Week eleven brought very long days as the momentum to adjourn on Good Friday approaches warp speed. I'm slowing down long enough to highlight some matters from this week that warrant special attention.
SB1114aa, which passed 25-10, makes significant changes to Idaho's system of behavioral health care and the extent to which such care is funded (or under-funded, hence my no vote). My first concern relates to changes in Idaho's declaration of policy regarding regional mental health services from existing statute. Currently, it is "the policy of the state to provide mental health hospital services to all citizens in need of such care." 1114 removes that language and asserts that "families play a key role in the successful treatment of mental illness and substance abuse disorders and provision of behavioral health services." This abdication of treatment to untrained/unlicensed caregivers is a grave concern in the face of daily and dramatic reminders of the economic and social costs of untreated mental illness (well-outlined in this Idaho Statesman article). Most disturbing, upon passage, 1114 codifies as Idaho policy the systematic defunding of mental health care previously attributed to the recession.
I was the floor sponsor of SB1156 which relates to irrigation districts and passed unanimously. The legislation creates a process for dividing one irrigation district into two rather than the inefficient alternative of dissolving the existing district and creating two new ones. The Department of Water Resources is authorized, but not required, to investigate the proposal and make recommendations to the county commissioners. 1156 is supported by the Idaho Water Users Assn., the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the Food Producers of Idaho and local water users in District 26.
On Wednesday, the Senate and House State Affairs Committees heard a presentation regarding the impact of state-wide human rights protections for the LGBT community (similar to city ordinances passed in Sandpoint, Boise and Ketchum and pending across the state). Don Curtis, a retired Hewlett-Packard general manager, spoke of the positive economic impact non-discrimination polices have had at HP and Clark Krause, of Boise Valley Economic Partnership, emphasized the importance of non-discrimination policies on Idaho's economic development.
The presentation concluded with Monica Hopkins of the ACLU stressing that adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Human Rights Act does not confer any special rights but ensures equal rights under the law since we all possess a sexual orientation and gender identity. She also recalled the words of President Lyndon B. Johnson in announcing the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and they bear repeating: "The purpose of the law is simple. It does not restrict the freedom of any American, so long as he respects the rights of others. It does not give special treatment to any citizen. It does say the only limit to a man's hope for happiness, and for the future of his children, shall be his own ability."
Thursday the state health insurance exchange debate came back to the Senate. HO248 amended SB1042 to add gun-rights protections, competitive bidding requirements and legislative oversight (two members of the majority and one member from the minority) to the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange Board. The Board is independent, self-sustaining (not supported with taxpayer funds) and 100% voluntary for both insurers and consumers. It took the Senate over six hours to debate 1042, with passage coming on a vote of 23-12. A month later and after only three hours of debate, 248 passed on a vote of ...23-12. The bill now goes to its sponsor, Governor Otter, for his signature after which the law goes into immediate implementation.
As always, I encourage your participation in public policy by staying informed, asking questions and taking action to any extent possible. Government works best when its citizens are fully engaged.