"To work for the common good is the greatest creed." - Albert Einstein
This Thursday, the Senate considered expanding Medicaid and accepting federal matching dollars to bridge the healthcare coverage gap. Approximately 78,000 Idahoans currently fall into this coverage gap, roughly 10,000 of which are our military veterans. Speaker Paul Ryan's AHCA still allows for states to expand Medicaid until 2020. Unfortunately, for the fourth year in a row, the legislature has refused to take action. The measure failed to pass, leaving thousands of Idahoans without healthcare coverage.
Grocery Tax Repeal
The same day, we voted to amend an income tax exemption bill (H67) by changing the language to remove Idaho's 6% sales tax on groceries. Removing the grocery tax, directly benefits working-class and middle-class families who proportionately spend a much higher percentage of their income on groceries. The measure also benefits small border town businesses who often see customers travel across the border for basic needs, resulting in negative impacts to Idaho's economy. I was proud to vote in favor of the amendment. If the bill passes as amended on the Senate floor, it will move back to the House for consideration.
Access to Voting Upheld
HB 150, Rep Manwaring's (R-29) bill restricting early voting died in the Senate State Affairs Committee Wednesday morning. The bill aimed to hamstring counties who are trying to increase voter participation by limiting early voting by as little as 1 week prior to the election. I voted against this legislation because it is a form of voter suppression. Idahoans deserve to be afforded every opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
In an effort to stop entry of invasive species, particularly Quagga and Zebra mussels, on watercraft entering the state, I carried a bill that increases the boat sticker fee for non-residents from $22 to $30. The revenue will go into the Invasive Species Fund used to ensure our check stations have the resources needed to stay open longer. Idaho has 16 watercraft inspection stations and in 2016 there were 86,700 inspections, 1,100 of which came from infested water in the previous 30 days. The bill has passed both houses and is headed to the Governor.
Fish & Game Fee Increase
H230 increases revenues for sportsman and landowner programs through increased license fees. Resident license fees have not been adjusted since 2005. Idaho Fish & Game will be able to increase or reinstate programs reduced or eliminated by budget constraints. One million dollars goes to a dedicated fund for fishing and hunting access agreements and easements and $1 million goes to a depredation account for claims and prevention. Fish & Game has made huge efforts with winter feeding during this difficult winter season and this bill will split revenues for depredation prevention (i.e. keeping animals out of haystacks) and winter feeding. The price lock portion of the bill is estimated to increase the Fish & Game Fund by $3 million. It passed the Senate unanimously.
Climate Change Hearing
Rep Ilana Rubel (D-18) hosted an important discussion with a panel of experts geared toward increasing understanding and assessing risks of climate change and planning for the future. The Lincoln Auditorium and three overflow rooms were packed with 650 people! The hearing came in response to legislative removal of five paragraphs from K-12 science standards that required teaching climate change and human impact in schools.