Guest Opinions

Legislative session recap: Idahoans speak and Republicans ignore them

Maryanne Jordan
Maryanne Jordan

The 2019 legislative session tied for the third-longest in Idaho’s history, but it likely broke the record for the worst damage to the faith of people in their government.

Idahoans had to spend endless hours in committee hearings in the Capitol nearly every day this session, begging Republican legislators not to strip them of their rights and undercut their will. Yet regardless of how many times our citizens overflowed committee rooms, and despite the passion of their testimony, our citizens were systematically ignored.

Last year, a grass-roots movement of Idaho citizens pulled off one of the most amazing feats in Idaho political history. After the Legislature dropped the ball for seven years on Medicaid expansion, our citizens stepped up and passed it themselves through Proposition 2 – with 61% in favor of expansion.

But somehow their voices did not get through to Republican lawmakers, who spent the session relentlessly introducing bills, again and again, to repeal or dramatically undermine Medicaid expansion. Every time, citizens came out in droves to beg for Prop 2 to be implemented, but the GOP majority would not listen, and ended up passing the worst Medicaid restrictions bill of all – a bill that spends millions of dollars to hire a squadron of bureaucrats to hunt down the most vulnerable people in the state and strip them of Medicaid coverage.

Previous versions at least had a work-training requirement to help people get jobs, but the version the Republicans passed deleted that. Every Democrat opposed this bill, which ended up spending millions above the cost of Medicaid expansion just to torment Idaho’s poorest citizens.

Undermining Medicaid expansion was just the first salvo in the GOP’s assault on Idaho voters. Long after the deadline for introducing new bills (a deadline apparently enforced only against Democrats), our GOP colleagues introduced the “Revenge on Voters Act” that restricted Idaho voters of their ability to bring ballot initiatives. Once again, hundreds of people showed up to testify against this egregious assault on voters’ constitutional rights. Again, the GOP supermajority completely ignored both the voices of Idahoans and of the Democratic legislators fighting tirelessly to protect ballot initiative rights.

Both the substance and the process surrounding the “Revenge on Voters Act” confirmed citizens’ worst fears about their government – legislation aimed at silencing voters was hatched in secret meetings between corporate lobbyists and GOP legislators, hearings were arranged without adequate public notice, and public testimony was bypassed by GOP committee chairs. We are deeply thankful for the many Idaho citizens who persisted, and kept coming day after day. While the GOP majority in the Legislature didn’t listen, we in the Democratic caucus heard you. We will fight to make sure we never see another session that is so steeped in secrecy, backroom deals and disregard of the people’s wishes.

We are deeply proud of what our Democratic caucus was able to achieve this session against long odds. We passed legislation that will make real changes for Idaho families, including making it easier to install solar panels, requiring that all sexual assault kits be tested, and providing post-traumatic stress treatment for first responders. Good things happen when Democrats’ policy ideas move forward; GOP politicians do not serve the state when they abuse their supermajority power by ramming special-interest agendas down our throats.

But as proud as we are of our caucus, we are more proud of what the people of Idaho achieved. To our citizens, we say keep coming to the Capitol. Keep filling committee rooms, and make your voices heard. You saved lives and you saved our constitutional ballot initiative rights this session. We, the Democratic caucus, stand with you, and will continue fighting to provide the responsive government that you deserve.

Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, is the Senate minority caucus chair, and Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, is the House minority assistant leader.