As the Idaho Legislature grinds towards a close, a host of issues are ending up on the wayside. A new school funding formula? Unlikely. More guns in schools? No. Requiring parents to opt-in their kids for sex ed? Nope. Raising the property tax exemption for homeowners? Not on the agenda. Raising the marriage age? Nada.
Still, teacher pay, especially for new recruits, is on the way up. Public education funding will be boosted.
But there have been sharp clashes on a couple issues that are still playing out. Should limits be placed on Medicaid expansion? Will initiative advocates in the future face much higher hurdles to get on the Idaho ballot?
Even if the answer is “yes” to both in this session, that is likely not the final word.
Ballot tightening for initiative efforts clearly is driven by the success of Medicaid expansion last fall. The Legislature had declined to broaden coverage for years despite multiple proposals, including from Gov. Butch Otter. The grassroots group Reclaim Idaho put the measure on the ballot and helped forge a unique bipartisan coalition with medical providers and business leaders to garner 61% of the vote.
Making initiatives harder to get on the ballot is really about preventing a similar coalition from putting forth one to legalize marijuana. Utah passed such a measure for medical use in 2018 despite direct opposition by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and many political figures. One could be placed on the 2020 Idaho ballot and pass. Worse, from the perspective of some, that could be followed up by recreational legalization.
Sen. Jim Guthrie (R-McCammon) last week on the Senate floor called marijuana the “elephant in the room”.
But, passage of the restrictive bill being proposed will not conclude the issue. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003 struck an Idaho initiative that was far less restrictive as violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution in the case of Idaho Coalition United for Bears v. Cenarrusa.
A court challenge is likely and, I believe, will be successful based on the language of that case. If so, all the back and forth wrangling on initiative tightening will be moot.
So-called Medicaid “sideboards” will similarly not be resolved solely by the Legislature or even Gov. Brad Little. Anything passed (predominately work requirements) will have to survive at least two levels of scrutiny: 1) Review and approval by the Trump administration and 2) Likely court challenges by advocates of Medicaid expansion.
Neither is a slam dunk. The administration has previously turned down Idaho’s request for Obamacare waivers. And, they have not approved all Medicaid waivers by other states. Some legislators seem confident that approval of whatever they pass is guaranteed. I am more cautious.
A court challenge may be a longer shot but is not outside the realm of possibility.
The more interesting issue is what impact will each of these issues have on activists and elections? I don’t sense much public groundswell to restrict Medicaid or tighten ballot requirements. But, there is clear energy on the part of opponents. How that gets channeled going forward could play a key role in the 2020 elections and beyond.