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Saturday, August 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Rebecca Schroeder: Our votes cannot be taken for granted

By Rebecca Schroeder Reclaim Idaho

If the voters of Idaho don’t act quickly and decisively, the 2019 legislative session may go down as the year we all lost a cherished constitutional right: the right to take matters into our own hands when our elected leaders refuse to. We may lose health care for tens of thousands of Idahoans in the process.

This past week can only be described as the darkest of the Idaho state legislative session. In a matter of days, the Idaho House of Representatives approved Rep. John Vander Woude’s Medicaid restrictions bill which, if enacted, will likely kick more than 20,000 otherwise eligible enrollees off of Medicaid. On Friday, matters took a turn for the worse when the Idaho state Senate voted 18-17 to approve Sen. C. Scott Grow’s controversial anti-ballot initiative law – a state-sanctioned blow to every Idahoan’s constitutional rights.

Medicaid expansion and Idaho’s ballot initiative laws are inextricably linked. After all, it was the citizens of Idaho, not the state legislature, who put the issue on last November’s ballot. Nearly two-thirds of voters decided they wanted health care access for their family, friends and neighbors. Medicaid expansion passed in 29 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts and 35 of our 44 counties. Importantly, it passed with 57 percent of the vote in Vander Woude’s district, and 56 percent in Grow’s district. In a day and age when our political divide is almost unprecedented, getting that many voters to agree on anything is just short of a miracle.

Unfortunately, Idaho’s elected leaders don’t care.

Vander Woude’s Medicaid Expansion Restrictions Bill takes aim at the thousands of working poor earning between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level, requiring them to stay on private insurance even though they would qualify for Medicaid expansion. His bill also contains harmful work reporting restrictions, which Idaho’s Health and Welfare Department estimates could kick between 6,500 and 13,000 otherwise eligible people off of health care if they don’t fill out paperwork correctly. This “second gap” of people would be forced to seek costly medical care at emergency rooms throughout the state – which you and I will pay for. Eliminating the emergency room problem was one of the primary purposes of passing Medicaid expansion in the first place. Vander Woude’s bill puts those immense costs right back on the table. Furthermore, administering his restrictions program will cost Idaho taxpayers somewhere between $3 million to $7 million in wasteful bureaucracy.

More taxpayer dollars, less health care coverage, zero respect for the will of the voters.

As if completely changing the legislation Idahoans voted for is not enough, their very ability to vote for ballot initiatives is on the verge of extinction. Grow’s anti-initiative bill would essentially repeal this citizen right which has been in Idaho’s Constitution for more than 100 years. It would require tens of thousands more signatures, in almost every (32/35) Idaho legislative district, and cut the time to do it by 66 percent. All in all, it would deny every Idahoan a century-old constitutional right which brought us Medicaid expansion last year.

What makes Grow’s bill even more appalling is the revelation last week that he was/is working with a lobbyist for the payday loan industry – specifically Moneytree. You may wonder what payday loans and ballot initiatives have in common. Just ask Colorado voters. They overwhelmingly (77 percent) voted last year to regulate payday lenders. How did they do it? Citizen ballot initiative. Moneytree has locations not only in Colorado, but Idaho, Washington, California and Nevada. What do all of those states have in common? They all have citizen ballot initiative laws.

As Idahoans we can (and do) disagree on a lot of things. Medicaid expansion isn’t one of them. Neither is the desire to protect our constitutional rights. The 2019 legislative session may be coming to a close, but the fight to protect health care for working Idahoans, and the constitutional rights of every Gem State resident, is just beginning.

Make sure your elected leaders know you’re not going away, and we won’t forget what we witnessed this session.

Tell your state senators and legislators you knew exactly what – and who – you voted for last November and that you expect them to honor and protect your rights as Idahoans. Find your elected state leaders here and insist that your voice is heard.

Rebecca Schroeder is executive director of Reclaim Idaho, a grassroots movement designed to protect and improve the quality of life of working Idahoans.

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