Idaho legislature: Perennial issues up front

by Judy Ferro

I’ve heard no Idaho legislature really gets to work until the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee presents a budget. Some make it sound like we could send everyone else home for three weeks.

Others point out each committee is now honing possible legislation and deciding whether to have public hearings before bringing bills to the floor.

Whatever, the news coming out of the legislature right now isn’t focused on the major legislation voters will remember at sessions’ end. Instead, some perennial themes are getting media attention.

Infighting between Republican centrists and extremists. Heather Scott’s slur against women in the Idaho legislature added some color to this year’s brouhaha—as did the description of her standing on her desk prying suspicious wires off the ceiling.

Calls for tax cuts. Idaho has the tenth lowest tax rate in the nation—and the potholes to prove it—but that doesn’t stop diehards from asking for massive cuts. Idaho Freedom Foundation put the bar at $200 million—a full $70 million more than the projected surplus. Legislators have talked of $45 million.

Kooky personal bills. This year’s winner for crazy abortion bill calls for criminal charges against every women who has an abortion. I imagine a prosecuting attorney’s nightmare would be arguing a case against a mother of three whose husband was just diagnosed with epilepsy or something equally career-maiming.

Perennial causes. Supporters of Add the Words Idaho earn the longevity award hands down.  The group is initiating its 11th campaign to get legislators to recognize that LGBT individuals deserve the same protections as other Idaho minorities.

The life-or-death award goes to those fighting for Medicaid coverage for the 78,000 Idahoans who don’t currently qualify because they have jobs, but don’t earn enough for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Failure to cover them costs lives, drags down our economy, and costs the state and counties millions of dollars.

Adjournment date. Everyone know that March 24th is the predicted date? That’s can be important to those participating in office pools.

Meanwhile, two unknowns at the Federal level haunt those considering bills yet to be introduced.

One, will a Republican Congress now abolish the Affordable Care Act?

The Republican platform leaves no wiggle room: “To that end, a Republican president, on the first day in office, will use legitimate waiver authority under the law to halt its (ACA’s) advance and then, with the unanimous support of Congressional Republicans, will sign its repeal.”

The stage is set, but members of Congress are hearing from thousands of constituents who do not want to lose health care coverage.

Moreover, many counties and states can’t cover the skyrocketing hospital bills for indigent care if 18 million people lose their health insurance. Idaho’s Butch Otter was among nine governors who cautioned Congressional leaders last week about the economic calamities of full repeal.

Complicating matters more, President Trump has recently promised to give everyone better coverage at lower premiums. Republican Congressional leaders have been advocating personal responsibility and free choice, not better coverage.

The second unknown is the future Supreme Court. What difference will Trump’s nominee make? Certainly some legislators are sponsoring bills that clearly violate current interpretations of the Constitution and Federal law. They must be dreaming of appearances on national shows after the Supreme Court decides to decide challenges to “their” law.

Meanwhile, we can hope—and insist—that our legislators work for the best compromise they can under existing law.  If later changes require a special session, so be it

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