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Conservative idaho Lawmakers Accused Of Subverting The Will Of The Electorate

New bills would hamper Medicaid expansion and ballot initiative efforts

By Eric Valentine

Senate Bill No. 1159 shows the key amendments some Republicans want to see made to the ballot initiative process in Idaho. Image credit: State of Idaho Legislature

Two efforts in Idaho’s state legislature—one to put certain restrictions on a voter-approved expansion of Medicaid and one to make it harder for initiatives to get on ballots—have triggered Democratic leadership to claim voter subversion is taking place in the Gem State. And the minority party says today, March 20, is a big deal times two. That’s because:

In the House, Rep. John Vander Woude’s (R-Nampa) bill regarding Medicaid expansion would establish work requirement provisions and mandatory eligibility reviews.

In the Senate, Sen. C. Scott Grow’s (R-Moscow) bill regarding ballot initiative procedures would require significantly more petitions in more legislative districts get signed before making it to a ballot. It would also require that petitions show a fiscal impact to any proposed initiative.

“It is apparent that the legislature is trying to silence the voice of the voters,” Rep. Steve Berch (D-Boise) said.

The Expense of Expansion

On Monday, the Idaho Senate passed funding for the Medicaid expansion. The bill will now be sent to the House for a vote. Despite the bill’s clear victory in the Senate (it passed with a vote of 31-3), some House Republicans have been seeking to implement restrictions on the expansion with new bills. They claim that any expansion of Medicaid needs to be done in a fiscally responsible way. So far, all of the bills have failed to garner enough support to move forward.

“The idea that the legislature should pass a ‘clean’ expansion without controlling costs is like giving your college student a credit card—a recipe for disaster,” said Ketchum resident Julie Lynn in her guest commentary within this issue of The Weekly Sun.

The Medicaid expansion legislation would allocate $2.83 billion in funding to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Medicaid Division. Most of the funding would go toward the traditional Medicaid program, but $9.3 million will be specifically directed toward the statewide expansion. This funding is critical for the Medicaid expansion, which was passed by Idaho voters with 61 percent approval last November.

“The patients I see work in jobs that don’t always fit into a box on a government form. The best way to incentivize work in Idaho is to make sure everyone has access to health coverage,” said Dr. Julie Duncan, a family medicine resident physician affiliated with Close the Gap Idaho. “Adding work-reporting requirements to Medicaid will only create a secondary gap, increase costs, increase bureaucracy, and weaken our economy.”

The “gap” refers to the estimated 62,000 Idahoans who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and not enough money to afford private insurance.

Revenge of the Words

As for the bill in the Senate, Democrats have renamed it “The Revenge on Voters Act,” noting how it emerged only after voters approved something most conservative lawmakers have not supported: Medicaid expansion or any move away from private insurance and toward a government-funded system.

The bill would require tens of thousands more petition signatures, in almost every Idaho legislative district, and cut the time to do it, from 18 months to 180 days. It also aims to confuse voters, opponents say, by requiring they know the legislative district they live in instead of the county.

Adding to the scrutiny of Sen. Grow’s bill is the recent revelation of his ties to Moneytree, a major lobbyist for the payday loan industry.

“You may wonder what payday loans and ballot initiatives have in common. Just ask Colorado voters,” says Rebecca Schroeder, the executive director of Reclaim Idaho, a grassroots organization focused on the rights of Idahoans. “They overwhelmingly (77 percent) voted last year to regulate payday lenders. How did they do it? Citizen ballot initiative. Moneytree has locations not only in Colorado, but Idaho, Washington, California and Nevada. What do all of those states have in common? They all have citizen ballot initiative laws.”

Editor’s Note: For guest commentaries on this topic, please see pages 9 and 11.


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