law.

Ask them to consider sponsoring legislation to restore the integrity and founding intent in our law.

Call or email members of the executive branch and the governor, and ask them to stop their efforts to undermine Idaho laws and our liberties by using ambiguous terms, rather than clear and concise language, when suggesting the legislature make changes to current laws.

Rep. Heather Scott represents Bonner and Boundary counties in the Idaho Legislature in District 1A. She can be reached at hscott@house.idaho.gov.