By State Representative Tom Loertscher
The other day, after the House had adjourned, a few of my colleagues gathered around my desk and our conversation was reminiscent of the way we used to talk to each other before the capital was renovated. In our civil discourse workshop we had during the first week of the session, one of the things that we learned was that we need to talk to each other and get to know each other a little better. I’ve been making an effort to do that and have found interesting stories about some of my colleagues.
One said that she did not want to run for office at all, but was told by people in her district that she needed to do so. She told them no! They got the paperwork together and persuaded her to file. There are several here who are no stranger to hardships in their lives and those stories are very interesting and sometimes heart wrenching.
This past week was the week that County commissioners and other County elected officials found their way to Boise for what they call their Midwinter Conference. It gives them a chance to visit with everyone from the Governor to their legislators. One of the topics of discussion was the proposal that the Governor has made for the state to create a new public defender program. The biggest concern that our counties have is that they would lose control and possibly end up paying for services that they would not receive or have no use for. For the most part, the counties of district 32 just want to be left alone, and they are telling us that they are doing just fine. When it comes to government that is how a lot of people feel.
I was approached by one of the press corps asking about my feelings on how frequently Idaho seems to amend its constitution. Right now there are several proposals that are being looked at, one of which is referred to as the Blaine amendment. Because there is a prohibition in the Constitution about using state funds on religious schools, and the fact that we have established what is known as the Opportunity Scholarship, there is concern that such a scholarship could not be used at any of the religiously sponsored colleges in the state. What the amendment would do would be to clarify the language to make it possible for scholarships of that kind to be used in that setting. A couple of examples of those colleges are Northwest Nazarene College in the Treasure Valley and BYU Idaho a little closer to our area of the state. The email stream on that has picked up substantially and it looks like we will be having a hearing on that in State Affairs in the coming week.
The budget committee is still working diligently on putting a budget together, or at least hearing from all of the agencies along with their wish lists. We are still on track to keep our commitments to education that we began last. Educators at home still want to make sure that they have discretionary funds, aka, money without strings attached.
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee took up the subject of Medicaid expansion and the result was about the same as poking a five hundred pound gorilla. They called it informational, with very little testimony taken. Dr. Krell from Idaho Falls blamed the Legislature for the death of a thousand people for not doing expansion. That did not sit well and it also unleashed blistering editorials around the state on both sides of the issue. While it is easy to play the blame game, there is as with most things more to the story. For me, I just wish my colleagues would do their homework and decide what is best for Idaho.