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Legislators at impasse over Medicaid expansion and school funding formula


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House Minority Leader Mat Erplelding, left, and House Speaker Scott Bedke address the media at an Idaho Press Club luncheon Tuesday. | Courtesy

BOISE — The legislative session is now 65 days long, and tempers are noticeably short.

Lawmakers are at an impasse on Medicaid expansion. And when legislative leaders met with reporters for a luncheon question-and-answer session Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats spent much of their time swapping barbs over a bill that would tighten the initiative process.

Then there’s the rewrite of Idaho’s school funding formula, which has gone nowhere fast.

House Speaker Scott Bedke says he’d still like to get a funding formula bill passed this session. But after spending three years on a legislative committee that studied the funding formula, Bedke struck a philosophical tone Tuesday. He said he doesn’t expect this issue to keep legislators in town in April — and past their target date for adjournment. And he knows some lawmakers are wrestling with the complexities of the issue.
House Minority Leader Mat Erplelding, left, and House Speaker Scott Bedke address the media at an Idaho Press Club luncheon Tuesday.

“There’s a lot for everybody to learn, and that’s what’s happening now,” said Bedke, R-Oakley.

The education process took an unexpected turn Monday morning when the House Education Committee refused to even print a version of the funding formula bill. Normally, committees routinely vote to print or introduce bills. And this bill had the backing of committee leadership, Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, and Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth. But the committee voted to kill the bill.

Bedke didn’t fault his committee leaders, saying, “The Legislature will be better off for the research they have done.” Nor did Bedke fault the eight Republicans who bucked committee leadership and killed the bill; seven are in their first or second term in the Legislature. These lawmakers might have felt they were being pushed toward “a predetermined outcome,” Bedke said, all while trying to grasp school funding issues.

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“It’s an education process, (and) not enough people knew enough,” Bedke said.

The debate has shifted to the Senate. On Wednesday morning, the Senate State Affairs Committee will vote on whether to print the latest edition of the bill — version No. 12, and counting, said Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum. If State Affairs prints the bill, it would likely get a full hearing in the Senate Education Committee, where five of the nine members have served with Bedke on the funding formula committee.

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding questioned why House Education ditched committee leadership’s bill Monday, vetoing a bill written with education groups in favor of a Senate bill the education groups don’t support. “You have some really weird dynamics going on,” said Erpelding, D-Boise.

But that was a tame exchange compared to the discussion of Senate Bill 1159, which would make it considerably more difficult to get a voter initiative on the ballot.

Bedke said he liked several aspects of the bill — including a requirement that would force groups to secure signatures from 32 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, in rural and urban Idaho alike. Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said lawmakers have been kicking around many of these ideas for years.

Erpelding doesn’t buy it, saying the bill is a clear and direct response to November’s voter-passed Medicaid expansion initiative.

“There is no way this is not about retribution,” he said.

Regardless, the Legislature still has to resolve the Medicaid issue — and respond to the initiative.

Erpelding insists there is a bill in draft form that could garner bipartisan support and pass the Legislature. He declined to divulge details, or say who is behind the bill.

Bedke counts noses differently. On Tuesday, he said he doesn’t have the votes on the House floor to pass a “clean” Medicaid expansion bill, or pass a Medicaid bill with work requirements, or repeal Medicaid expansion outright.

“This is one of the few things that will keep us here,” he said.

If Tuesday is any indication, that could take a while.