Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Frustrating times at the Statehouse


By DONNA PENCE


    This session we have been informed that there would be no legislation heard on Medicaid redesign, gay rights and transportation funding, largely because the powers to be do not want votes on those issues to be factors in the closed primary in May. This is the week that frustration finally set in and the supporters of these concepts challenged that edict.  
    On Feb. 3, a peaceful demonstration by 44 individuals with their hands over their mouths blocked the entrance to the Senate Chambers. The hands were symbolic of the silencing of their right to have a bill at least introduced. They were peacefully removed and arrested. Still no hearing but a very public reminder that this is an issue that is gaining momentum, not only throughout the nation but also in Idaho.


Idaho’s transportation infrastructure has been neglected for the last five years.


    On the same day, House Minority Leader John Rusche introduced a bill that would have redesigned Medicaid to allow those working Americans earning just under 100 percent of poverty to be covered by insurance under the Affordable Care Act, thereby reducing the need for most of the CAT fund of our counties. The total saving to Idaho from implementation of this bill would be in the neighborhood of $600 million. This did get a print hearing but was defeated.  
    The third HB 481, a proposal by lobbyist Skip Smyser to raise the gas tax 6 percent in 2 percent increments over the next three years was printed. He presented this bill with support from the trucking industry. I applaud both for doing what is needed and truly hope they are successful. Idaho’s transportation infrastructure has been neglected for the last five years and it is time get back to a realistic maintenance and building schedule.
    While the above was occurring, HB 427 languished in General Orders. This bizarre bill would legalize in statute the right for a professional to refuse to perform services for an individual due to sincerely held religious beliefs. This bill had the potential to discriminate on many levels if it did get printed, got a hearing and passed. Luckily, clearer heads prevailed and it was sent to General Orders, where amending can occur, or better yet, it can sit for the remainder of the session.
    Last week, advocates took steps to rebuild Medicaid in Idaho. Cuts made to the system in Idaho during the recession hit this segment of the people and those who provide the services they need extremely hard. According to Mike Ferguson, formerly the state’s chief economist, the state’s budget could well afford reinstating Medicaid programs and cuts made to others if the budget set up differently.  This would mean an effective system in all communities, one that would provide an equitable pay scale for providers so they could give quality services to meet the individual patient needs.  It is time to start to repair this safety net for more efficient and effective service.
    New information recently revealed that due to a federal investigation into the awarding of the Educational Information Network (EIN), the federal government has held up payments to the companies installing the network. More troubling is that the Department of Administration has known about this for over nine months and has sat on it.  The Legislature is now being asked to appropriate $15.5 million to keep the project moving. This project was plagued with charges of improper actions from almost the start. In fact, the current investigation may even result in all federal support being jerked.
    It is a pleasure to serve you in the Legislature. I want to know your opinions and to help you with any government-related problems you may encounter. You can reach me at (208) 308-0046 or e-mail dpence@house.idaho.gov.




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