"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another." - Charles Dickens
This Tuesday I had the honor to serve as the President of the Senate for the first time. This is a position normally reserved for the Lt Governor, but work required his presence elsewhere. It was great to be on the other side of the gavel for a day routing bills through the legislative process!
Senator Todd Lakey (R-12) sponsored a resolution SJR 103 expanding the scope of rights to victims of crimes. The resolution aims to amend the constitution to allow for a reasonable and timely notification of victims about criminal justice proceedings for the accused including but not limited to release from prison, moving to another facility, or coming up for a parole hearing. Current standards often leave victims with little to no time to react to these proceedings, which in some cases have actually resulted in death of a victim. The resolution also expands the definition of victim to include other individuals like surviving family members of murdered persons. If this resolution passes both the Senate and the House, it will be on the next election ballot for voter approval.
AHCA - Replacing the ACA
Speaker Paul Ryan's American Health Care Act (AHCA), which repeals and replaces the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was unveiled this week and bring difficult implications for Idaho. If Idaho decides to expand Medicaid and begin accepting federal matching funds before 2020, we will receive a 70% matching rate. There will be no new applicants accepted to Medicaid after 2020, and if a person lets their enrollment lapse they will be permanently kicked off assistance and will not be allowed back on. If Idaho chooses not to expand Medicaid, in 2020 we will begin to receive some portion of a $10 billion block grant over 5 years ($2 billion per year) which will be proportionately distributed by population to non-expansion states. It is important to note that at this time, the $10 billion will be distributed amongst 19 states including large population bases like Texas, North Carolina, and Florida which likely leaves Idaho with a small fraction of the funds to cover the gap. Failing to expand Medicaid and accept matching funds is a waste of money and it hangs 78,000 Idahoans out to dry.
School Board Trustee Elections
The move to push school board trustee elections to the general election in November, SB 1103, is damaging to school board elections. This bill limits school district employees like superintendents and public affairs personnel from educating the public on ballot issues including bonds and levees. Board members elected in November are ill prepared to make district budget decisions that are due early in the following year. Additionally, trustee candidates are nonpartisan and tend to have minimal resources to compete with attention when compared with well-funded statewide races with which they would be sharing the ballot. Senator Ward-Engelking (D-18) proposed an amendment to move the election to odd years, so that it would share a ballot with nonpartisan races. The amendment failed on a close vote.
This week, Senator Grant Burgoyne's (D-16) legislation calling for the creation of savings accounts for disabled Idahoans, passed in the Senate 29-6. It allows those with disabilities to open an ABLE Account and save up to $100,000 or $14,000 a year. Currently, if someone with a disability saves more than $2,000 a year they will lose eligibility for programs such as Social Security or Medicaid. This means people on disability cannot save for critical quality of life measures like a wheelchair ramp, vital equipment maintenance, and dental care. HB41 is now on its way to the Governor's desk to be signed into law.