Hill, Bedke say legislation unlikely on Add the Words, Medicaid expansion

(Idaho Falls) Post RegisterFebruary 25, 2014 

Idaho Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill and House Speaker Scott Bedke comment on "Add the Words" during an Idaho Press Club luncheon Feb. 24 in Boise.

AUDREY DUTTON

Seven weeks down, four more to go.

As leadership in the Idaho Legislature push for a March 21 end date to the 2014 session, Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, took time Monday to discuss what’s still expected to come before the body and, perhaps more importantly, what’s not.

Bedke and Hill agreed high profile issues, especially Medicaid expansion and the Add the Words movement, likely will not come before the Legislature this session.

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, proposed Medicaid expansion before the House Health and Welfare Committee earlier this month, but there were not enough votes among lawmakers to move the proposal to a full public hearing.

A print hearing to introduce protections for gay, lesbian and transgendered Idahoans under the Idaho Human Rights Act has not been held this session. About 75 Add the Words advocates have been arrested in two separate instances during the session in the Idaho Capitol Building.

“I can only imagine the frustration and discouragement for some people over this issue,” Hill said. “People who want to add the words, they’re honest, they’re sincere … they deserve respect and civility. But there are other people who are just as sincere in their convictions.”

Hill and Bedke agreed there is common ground to be found among those interested in protecting religious freedoms and those interested in protecting civil rights for gay people. A “loose coalition” of lawmakers from both political parties as well as representatives from the interest groups are actively working to find a way to find compromise, he said.

“They want solutions more than they just want attention,” Hill said.

Bedke said there isn’t the political willpower to take the issue on this session.

“There’s not the votes to move those issues, (that) is what that boils down to,” Bedke said.

In a written opinion on the status of the session, Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter agreed.

“We probably won’t see the words added, Medicaid expanded or the minimum wage increased in 2014,” Otter said. “But the fact that we’re having those discussions, debates and demonstrations says a lot about the health and vitality of our republic. The kind of grassroots involvement and deep-seated feelings about such public policy issues that we see each winter bears witness to the value of our process.”

That doesn’t mean the session is over, however.

Hill said he’s supportive of new options for tax relief and economic development expected to come before the Legislature in the coming weeks. While other economic development incentives and grants may have fallen short of expectations, Hill said he’s encouraged by a new tax reimbursement incentive for new and expanding businesses that was introduced by Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer last week.

It’s been a less contentious session than originally expected, Hill said.

“I thought the state exchange would take a more prominent role,” he said. “I thought that Medicaid expansion would be debated more. I thought the Idaho Core Standards would have a little more resistance, but both education chairmen are both firmly behind those.”

As election season looms large for statewide elected officials, Hill said he even expected more bills to test Republicans to come forward.

“I thought there would be a few more litmus tests within our own party,” he said.

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