Our legislators are headed back home now that the legislative session has come to an end. Advocates and supporters of Idaho’s democratic process scored a victory with the successful veto of SB 1159 and HB 296, the two controversial bills to silence our votes by virtually ending grassroots citizen initiatives. One of the most important aspects of Governor Little’s veto was the legal challenges those bills were sure to face. But Governor Little also indicated some support for additional changes to the rules of our initiative process in his transmittal letter to the Senate. And Representatives in the House brought forward 4 other bills based on SB 1159 and HB 296 in the final hours of the session. These bills were printed in a last-minute push that left citizens out of the process and skirted public hearings—and it showed. The Senate killed the only one of the four bills that passed the House, HB 303, but this issue is not done yet. We will need to watch carefully what the supermajority during the interim and prepare to oppose future efforts to silence our voices.
Although he did veto the anti-initiative bills SB 1159 and HB 296, Governor Little chose not to veto the amended SB 1204, which places costly work requirements and other restrictions on Medicaid Expansion. The Idaho House of Representatives finally followed the Senate’s lead and passed a funding bill for Medicaid Expansion, so despite the work requirements that go against what the people voted for, tens of thousands of Idahoans will have access to health care in January 2020. While the Expansion is moving forward, there are many components of SB 1204 that leave Idaho in murky legal territory—which will likely end up costing taxpayers in court defending this law. A federal judge struck down the legality of work programs in Arkansas and Kentucky; Idaho’s law is similar to Arkansas and Kentucky. When someone fails to comply with work requirements (which can include simply failing to submit paperwork even if they are working), the Idaho law allows the state to kick them off Medicaid or require a co-pay. All of these provisions will likely be tested in the courts at taxpayer expense.
Many other bills passed this session, and both good bills and bad bills failed to see the light of day or move forward far enough to become law. Education, for example, saw some progress with literacy programs and raises to first-year teacher pay, but the legislative kicked the can down the road when it came to fully addressing the funding formula for public schools.