Republican legislature fails Idaho voters

KTVB reported Friday that nearly 40,000 Idahoans signed up for Medicaid expansion in the first two weeks of enrollment. 

On January 1 they–and thousands still to sign up–will have assistance in meeting healthcare expenses.

For five years Idahoans who care pressed legislators to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor. Then they got an initiative on the ballot and saw 61 percent of Idaho voters support expansion last November.  

Then, Republican legislators who never saw unnecessary deaths as a reason to act, passed limits to coverage–which have not yet been approved by Federal administrators–and made initiatives harder to pass–which Gov. Brad Little vetoed.

They did make it clear, however, that they don’t respect the voters’ opinions.  

Right now, Idaho citizens who care are gathering signatures for initiatives to raise the minimum wage, to increase school funding, and to legalize medical marijuana. 

And every petition, every knocked door, every signature, cries out that legislators are failing us. 

It’s been 10 years since Congress set the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour.  Since then, 31 states have adopted higher rates. Equivalent wage today would be $8.70 an hour (CPI Inflation Calculator). 

A 2015 poll by the Dan Jones’ firm found that 70 percent of Idahoans supported raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour. 

Yet, a bill cosponsored by Idaho’s Democratic legislators in 2017 died without discussion or hearings.  

The current initiative, circulated by Idahoans for a Fair Wage, would raise the wage to $8.75 on June 1, 2021 and, with annual increases, to $12 in 2024. 

The group makes a simple argument: the living wage in Idaho is almost $15 an hour, yet 40 percent of Idahoans earn less than $12 an hour.  

 Idaho Sen. Jim Rice (R-10) dismisses that reasoning. “It’s poor economic policy to do minimum wages. It’s a type of price control.”

Price control–like Idaho exerts on electricity, natural gas, and water companies (and the Federal government fails to exert on insulin)–is bad.  No need to rethink because Idaho workers are stuck in poverty.

Reclaim Idaho decided not to dismantle its organization of volunteers after getting Medicaid expansion enacted, but choose a new goal–adequate funding of education.   

In 2010, after the Great Recession hit, Idaho Republicans made the most drastic cuts in education funding in the nation so they could lower business taxes significantly. In recent years, some have approved additional funding, but not enough to keep class sizes reasonable or retain qualified teachers.

Reclaim Idaho is asking voters to increase the corporate tax to eight percent and put a surtax on earnings over $250,000 in order to send school districts an additional $600 per student. 

Similarly, Republican leaders and Idahoans are at odds over medical marijuana. 

 Idaho is one of only three states where CBD oil or hemp containing any amount of THC is illegal. Yet a poll by Idaho Politics Weekly indicated that 73 percent of Idahoans support legalizing medical marijuana. 

So now the Idaho Cannabis Coalition  is circulating a 27-page petition detailing the establishment of a registry of patients, caregivers, growers and agents who could use or possess medical marijuana.  

Each of the three initiative petitions requires that signatures of 55,057 legally registered voters–including six percent of the voters in 18 legislative districts–be submitted to Idaho Elections by May 1.  

If each volunteer got 100 signatures–and 85 of those were valid–the task would require over 2,000 volunteers.  

May all 2,000 then turn their efforts into defeating legislators who don’t listen and don’t care.