Problems ahead for Legislature, Congress

Until reading the Idaho Press’ Sunday overview of the issues awaiting the 2019 Idaho legislature, I was expecting a less-than-exciting session this year.  Without elections in the near future, legislators tend to be more focused on Idaho’s needs and less interested in provoking controversy.

But prison overcrowding, an out-of-date school funding formula, and children dying without medical aid are challenging issues.

And personal tax collections since July 1 being $62 million less than predicted heightens the difficulties in funding both Medicaid Expansion and the fifth year of the teacher career ladder.

I still don’t understand how last year’s “tax cut” led to workers owing more income tax this spring. One might suspect withholding rates were lowered primarily to cause a temporary boost to the economy before the November elections. The alternative–that people actually owe less taxes–would be bad news for all state programs.

Still, the continued impasse over the Federal government shutdown is a bigger hurdle.  President Trump’s glib statement that the closures could go on for months or years convinced me that at least in the White House someone is doing dishes, taking out garbage and cleaning toilets.

Only budget bills can end the shutdown, and only the House can pass budget bills.  So, on day one, as leaders had promised, House members passed two budget bills that Congress had accepted prior to adjournment last month.

Consensus is that nothing will come of them. The President, originally receptive to this compromise, has hardened his stance and promises to veto the bills. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allows a Senate vote, it will simultaneously weaken the President and expose senators to retaliation. And, without the votes to override a veto, the shutdown would continue.

As the President has pointed out this is not the way that Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her new term as Speaker of the House.

What the Speaker wants is laid out in H.R. 1, a bill that made top of the list because Pelosi co-sponsored it.

The nearly 600-page For the People Act would authorize thousands of change to fine tune our democracy in three areas: voting,  campaign finance, and ethics.

In some cases, it merely adds an enforcement clause to existing regulations.  In others, it replaces earlier civil rights legislation which was allowed to expire. A series of sections “would repeal restriction on the use of funds” to make political activity by corporations, government contractors, and nonprofit agencies more transparent.

Idaho’s voting laws could have been the model for several of the changes: a nonpartisan commission for reapportionment, same day registration, restored rights for felons, and a voting paper trail.

I suspect many Idahoans don’t realize how important these laws are.  The Kansas Secretary of State wiped 500,000 voters from registration roles because mail wasn’t delivered; 335,000 of these people had not moved. Florida once wiped everyone with a name similar to convicted felon in any state in from its voter roles; a U.S. Representative was among the thousands who found they could not vote. This year a former Florida state official was among hundreds whose signature was not considered a good enough match to the one on file.

Every election hundreds of thousands of citizens are told they can’t vote because they aren’t registered. We need to protect the right to vote.

But H.R. 1 seems relegated to a back burner. Speaker Pelosi sees the House’s next task as breaking the omnibus spending bill up into separate bills in hopes that the President will sign some.

Maybe Trump will approve funding of the Internal Revenue Service?

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2018
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