BOISE – House Democrats mounted a final effort to do something for at least some of those who fall into Idaho’s health coverage gap on Thursday when Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, tried to move a bipartisan family-planning bill up for debate.
The bill, dubbed “Plan First Idaho,” would seek a federal waiver to provide family planning services – but not abortion – to low-income Idaho women who make too much to qualify for Medicaid. It cleared the House Health and Welfare Committee weeks ago but has been stalled on the House calendar ever since.
Erpelding’s motion failed on a 14-55 vote; all 11 House Democrats, plus three Republicans – Reps. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird; Patrick McDonald, R-Boise; and Christy Perry, R-Nampa – voted in favor of it.
Some of the lengthy debate on the motion echoed Wednesday’s dramatic debate on pulling the governor’s Idaho Health Care Plan bill back to committee, rather than debating it in the full House and voting it up or down this year.
“This bill was put on hold in hopes that a previous piece of legislation would have made it,” Erpelding told the House. “This bill deserves a vote. … This is about women in the gap, and it is important.”
Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said, “I serve on the committee where this bill was heard. There was extremely compelling testimony – I think this bill is important. I think we have ducked too many issues.”
House Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, who voted for the bill in committee, opposed the motion. “The problem here is there are some real issues with this bill,” he said. “In a couple of senses it doesn’t go far enough, in a couple of other senses there need to be more restrictions on it, because some people aren’t going to vote for it” without changes. “I voted for this bill coming out of committee because this concept is an excellent concept and this concept in my opinion needs to go forward.” But he said he believes it needs amendments before it can pass.
Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, said, “I just believe as a Republican that we need to be working on less governance instead of more.”
Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, said, “It is our job in this body, when we get something from a committee that has vetted a bill, it is our job to debate it. Right, wrong, win, lose, that’s what we’ve been tasked with doing. … So I would encourage us to do that job, and it’s here, let’s have the debate.”
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, noted that the previous decisions to delay the bill and leave it hanging on the calendar all occurred by unanimous consent.
Erpelding said, “We should hear this bill because it would make a difference. It would be a conversation to have in the large body that we haven’t had.”
He said he strongly objects to arguments that lawmakers are taking the “long view” on health care and that it’s a marathon. “Having been a marathon runner, six years is an awfully long marathon,” he said. “Having been someone who has climbed mountains and spent 50 days on mountains, six years is an awfully long expedition. It is time to take up health care in Idaho. And if we can’t do it today, then I would hope we would actually have the tenacity to actually do it next year.”
This bill would have sought a federal waiver to set up a five-year demonstration project providing family planning services and supplies to Idaho women ages 19-44 with family incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level who aren’t eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, or health insurance that covers family planning services. Idaho’s Medicaid program currently provides only short-term coverage for birth for those women. The bill was projected to save Idaho tens of millions of dollars by preventing unintended pregnancies.
The move marked the final extensive debate in the House on Thursday, as lawmakers wrapped up most of their business, approving agency budget bills and Senate amendments to various House bills. Among those was a controversial anti-trespassing bill that underwent extensive amendments in the Senate, but that still raised concerns from Idaho sportsmen and others. It passed, 51-18. All 11 House Democrats opposed the bill, as did seven House Republicans, including Giddings and Perry.
After the Senate passed its final budget bill, the revamped budget for the state Superintendent of Public Instruction that adds back in funding for an early-reading assessment test, Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, told senators, “We have had 118 budget bills, and have passed a balanced budget for our great state.”
Keough said the state budget reflects an increase in general fund spending of 5.9 percent, but just three budgets – for public schools, Medicaid and corrections – account for the 5 percent, with all other agency budgets growing less than 1 percent in total.
Idaho’s public schools will see a $100 million funding increase next year as the state moves into the fourth year of a five-year plan to improve education and boost teacher salaries.
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