After 95 days in session, the Idaho Legislature gaveled to a close last Thursday—18 days after its originally scheduled adjournment date of March 25.

At the session’s outset in January, Medicaid expansion loomed as a central issue for debate, following statewide voter approval of Proposition 2 last November.

It remained a hot-button issue into the session’s final days, when Gov. Brad Little signed SB 1204 on April 9.

Proposition 2 expands Medicaid for certain low-income residents who earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but too little to receive subsidized health-care plans under the Affordable Care Act.

For those recipients of expanded Medicaid, the law requires them to perform work, volunteering, job training or studying for at least 20 hours a week, and they may lose coverage if they fail to adhere to the new requirement.

The legislation also included a provision that stated the Legislature can undo Medicaid expansion if the share of federal funding dips under the current 90 percent.

The federal government will have to approve the new requirements.

The bill was introduced late in the session on March 20 and initially included only a voluntary option for work training. It was amended several times in the legislative process and the new requirements were added.

The bill passed the Senate with a 20-15 vote on April 2, and it passed the House on April 4 with a 49-20 vote. The Senate passed the House-amended version by a 19-16 vote on April 5.

Blaine County lawmakers voted against the legislation. Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, and Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, voted against it, and Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, voted against it twice in the Senate.

In a transmittal letter April 9, Little said he disagreed with some elements of the bill, but wants the Legislature to revisit the proposals in the interim and in the next session, which begins in January 2020.

“As I said in my State of the State and budget address, we need ‘spring in our safety net’ so that Idahoans have pathways out of poverty; employment is a critical component of that,” Little wrote in his letter.

He wrote that he was concerned that a federal court judge recently struck down similar work requirements imposed on Medicaid recipients in other states, and noted that they’ve resulted in costly litigation.

“I am troubled the fiscal impact does not accurately represent the increased administrative costs associated with the work reporting activities,” Little wrote. “In the future, I strongly urge the Legislature to evaluate the work requirement set forth in this bill and ensure it is the most effective and efficient way to connect Idahoans to employment opportunities while providing access to healthcare.”

Reclaim Idaho, which backed Proposition 2, decried SB 1204.

“Every Idahoan who voted to bring Medicaid expansion to our state should be proud of what they did,” Executive Director Rebecca Schroeder said in a news release. “Our Legislature should not be. Furthermore, we are profoundly disappointed that Gov. Little decided to sign this harmful and expensive legislation.”

That marked a reversal from Reclaim Idaho’s praise for Little’s decision to veto bills that would have dramatically stiffened the requirements to qualify ballot initiatives in Idaho.

On April 5, Little vetoed SB 1159 and HB 296, because he questioned their constitutionality. Davis, Stennett and Toone voted against both bills.

“The bills invite legal challenges that likely will result in the Idaho initiative process being determined by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Little wrote.

State budget

Lawmakers approved a fiscal 2020 budget of almost $4 billion, including $1.9 billion for public schools. That reflects a 6.3 percent increase in public school funding, and pumps $49.7 million more dollars into the fifth year of the career ladder plan for teacher salaries.

The budget includes $13 million more for literacy programs for kindergarten through third grade. It also included a $4 million allocation to help fund Little’s two-year plan to increase the minimum salaries for starting teachers to $40,000. It was at $37,000.

Proposals to rewrite the state’s funding formula for K-12 education did not gain traction in the legislative session but figure to be up for debate once again in 2020.

Urban renewal

The Legislature passed a bill that requires public votes for some projects involving urban renewal agencies.

Little signed the law, which requires an election for any project whose public financing, including dollars from an urban renewal agency, tops 51 percent of the total cost.

For example, if an urban renewal agency pays for 10 percent of the project and another public source, excepting federal funds, pays for 41 percent, a vote is required. The law requires 60 percent approval to pass.

That legislation takes effect July 1. It was directed at proposals in Boise to construct a sports park and a renovation of the public library.

Attorney Ryan Armbruster led a discussion of the legislation’s effects before the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency board of commissioners Monday afternoon.

Armbruster said the Senate was able to amend the legislation to exempt projects under $1 million, and those that deal with sidewalks, streets, parking lots, water and sewer lines, and other utilities or public infrastructure.

However, he said it would affect the KURA’s ability to contribute to construction of a new public safety facility in Ketchum.

“In its words, it will impact every urban renewal agency and their cooperation with their cities,” he said. “You will have to take this bill into account.”

Bill failures

Legislation that would have changed the requirements related to vaccination notification died in the Senate. The bill would have implemented a requirement that schools and child-care centers inform parents that they have a right to decide not to vaccinate their children. It passed the House but did not reach a vote in the Senate. Davis and Toone voted against it.

Another bill aimed to change how Idaho children receive sexual education; the bill would have forced parents to opt in to their children’s receiving that education, rather than the current system of opting out. It also passed the House but did not get to a vote in the Senate. Toone and Davis opposed the legislation.

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