Legislature: Dem Successes and Failures

by Judy Ferro

Rep. Sue Chew (D-District 18) said the 2015 legislature was a good one for Democrats.   Speaking before the Canyon County Democratic Central Committee last Tuesday, Chew stated that divisions among Republicans made the 14 Democratic votes in the Idaho House more important this year.

To illustrate, Chew cited three changes Democrats asked for before throwing their support behind the “career ladder” education bill. The law now allows performance awards to go to teams of teachers, not just individuals. Teachers are often team workers, and some administrators had protested having to choose among them. The other changes allow teachers to participate in setting criteria for awards and specify that requirements not funded by future legislatures will be void.

(After years of Republicans setting policy in closed caucus and then allowing little or no debate, education chairs Reed DeMordaunt and Dean Mortimer deserve the praise they are getting for addressing educators’ concerns this year.)

Chew was also pleased that Democrats could help in passing the anti-bullying bill and in killing tax cuts for Idaho’s wealthiest along with the big tax increases originally proposed for the rest of us.

Of course, some major Democratic efforts failed this year. Medicaid supporters—both Democratic and Republican—managed to convince a majority of the House to back Medicaid expansion, but could not get House leaders to schedule a vote.

Equally painful was Minority Leader John Rusche’s failed attempt to call the child support bill, SB 1067, to the floor of the House for a vote prior to adjournment. The bill died in spite of warnings that Idaho would lose not only $46 million in Federal funds, but also the use of Federal software which makes it possible to collect $200 million a year in child-support payments for Idaho children.

All Republicans voted against addressing the matter even though four had supported the bill in committee. Christy Perry, who had cited the risk to Idaho’s 155,000 child support cases as reason for her “yes” vote in committee, was among them.  Even Rep. Luke Malek failed to support a vote. The Spokesman Review had quoted an e-mail of his as saying, “Scuttling 1067 without debate was heavy-handed opportunistic theatrics at the expense of single-parents and children…the most vulnerable in our society. I do not support the erratic behavior that will lead to the dismantling of our child support system, nor the implication that this mockery of a legal analysis [by Lynn Luker] in any way represents our Republican caucus.’”

Malek’s could hardly have made his support of the bill clearer; yet, he too voted against bringing it to the House floor. That’s the kind of lockstep obedience to party leadership that shoots holes in arguments to “vote for the man, not the party.”

Now Governor Otter must call a special session to pass the child support bill. Maybe he can make confused legislators understand that passing the bill is simply adding provisions of an existing international treaty to state law. This treaty, approved by the U.S. Senate with support from both Senators Risch and Crapo, is the law of the land with or without Idaho’s approval.

So, due to grandstanding by paranoid legislators who don’t like the Federal government controlling even America’s treaties, Idahoans will pay $100,000 or so for a special session to accomplish what should have been a minor bookkeeping procedure.

Looking for a silver lining, the energetic Chew is working to get the Governor to add Medicaid expansion to the agenda. It’s a long-shot, but saving 80-120 lives year after year would make the coming session worth every cent of its cost.