Legislature 2019

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

Debated restricting Medicaid expansion

One of the most anticipated bills of the session, to add work requirements and other restrictions to the Medicaid expansion voters approved in November, dominated much of the week.

Sponsor Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, introduced the first version of the bill on Monday and a slightly modified one on Wednesday. The House Health and Welfare Committee held a hearing Friday at which about 50 people testified, almost all of them arguing against work requirements and urging lawmakers not to approve the bill.

Ever since voters passed Medicaid expansion Republican lawmakers, many of whom opposed expansion, have been talking about putting limits on benefits or eligibility, saying it would protect taxpayers and ensure costs don’t get out of hand. Democrats and Medicaid expansion advocates have been urging lawmakers to approve expansion without any additional limits.

The committee didn’t vote Friday and chairman Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, hasn’t decided yet when he will schedule a vote. However, the committee is not scheduled to meet Monday.

Fought over mandatory minimums

The Idaho House voted by a more than two-thirds Monday to strike the word “mandatory” from Idaho drug trafficking statute, giving judges the option of imposing lower sentences if they feel the circumstances warrant. However, Senate Judiciary committee Chairman Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, has said he doesn’t plan to give the House bill a hearing.

Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, who is co-sponsoring the bill, has threatened to try to block Senate bills and use other parliamentary maneuvers to force Lakey’s hand. On Thursday, he and a few others members of House Judiciary took their first run at making good on this threat with an unsuccessful attempt to hold a bill Lakey was sponsoring. Zollinger said he plans to continue these efforts if his bill can’t get a hearing.

Shot down the state Board of Education budget

Budget bills often get a handful of “no” votes in the House, usually from a few more conservative members who are unhappy with spending levels. It’s far less common for a budget to fail. But Thursday, majorities of both Democrats and Republicans came together to reject the state Board of Education budget.

Some Republicans said they had problems with specific aspects of the budget. The Democrats, for their part, wanted to make a statement both about what they view as inadequate education funding in Idaho and about their exclusion from the process of rewriting the public school funding formula. This rewrite, which would change from an attendance-based formula to a weighted one based on enrollment, has been in the works for several years, and Minority Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said his caucus has been excluded from the talks during the session that have led to the bill that is expected to be introduced.

This week

Everyone will be watching to see when and if a vote is scheduled on the bill to put some limits on Medicaid expansion, or whether any amendments or other bills on the topic emerge.

The Senate State Affairs Committee is expected to hold a hearing Monday morning on a bill to impose a series of additional restrictions on ballot initiatives, including greatly upping the number of signatures needed and cutting the time to gather them from 18 to six months.

The Senate Resources and Environment Committee is expected to take up two controversial public lands bills on Monday afternoon. One, a joint memorial, asks Congress to pass legislation saying that when the federal government buys more land in a county it must sell some equivalently valued land. The intent of this one is to make sure rural counties with a lot of federal land don’t lose tax base. The other would create a panel of state lawmakers to work on federal lands issues.

An introductory hearing on the school funding formula rewrite bill is expected Monday. If it passes, the changes aren’t expected to be implemented until the 2021 fiscal year.

It also will be worth watching to see if any more budgets run into trouble in the House, or if those House members who are incensed at Lakey’s unwillingness to hold a hearing on mandatory minimum rollback make good on their threats to hold up some Senate bills.

Quote of the week

“I would submit to this body and all who are listening that there are still hundreds and probably thousands of families in Idaho who still hold a more traditional view of sex, sexual relations and sexuality. For them, the words sexual purity and chastity still have very important and even sacred meanings. … For those who hold that view of sexual morality, it is good and right and has everything to do with trust, fidelity, obedience and self-control.”

— Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, debating in favor of a bill being sponsored by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, to require parents to opt their children into sex education. It passed the House on a 56-14 party-line vote and is now in the Senate.

“Our system right now is destroying families. It’s incredibly costly, it’s perpetrating great injustice, and it’s time that we stopped.”

— Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, arguing in favor of the mandatory minimum rollback bill, which she is co-sponsoring with Zollinger.

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

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