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Eye On Boise

Lawmakers talk purchasing laws, debate fate of Health Care Task Force

More reports to the Legislature Council today on progress made by legislative interim committees:

PURCHASING LAWS INTERIM COMMITTEE: The panel has met three times, including one meeting in Pocatello, and meets again Nov. 13 in Boise. It’s heard an array of presentations, and took public testimony both in Boise and in Pocatello. Staffer Elizabeth Bowen reported that the committee is mulling possibly recommending legislative action on up to 20 issues, including whether state purchasing should be centralized or decentralized; whether state purchasing laws need revision and recodification for clarity; ethics provisions for state employees involved in purchasing; and new provisions on contract monitoring. The committee will prepare a final report, including draft legislation, before lawmakers convene in January.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, who serves on the panel, said, “I don’t think it’s fair to say the issue we’re dealing with is compliance. The statute we’re dealing with was enacted in the 1970s.” He noted that the American Bar Association is currently revising its model act for state purchasing laws for the first time in 15 years, and Idaho’s version is based on a model even older than that. “I do believe that we need to give some better tools to state and local government than what we currently are giving – that’s my short version of it,” Davis said.

HEALTH CARE TASK FORCE: The task force met Oct. 13, and heard presentations on the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare budget and strategic plan; the Epidiolex Expanded Access Program; the status of health insurance in Idaho and more. The panel’s co-chairman, Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa, said at the end of its Oct. 13 meeting, the committee voted, with two dissenting members, to recommend replacing the task force with a specifically authorized interim committee to examine health care issues, on an annual or biannual, as-needed basis.

“As a whole, the task force has been well worth my time and effort. I thought we had accomplished some good goals,” Collins said. The recommendation includes repealing two laws that require the Health Quality Planning Commission and the High Risk Reinsurance Pool to report regularly to the Health Care Task Force, which has been an ongoing joint legislative committee since 1999.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who voted against that recommendation, said lawmakers have limited ability to get up to speed on complex health care issues during the legislative session. “I think it’s a disservice to the citizens not to have ongoing education about these significant transformative issues” in an industry that accounts for a big portion of Idaho’s economy, he said. The longtime panel “has significant advantages. … It probably needs to be retooled away from the reinsurance pool, into looking into issues that the Legislature gets involved in in health policy, but I don’t think it’s wise to do it episodically, focused on a single problem, when we don’t have as much broad expertise as we do say in business or agriculture.”

House Speaker Scott Bedke responded, “What we have is not authorized under law. … What is your vision, then, that would address your concerns? How would you fix it?” Rusche noted that leadership has the authority to establish task forces without passing a law, as it’s done with the Solar Energy Task Force, and Bedke agreed, citing the Tax Working Group.

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, said the Natural Resources Interim Committee has been ongoing as well, but a concurrent resolution officially authorizes it every two years.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “Most task forces have a short life, they go away; they fix a problem and they go away. This has evolved into more what the resources committee does. … I think quite frankly it cleans it up to have a resolution. … Everybody can bring a resolution. I think it’s a good move forward – it keeps it in the light of day, and it also legitimizes the committee.”

Rusche said, “I think it was clear from the tenor of the discussion that the ongoing nature of the Health Care Task Force was an issue. There are, however, code references to the Health Care Task Force as the entity that receives reports … so there is some statutory requirement.” He said, “I have no problem with saying authorize it every year or every two years.” But he said the panel shouldn’t be limited to a specific issue; it should oversee health care related issues as a whole, to avoid lawmakers only hearing about them from industry lobbyists during the session.

Moyle said, “If we do have an interim committee, it can be written broad enough to address the concerns that the good representative is talking about.”

“This thing is neither fish nor fowl,” Bedke said. “Do we envision the solar energy task force taking on a life of its own? Do we envision the Tax Working Group? Surely, as this goes along, we may weave into the statute a reporting requirement that happened after the fact of the task force. … I am arguing the structure in which this goes forward. So if you want to be like the natural resources, do it that way.” He added, “It’s my interest that it be more formalized.”

Committee staffer Elizabeth Bowen said a 2006 law, which passed unanimously, actually authorized the task force.

Davis said, “Our predecessors created this committee. They thought it had value, that it was an ongoing problem in our state, and as long as I have been here, we have chosen to continue that.”

After much discussion, the Legislative Council made no decision. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she would prefer to leave the Health Care Task Force in statute, rather than turn it into an annually authorized interim committee. “Everyone’s free to pursue it,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “It seems like the statute the way it is is a little nebulous, and somebody ought to take the initiative to clean it up, but that’s not necessarily the recommendation of this council.

Bedke said in that case, “I’m serving notice then that since it is a task force, that I will want more structure before I name people to it going forward.” Davis cautioned him that the statute is on the books, and Bedke said, “Let’s just clean this up, OK?” Davis responded, “Agreed.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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