Mandatory minimum bill sent to House floor.  A bipartisan bill to reform Idaho’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, sponsored by Reps. Ilana Rubel and Bryan Zollinger, has passed out of committee by a 13-4 vote and was sent to the House floor.

The bill would restore judicial discretion to sentencing for drug offenders where the judge concludes, based on the facts of a case, that the mandatory sentence would result in manifest injustice. Rubel argued that this bill would help to save taxpayer dollars.

“In many cases, mandatory minimums result in taxpayers paying to inflict serious injustice,” Rubel said. “Many have heard about the truck driver who was driving industrial hemp through Idaho. Hemp is legal under federal law, and he thought he was just making an honest living delivering legal goods. But Idaho’s mandatory minimum laws could force the judge to imprison him for five years with no possibility of parole, regardless of whether the judge thinks that’s appropriate. Cases like this are a waste of taxpayer dollars and are ruining lives for no reason. I have heard many judges say they wish they could deliver more sensible sentences, but their hands are tied.”

Judges have shown their support for the bill. Retired Idaho Supreme Court Justices Jim Jones and Wayne Kidwell, both of whom also served as Attorney General, wrote a letter to the committee expressing their support for the legislation.

Medicaid expansion wins funding. The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) has voted to fund Medicaid expansion through the Milennium Fund. The committee voted unanimously 20-0 to fund the program with little to no debate. Medicaid expansion was passed by 61% through a ballot initiative.

“I am ecstatic to see that the members of the committee are respecting the will of the people,” said Rep. Sally Toone. “This vote sends a clear message to all the legislators. We have found a funding mechanism and are ready to implement Medicaid expansion. Idahoans need access to quality healthcare. There is no time for any more nonsense.”

Senator Janie Ward-Engelking expressed her appreciation that JFAC made sure to prioritize what Idahoans want and need.

“It is time for the legislature to implement the will of the people and provide healthcare coverage,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking. “For the gap population, not only is it the fiscally responsible to do, it is the right thing to do. I am pleased JFAC moved Medicaid expansion forward.”  

Child safety bill defeated. Rep. Melissa Wintrow’s Child Safety bill failed on the House floor with a 28-39-3 vote. The bill would have aligned Idaho’s marriage laws with existing statutory rape and child protection laws. The legislation would have also set a floor of 16 years old for marriage.

Wintrow explained her disappointment at the vote: “Unfortunately, many legislators showed that they are not going to take children’s safety seriously. The existing law has loopholes that allow for someone to commit rape or statutory rape and not be charged. Refusing to change the law will guarantee that those who are committing illegal activities will suffer no consequences. And the state is complicit in setting the stage for an opening for coercion and abuse of our children.” 

The legislation was created in collaboration with the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (ICASDV), an organization devoted to ending violence against women and girls. The proposed legislation would have required that a teen who is 16 or 17 must first have a parent or guardian consent and court approval to marry. 

 Bill encouraging provision of fertility treatment to veterans passes House. Rep. Brooke Green’s memorial calling on the federal government to cover fertility treatment for injured and disabled veterans has passed the Idaho House. The bill will now have a hearing in a Senate committee. Currently, Veterans Affairs (VA) will not cover fertility treatments like IVF when a veteran cannot produce their own biological material. This prevents many veterans from getting treatment.

“Current federal law forces many veterans to pay thousands of dollars to have a family or not have one at all,” said Green. “When our veterans decide to serve, they should be able to come back home and have kids if they want to. Unfortunately, existing legislation is discriminating against those who have made some of the most incredible sacrifices.”

Retired Army Captain Micah Andersen has been working alongside Green since the conception of the bill. After suffering from a complex blast in Afghanistan, Andersen needed fertility treatment to have a child. When his VA insurance did not cover it, he was forced to pay thousands of dollars.

“I am so glad that Rep. Green recognized the importance of this issue,” he said. “When veterans are told that they cannot have a family when they come home it’s devastating. The current law forces veterans to make an extremely difficult choice. You either have to spend thousands of dollars or not have a family. It is time that we stop forcing veterans to make an impossible choice.”

 

First responder bill passes House. Rep. Mat Erpelding’s First Responder bill, Senate Bill 1028, passed on the House floor with a 59-10-1 vote. The legislation requires worker’s compensation to cover treatment for psychological trauma such as Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). The bill now awaits Gov. Brad Little’s signature to be enacted into law.

“The legislature took a big step in helping Idaho’s first responders today,” said Erpelding. “Our first responders put their lives on the line every day to help us in our most desperate hours. It’s about time that we took the necessary steps to protect the people who do us such an amazing service. It is deeply troubling that more first responders die from suicide than in the line of duty and we have to do something to fix it.”

Currently, if a first responder needs workers compensation to cover treatment for psychological trauma they must have an accompanying physical injury. If someone needs therapy for PTSI, they have to break a leg or get a concussion to get coverage. The law would allow for individuals to get necessary coverage for psychological trauma. Several first responders came to the Capitol in Boise to show their support for the bill. 

Public events on Gov. Brad Little’s calendar

MONDAY, March 4, 2019 . Governor Little will issue a proclamation for Idaho Day in the Lincoln Auditorium at 12 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, March 6, 2019Governor Little will tour the Idaho Office of Emergency Management Operation Shared Response exercise at Gowen Field at 3 p.m.