House and Senate Democrats touted their legislative successes this year, but said when it came to the session’s top-tier issues – from two major tax bills to the “stand your ground” law and anti-trespassing bill – majority Republicans shunted them aside. “Democrats were completely cut out of the room in those discussions,” said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, during comments Wednesday afternoon as adjournment neared.
“When you muzzle us, you’re not just muzzling Democrats – you’re muzzling our people who we represent,” said Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett.
Erpelding said, “It was entirely about politics.” He particularly decried the majority’s unwillingness to take votes on bills that had made it all the way to the House floor, including the governor’s dual-waiver health care bill and his own Plan First Idaho bill on family planning coverage for low-income Idaho women. “That’s about party, not policy,” he said.
Erpelding said when Democrats were able to get legislation through, everyone knew the bills were sound, from Rep. Melissa Wintrow’s bill to ensure rape victims’ personal health insurance isn’t charged for forensic evidence collection from their bodies, to Rep. Ilana Rubel’s push to restore non-emergency dental coverage to 30,000 Idahoans on Medicaid, saving the state millions in the process. “Her bill is the only successful bill addressing health care this session,” Stennett said.
The Dems touted the approval of new school science standards, “bringing Idaho into the 21st Century;” the passage of the Opportunity Scholarship bill to expand the current scholarship program to also include adults returning to school; and the bill to repeal a restrictive 2016 law on non-compete clauses that crimped Idaho employees from leaving their jobs to start up new businesses. “While Idaho may have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, we also have some of the lowest wages,” Stennett said. “This is a huge step toward moving Idaho forward and putting jobs and workers first.”
The Dems also lauded the early passage of an unemployment insurance tax cut that will save Idaho employers millions over the next three years.
But Erpelding said overall, “The bills intended to directly benefit people were often dismissed or sent back to committees to die a quiet death. And the bills that aid in re-election for my colleagues took center stage. … Businesses looking to relocate need a reliable workforce, not one that is educated for an economy of the past and not the future, and certainly not a community without health care.”
They decried the big income-tax cut bill that passed and was signed into law. “Idaho is heading down the same ham-handed road that led to the economic fiascos that Kansas and Oklahoma are now facing after enacting similar tax policy – and we risk effectively paralyzing our economy,” Erpelding said.
“To my mind, the most egregious malpractice that occurred this session was related to a bill that didn’t even get a floor vote, HB 464,” the dual-waiver bill, Erpelding said. “For six long years, we have failed to help the 60,000 Idahoans who work hard and don’t have access to health care. This session, not once, not twice, but three times, the politicians in charge punted on health care, putting their politics over people. Sen. Maryanne Jordan carried a bill for Medicaid expansion that never even got a hearing. Then the Idaho Health Care Plan was effectively killed on the House floor without a vote because the majority didn’t have the courage to do what was right.”
He said, “Dangling solutions in front of people who desperately need health care, only to rip it away after so many years, is beyond mean-spirited – it is cruel. Idahoans’ health and quality of life should be our first priority, not the political football it has become.”