The primary function of the Idaho legislature is to set the annual budget. Our dear representatives love to wax eloquent on policy issues, and that is well within their function. But this year the Idaho voters spoke up on a policy issue the legislature has avoided for six years, Medicaid Expansion, and the Idaho House of Representatives is holding the Idaho voters hostage, refusing to address the budget for what is now Idaho law.
Six budget bills were passed by the Idaho Senate weeks ago that funded Medicaid Expansion. For weeks now, House leadership has refused to bring them up for a vote. Instead they have passed a “sideboards” bill, sending it to the Senate despite overwhelming testimony in opposition. And realize, this “sideboards bill” will cost Idaho taxpayers millions more than the simple Medicaid Expansion bills sitting on the House calendar.
Further, House Republicans signaled to the Senate they wanted the “Gag the Voters” initiative-killing bill (SB1159) sent over so they can approve it. House Republicans are puckered up on the lemonade they are making from what they see as a real lemon; the voter passed Medicaid Expansion Initiative.
House Speaker Scott Bedke got hurt real bad in 2013, his first year as the leader, when he let the House vote on a state health insurance exchange. He thought he had the majority of his caucus in support, but two Republican House members switched their votes at the last minute and the only way the exchange bill passed the House was thanks to strong Democratic support. He has vowed to never let such a thing happen again. The only way a tough bill comes to the floor of the Idaho House is with Speaker Bedke’s approval and he will only allow such a vote if he knows he has the majority of his caucus on board. That’s the “Bedke Rule” and it sucks.
By holding the Medicaid Funding bills hostage Speaker Bedke is giving the already supermajority House Republicans (56) total power over the body. He is negating the votes of the super minority House Democrats (14). Bedke is letting partisan politics trump the will of the people and holding them hostage.
I understand the Idaho Republican Party feels stung by the people’s initiative. They took a strong official stance against Proposition Two, even though many of their fellow Republicans, including former Governor Otter endorsed and voted for it. It makes partisan sense for them to now remove the people’s power of the initiative as they are doing with the “Voter Gag” initiative killing bill SB1159. But if they were being honest they would just work to repeal the Constitutional power of the initiative, not make it impossible through a law.
The Idaho legislature has been on a power grab for years now. The recent Constitutional Amendment to enshrine administrative rules review took two tries and some substantial Farm Bureau funding to pass the second time. This was the legislature puffing its chest against the executive branch.
But now they want to exert their power over the people. It’s not the first time. Every time voters have passed an initiative the Republican-led legislature has voted to make the initiative process further from the reach of the voters. In 1997, after the term limits initiative the legislature raised the bar. That was declared unconstitutional, so they quietly repealed the statute. But when the LUNA Laws were repealed by referendum, the Republican legislature reinstated the higher bar requirements, essentially ignoring the judicial branch. Now they want the initiative process beyond reach, securing their power in what is constitutionally designed to be a balanced system.
Speaker Bedke’s refusal to vote on the appropriations bills sitting on his calendar for the last two weeks is further bullying of the public he and his fellow Republican legislators are sworn to serve. This is not leadership, it is tyranny. Good people must resist when they see tyranny, especially in those they elect.