Idaho, take the cuffs off of sheriffs

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Here’s a question for the citizens of Kootenai County.

What would you rather have your sheriff do?

a. Protect law-abiders and their property

b. Issue driver’s licenses

If you answered b., you might be an Idaho Transportation Department official. Because every other Idahoan would pick a.

Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger blew a gasket last week on behalf of every Idaho sheriff who’s fed up because b. is what our Legislature chose years ago. Idaho and Nebraska are the only two states that saddle their sheriffs’ departments with a responsibility that could easily be handled by 9 to 5 bureaucrats who aren’t tasked with saving lives and catching bad guys.

With the husky huskers, spud staters are a living tribute to Andy and Barney, harkening to the days when most Idaho villages looked a lot like Mayberry. You know: If the sheriff is done scolding the jaywalker and picking up a bubble gum wrapper in the park, maybe he can man the driver’s license window for an hour or two.

Or maybe this system came about from something a little less naive. Maybe an ITD lobbyist convinced enough legislators over cold beverages late one night that the department was underfunded, shorthanded or both. Maybe an influential legislator had earned a DUI from his sheriff and plotted sweet, sweet revenge. We’ll show ’em! Stick ’em in DMV and let ’em burn!

While that’s speculative fiction, what we know for a fact is that in Kootenai County, the process to get a new license or title is an unmitigated mess. As a letter to the editor from former Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin pointed out Friday, local motorists can usually drive to the Silver Valley, Benewah County or Bonner County and be home with a fresh license before getting served in Coeur d’Alene.

Whatever that system is, it’s broken. But we don’t think convenience is even the biggest issue here. It’s a question of who should be doing what.

We call upon conscientious North Idaho legislators to make it a priority of the 2019 session to extract sheriff’s personnel from the licensing game. Then it’s up to ITD to figure out a better way to serve the citizens in one of the fastest growing counties in one of the fastest growing states. Ben & Co. have more important things to do.

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