BOISE — House Speaker Scott Bedke said there are not enough votes to repeal Proposition 2 — the Medicaid expansion that 61 percent of voters passed in November — nor are there enough to pass a version with work requirements or a version without them.
The debate over the Medicaid expansion will likely keep the Legislature in session into April, Bedke, R-Oakley, told reporters Tuesday at the Idaho Press Club’s Headliner Luncheon in Boise.
He said he doesn’t support passing the expansion as written in the ballot initiative because it didn’t include a funding plan.
On Monday, the Senate passed the Medicaid budget for the next year, SB 1171, which includes funding for Medicaid expansion through savings in Health & Welfare and Correction budgets and tapping the tobacco-settlement endowment.
House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said there are enough votes to pass at least one draft of a Medicaid expansion bill that he has seen, although he did not reveal the details of the bill nor the sponsor. He said he’d be favorable to a voluntary work program system like Montana’s. But he said the Republican majority intends to marginalize the minority’s vote for as long as possible.
“We could be out of here on March 25 with the legislation that I’ve seen,” Erpelding said.
Another major topic of discussion had to do with SB 1159, which would make it harder for initiatives or referendums to get on the ballot. Erpelding said the new requirements — requiring more signatures over more legislative districts with a shorter period of time to do so — would make it so that only millionaires and billionaires would have the means to get an initiative on the ballot.
But Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said most people agree it should be difficult to get an issue on the ballot. The bill would give Idaho the strictest requirements in the country, according to Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum. But Hill argued that with good enough planning, it would still be possible.
“Are these hurdles too high?” Hill asked. “Time will tell.”
Hill said the bill’s timing is unfortunate, because it gives people the perception that it’s retribution for Proposition 2 passing, which he claimed wasn’t the case.
“There’s no way it’s not about retribution,” Erpelding countered.
The last two times the Legislature tried to make initiatives and referenda harder to get on the ballot in Idaho, in 2013 and in 1997, were after, respectively, the passage of the three referenda in 2012 to repeal the school reform bills known as the Luna laws — the first time Idaho voters had taken that step since the 1930s — and after Idaho voters’ enactment of a term limits initiative that Idaho lawmakers subsequently repealed.
Erpelding also called out the poor planning the Senate followed to consider the bill this week. He said senators discussed the bill in caucus Friday, and then put the hearing as the last item on an already packed agenda for the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday morning.
When the committee finally got to the bill, the meeting had gone on for two hours. Because the meeting was already running overtime, the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, tried to wrap up the hearing without allowing everyone who had signed up to testify. Of the 100 people who testified, only a handful got the chance to speak. Lodge tried to wrap up the hearing because “everyone else who signed up is against the bill.”
“When you have a whole auditorium full of people, and they’re all signed up as a con, they’re all going to say the same things and basically everything has already been stated,” Lodge told the Idaho Press. “I don’t see the reason to have more testimony when you already know what they’re there for.”
Though the committee decided to postpone action on the bill until Friday to allow everyone time to testify, Erpelding said the manner in which the hearing was conducted “feels gross,” while Stennett said the actions were “muzzling the people of the public.” Hill argued that Lodge’s decisions were not malicious, and said she was open when senators suggested the hearing be extended, but he agreed that the planning for the hearing was poor.
“That’s not the way it should have been done,” Hill said.