Legislature 2019

BOISE — Last week, the 14th of the 2019 legislative session, state officials and lawmakers:

Passed the Medicaid budget

The debate over Medicaid expansion, one of the defining issues of the 2019 legislative session, reached a conclusion for the session on Tuesday when Gov. Brad Little signed Senate Bill 1204.

Little wrote in his transmittal letter he supports the part of the bill that would give people making between 100 and 138 of the poverty level the option of getting insurance through the state exchange rather than Medicaid, if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approves a waiver. However, he also wrote he had concerns about the work requirements, and urged lawmakers to revisit them next year.

A few hours later the House passed the Medicaid budget, which it had been holding for weeks pending the resolution of the debate, putting many House Republicans who wanted more robust restrictions on Medicaid expansion at odds with those in the Senate who favored fewer changes to the program. On Thursday, one of the last bills to pass this session was a $2.6 million funding bill — $784,100 in state money, the rest federal — to pay for the work requirements and federal waiver applications.

Now the Department of Health and Welfare will spend the next few months getting ready to implement expansion. Open enrollment starts Nov. 1, and coverage will kick in on Jan. 1, 2020.

Adjourned sine die

After 95 days, the Legislature adjourned for the year at 4:20 p.m. Thursday, tying for the third-longest session in the state’s history.

In the end, the GOP leadership didn’t get everything it wanted. Most notably, legislation to raise the threshold to get an initiative on the ballot was vetoed by Little last week, and a last-minute attempt to pass at least part of it despite his veto didn’t get far. However, at a post-adjournment news conference, House Republicans pointed to several bright spots, including raising teacher pay and funding for early childhood literacy programs, Medicaid expansion and a couple of water-use-related bills.

“Despite some of the high-centering that you saw here at the very end, this was a very productive legislation session,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

The Democrats had a different take. Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said Republican lawmakers consistently ignored overwhelming public opposition to their Medicaid and initiative bills and listened to a handful of lobbyists instead. She praised the thousands of people who pushed back.

“I hope the Republican supermajority learned this session that they could serve the state better by working across the aisle and listening more to citizens,” Rubel said. “They do not serve the state when they abuse their supermajority power by ramming special interest agendas down our throats. I hope we never see another session that is so marked by secrecy, backroom deals and disregard of the people’s wishes.”

This week

Now that the session is over, Little plans to travel the state this week. Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s post-session tour of the state, which was scheduled to start earlier this month but had to be delayed because of the session, will start in late April, including a stop at the Hilton Garden Inn in Idaho Falls on May 1.

One thing worth watching over the coming months is that the state will, at some point, apply to CMS to implement the waivers for work requirements and other changes in Senate Bill 1204. It also will be worth paying attention in late June/early July to any fallout from the administrative rules standoff. Lawmakers adjourned without passing, as they have in past years, a bill to keep Idaho’s administrative rules in place for another year. House Republicans had been pushing to require both chambers of the Legislature, rather than one, to sign off on any new rules, but the Senate never took up the House proposal. This means the rules will all expire after June 30, and would have to be re-proposed as temporary rules and reviewed by the Legislature again in 2020.

Seeing as the session’s over, this will be my last weekly column for a while. Thank you for reading.

Quotes of the week

“The Medicaid budget is kind of like Pac-Man, it seems to be gobbling up everything in its path. Education, transportation, things that are essential functions of government.”

— Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls.

“I cannot remember a session that did more damage to the faith of people in their government, or that was so consistently marked by the Republican majority’s total disregard for the will of the people of Idaho.”

— Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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