Idaho’s Republican presidential primary is behind us. So too, as of Friday, the deadline for candidates to file to run in the state legislative primaries in May. Now that state lawmakers know whether they face a primary or not, maybe there’ll be some movement on what remains the biggest item on this year’s agenda: health care for the uninsured.
With two weeks remaining this session, there might be a flurry of activity starting Monday.
That’s not to say the Legislature’s been entirely idle in the past few weeks. The House on Friday passed a long-delayed firefighters’ cancer bill, which now moves to the Senate. Lawmakers have been busy on the social, ideological and symbolic agendas as well.
Health care got into the headlines last week when Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, announced his resignation from the state Catastrophic Health Care board. The board administers the fund that covers catastrophic medical bills for Idahoans who can’t pay.
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Schmidt, a physician, earlier this session got the Senate Health and Welfare committee to hear a bill on expanding Medicaid. The CAT fund and its board would be out of business if Idaho were to adopt some form of expanded Medicaid to cover the 78,000 working poor who can’t get health care. Schmidt would like to see it go.
The state-funded Primary Care Access Program, floated by the Otter administration this year as a well-intended but severely lacking workaround to Republican lawmaker opposition to Medicaid expansion, is missing in action in the Capitol. An even more modest program to help poor Idahoans get to the doctor has been discussed. But given how little PCAP moved the ball, it’s hard to see the purpose of a plan that does even less.
Conventional election-year wisdom says lawmakers who might be inclined to support expansion, but fear the political fallout for doing so, might feel free to act after seeing on Friday what, if any, opposition they have. That is, no primary, no problem. But it’s not clear yet whether there are a sufficient number of liberated lawmakers. Or whether they’re inclined to go up against lawmakers like Republican Majority Leader Mike Moyle, who rejects any type of federal entitlement expansion and wants to use whatever extra money there is to cut taxes.
Moyle is still pushing hard for some kind of tax relief. With his own House-approved tax cut plan languishing in the Senate, on Friday he pushed an Internet tax bill to the House floor for amendments, hoping to bolt on a tax cut to that vehicle.
SEASON OF DISCONTENT
Lawmakers have begun moving the dozens of required appropriations bills through the Legislature. For the most part these pass routinely, though a block of conservative, anti-spending lawmakers, mostly from North Idaho, vote against many of the bills in protest. On Thursday, a handful of House Democrats, fed up with seeing their bills being buried in committee by the Republican majority, called a bluff and voted with the anti-spending bloc against funding the innocent little Commission on the Arts. Their point was: Don’t count on us to be your responsible partner in routine governing if you don’t plan to hear our bills.
The commission’s budget will get redone this week and resubmitted, and eventually be adopted. But it’s a good thing that the Democrats didn’t decide to take their principled stand on something like the $169 million Welfare Division budget, which 20 anti-spending House members voted against. That could have caused real disruption.
WHAT DID GET DONE?
A Senate committee endorsed a bill that stops local governments from banning plastic bags, moving the House-approved measure to the full Senate.
The Senate said local governments can’t raise the minimum wage, sending that measure to the governor.
The Senate killed a bill laying out rules for Idaho delegates in an Article V constitutional convention — something that will probably never occur. It approved a bill to put the homeowner’s property tax exemption at a set $100,000, removing the indexing that fluctuated with home values. That bill goes to the governor’s desk.
The Senate also approved a bill to allow the Bible to be used as a reference in public schools, modifying it to include other religious texts. But if someone brings in a Quran, how will that sit with the sentiments behind the an anti-Sharia Law bill, introduced just in case American jurisprudence ever succumbs to it here?
And there are three abortion-related bills put forward by anti-abortion groups. A Senate committee cleared one of them Friday, moving it to the Senate floor. Another is awaiting a hearing, and a third is getting rewritten.
More than one observer measured the scorecard for those three bills against zero bills for that gap group of 78,000 Idahoans who have actually been born already and are in need of health care. There are about two weeks left to act on something for them, but supporters see an urgency beyond that, because Medicaid expansion saves lives. A 2012 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the overall mortality rate in states that expanded Medicaid dropped by 20 per 100,000 adults annually. In Idaho, that would equal about 320 fewer deaths per year, or six per week.
If that measure is accurate, by the time the Legislature adjourns, 12 more Idahoans might have died before their time.