Legislature: Lots happening this week

by Judy Ferro

The 2017 Idaho Legislature is in full swing—several appropriations bills on the Governor’s desk, over 200 bills and resolutions in process, and the deadline for introducing bills just hours away. And the U.S. Congress is in action for a change. There’s lots to watch.

2C Rep 1: As I write (Saturday), Caldwell Rep. Greg Chaney is expected to introduce a new version of HB 76, his bill to withhold sales tax money from sanctuary cities and to authorize police to check anyone’s citizenship status. Opponents recognize that this could lead to harassment for thousands of legal citizens. They predict that a hearing will be held early as Thursday or Friday.

2C Rep 2: Nampa Rep. Scott Syme has stepped forward as a champion of climate change deniers. Thursday the House Education Committee passed his motion to remove five paragraphs from Idaho’s new science standards that mentioned humanity’s negative effects on species and environment. Districts may teach climate change and habitat loss if they choose to do; some Idaho students will discuss these issues while others will be kept in the dark.

Syme said he acted because so many voters had asked him to accept the standards. My first reaction was that he distrusts voters, but maybe he feared the committee would reject the standards completely.

Time to Weep, State: The only attempt so far to cover the 78,000 Idahoans who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to benefit from Obamacare is a bill by Sen. Steven Thayne of Emmett. It would provide up to $600 a year to an estimated 15,000 Idahoans in the gap who have chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension or obesity.

Payments will vary from procedure to procedure so initial administrative costs for both doctors and the state will be substantial. Cost to Idaho taxpayers is estimated at over $25 million for two years.

Thayne’s plan wasn’t mentioned in the recent Washington Post feature on Idaho’s failure “to design a better plan than Obamacare.”

It wouldn’t have changed the message.

Time to Weep, Federal: The U.S. House has voted against attempts to block those receiving Social Security Disability for mental disorders “like schizophrenia and severe anxiety” from owning guns. They have to do something while the Senate acts on cabinet nominations.

The time is now: House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding wants to amend the Idaho Constitution so that city and school bonds would require approval by 60% of the voters rather than two-thirds vote required now.

It’s heartbreaking when a bond receives 62% of the vote and loses. Sixty percent is used by many states; it’s still a hefty majority.

The battle starts: Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D, has proposed Idaho adopt a top-two primary similar to those in Washington and California. For many voters, it would mean fewer Democrats on the November ballot, but, overall, more voters would have real choices.

Opinion Editor Mary Trillhaase of the Lewiston Tribune sees the top two primary as taking power from the parties and giving it to the voters.

It won’t pass this session. If voters want power, they will have to demonstrate a willingness to fight for it.

Alternative Fact: New Education Secretary Betty DeVos said the Idaho Virtual Academy has a graduation rate of 90%. State of Idaho statistics say IDVA’s rate is 35.5%, less than half the statewide rate of 79.5%. DeVos’ statistic conveniently includes only students who enter IDVA as freshmen and stay enrolled for four consecutive years.

Can next week possibly bring as much action? Stay tuned.

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