Jim Jones

So many newsworthy things are happening as we enter a new decade that it is difficult to address them all. Here are some brief comments on a variety of important issues.

First, sincere thanks to Gov. Brad Little, the Twin Falls County commissioners and the Ada County commissioners for consenting to the settlement of additional refugees in Boise and Twin Falls. Although the feds did not require the consent of the two cities, both gave it anyway. Idaho’s refugee programs in the two cities are some of the best in the country.

Even though refugee admissions have been cut fivefold in the last three years, these programs have successfully welcomed those refugees who were able to navigate the bureaucratic roadblocks. Predictably, those new residents have thrived in both communities. The governor and the commissioners of both counties deserve our gratitude for maintaining Idaho’s reputation for compassion and humanity.

As the Legislature gears up for the first session of the decade, there are several issues that deserve our attention. For one, the Legislature needs to protect the lives and health of our youngest citizens.  Even before statehood, it was a felony offense in Idaho for parents to deny necessary food or medical care to their children. In 1972, under pressure from the federal government, the Idaho Legislature exempted faith healers from that law.

The great majority of Idahoans can be prosecuted for starving their children or failing to provide basic medical care, but not faith healers. In my view, the exemption violates the Idaho Constitution’s strict prohibition against religious preferences, but the Legislature has refused to eliminate the preference. There will be an effort to scale back the preference this session. It is time for legislators to protect the vulnerable children of faith healers.

Idaho will need to redraw legislative districts when the 2020 census numbers are available. After years of legislative and court wrangling that often resulted in bizarre legislative districts, the voters decided to entrust the job of redistricting to an independent, bi-partisan commission. That system has taken much of the political chicanery out of the process and has worked quite well. This is a situation where the system works fine and ain’t in need of fixin’.

Idaho’s initiative process allows the people to enact legislation when the Legislature fails to hear their voices. When legislators refused to expand our Medicaid program to cover people who could not afford medical care, the voters took the law into their own hands and got it done. As a result, over 50,000 Idahoans will not be afraid to seek medical care when they need it.

Last session, the Legislature tried to make it nigh unto impossible for the people to exercise their constitutional power to enact legislation. Thanks to Gov. Little’s veto, the people kept their power. He did it to keep the state from having to defend costly litigation that many of us were contemplating. Anti-initiative legislation will likely come up again this year and the people will once more need to speak out vocally against it. It will be just as obnoxious to our constitution and just as costly to defend this year.

A piece of good news on the federal level--U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is once again cancer-free. This is once for colorectal cancer, once for lung cancer and twice for pancreatic cancer. She was a beacon of hope for me when I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2017. She gave me the courage to beat this vicious disease.

Justice Ginsburg will likely be the decisive vote to keep the Affordable Care Act from being killed later this year. If so, she will keep millions of Americans from being subject to loss of coverage for pre-existing conditions or from losing their health insurance altogether. It would be a wonderful legacy for this icon of the legal profession.

Jim Jones is a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice and a former Idaho attorney general. His previous columns can be found at https://JJCommonTater.com.