Legislature – Good & Bad News

With March in sight and budget bills ready, the legislature moved into high gear this week, making some people happy, some sad, and others both happy and sad.

The most cheering news was that a bipartisan majority managed to kill two bills aimed at  repealing Medicaid Expansion while they were still in the House Health and Welfare Committee.

Representatives Julianne Young and John Green both argued that voters just weren’t bright enough to be trusted with such an important decision.  Okay, according to reporter Nathan Brown, their phrasing was more politically correct–the voters were “misinformed.” I imagine them doing some hand-wringing as they told committee members that voters weren’t aware that the state would have to pay 10 percent of the cost and, possibly, more than 62,000 would be enrolling.

I can also imagine Gov. Brad Little gritting his teeth as the pair carried on as though his State of the State address had not included a plan for funding the expansion. (Talk about misinforming voters.)

And Green went so far as to claim legislators may ignore the voters because, “we’re a constitutional republic, not a democracy.”

Don’t forget the names: Julianne Young, John Green.  And add the three who voted with them: Mike Kingsley, Megan Blanksma, and Bryan Zollinger.

And be thankful for Chair Fred Wood–and the three Republicans and three Democrats who joined him in killing the bills.

Bills to add work requirements and lifetime limits to Medicaid expansion are in the works.  Other states have spent millions administering such restrictions; that spending is not budgeted.

Many are also happy that the bill to create a committee within the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to review childbirth-related deaths passed the House last week.

Opponents of HB 109 nearly carried the day by arguing we didn’t need more bureaucracy to look into five to six deaths a year. The study, however, will become part of national data that may indicate why the U.S. maternal death rate is rate is three times that of Germany or the United Kingdom.

We will soon see how the Senate votes.

On a sad note, a bill to allow charter schools to hire non-educators as administrators, passed 21-12.  According to reporter Nathan Brown, Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer said “this bill is about giving charter schools a way to be more flexible and creative.”

Is there a stereotype that says educators are stuck in their ways? Or is it simply a feeling that education doesn’t require much expertise?

I’m sure necessity would make a non-pilot both flexible and creative in the cockpit, but It wouldn’t make up for lack of knowledge.

If a leader doesn’t have the experience to anticipate problems and work to prevent them, he or she won’t have the respect of the teachers. If a leader doesn’t understand the full scope of situations, he or she be inconsistent and follow the latest advice.

 And a leader without experience organizing playground activities and assemblies can get people hurt.

Idaho has many charter schools happy to have educators as leaders. Unfortunately, there are chains wanting to move in that are interested in milking the system for what they can get. They now have permission to hire “teachers” whose main job is recruiting. Do we really want them to hire directors who are more business-oriented than kid-oriented?

Now the House may act on SB 1058. I’d love to think members would stand up to the corporations pushing this, but I have doubts.

Expect the legislative roller coaster to pick up even more speed in the next few weeks.


Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

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