She’s got a ticket to ride, and everyone cares

By Seth Ogilvie

Vicky McIntyre wants to be the next treasurer of Idaho, which would make her the chief financial officer and banker of the state.

But she’s been accused of having trouble accounting for her own financial transactions as Ada County Treasurer, and it’s not the first time.

McIntyre has been in the news before. She misplaced a check in 2015 that led to a $19,000 settlement and recently she attempted to get paid for taxi rides that Ada County has already paid, but those incidents could have been honest mistakes. Scott Logan of KBOI-TV and Cynthia Sewell of the Idaho Statesman have comprehensive coverage of that.

Two of the transactions that happened earlier this year, however, are harder to explain away as a simple mistake. One purchase was for an NHL hockey in Las Vegas. The other was for a ride on a 550 foot tall Ferris wheel.

McIntyre told the Idaho Reports on Thursday the hockey tickets were offered as part of the annual Government Investment Officers Association conference, which took place  March 21-23 this year. The tickets were put on her county credit card. “I got an email from the conference asking me to attend,” McIntyre told Idaho Reports on Thursday. She could not immediately produce the email.

“I didn’t intentionally use it for something I didn’t think was appropriate,” McIntyre said.

The tickets were not accidentally added on to the bill for the conference. McIntyre didn’t pay for the conference on her county card; Rather, used a voucher from the county to pay for it. Yet she paid for the hockey tickets on the county credit card, and the hockey tickets were not related to participation in the conference.

Jennifer Felger, executive director of the Las Vegas-based Government Investment Officers Association, told Idaho Reports on Wednesday the hockey game was a “separate event not included in conference.” Tickets were separate, meaning McIntyre would have had to consciously buy them — which she says she did.

In the event description of the conference, there is no reference to a hockey game. The only conference event being held on the day of the hockey game was early registration and there was no official conference activity.

On Jan. 16th, McIntyre received a voucher from the county totaling $175.00 to pay for her conference fees. She said that money was put on her county card to pay for the conference. Here is the document:

Treasurer's Travel Voucher 412380_Page_1

Fourteen days after McIntyre received the voucher, she purchased the hockey tickets. The receipt does not show a charge for the conference, lining up with Felger’s statement that the two events were separate. Here is that document:

Personal CC Utilization_Page_1
The two transactions were different things. The conference was an approved purchase authorized by the county. The voucher document proves that. McIntyre told Idaho Reports that a similar voucher document should exist for the hockey game, and that the purchase couldn’t have been made without the voucher.

Idaho Reports requested all documents related to the credit card purchases and travel, and did not receive any documents showing a voucher for a hockey game.

“There is no voucher for the hockey game, as it was a credit card transaction,” said Ada County Clerk Chris Rich. “The credit card can be used without a voucher, and the county is stuck with the bill, even if the purchase was not approved or appropriate.”

“They are probably not giving you all the documents,” McIntyre said when asked about the discrepancy.

Rich disagreed. “She and her office are the originators of those documents,” he told Idaho Reports on Friday. “We simply review them, and we have turned everything we have over to you. We would never knowingly withhold documents.”

According to the Ada County Accounting Handbook “purchase of personal items are strictly prohibited.” It continues, “reimbursement for alcohol, cigars, entertainment, etc., is strictly prohibited.”

The milage and the timing are also important here, as McIntyre bought the tickets two months before going to Las Vegas. She bought the tickets online after receiving an email from the Government Investment Officers Association. McIntyre says she purposely bought the tickets on the government card. It was no accident.

McIntyre also purchased tickets to take a ride on the LINQ High Roller Ferris Wheel, costing $104.00 on her public credit card. According to the current price list, it looks like the ride was at night. According to the documents, she brought a guest, and the ride had an open bar.

WHAT ARE THE TICKET PRICES?

  • Daytime ride ticket: $25
  • Nighttime ride ticket: $37
  • Youth pricing (ages 4-12): $10 daytime ride, $20 nighttime ride. Children 3 and under are free!
  • Happy Half Hour – Day: $40, includes ride with open bar
  • Happy Half Hour – Night: $52, includes ride with open bar

That transaction was processed via the Ada County accounting system on March 23rd. Take a look:

Personal CC Utilization_Page_3

McIntyre and a woman identified in documents as Beth reimbursed the county for that High Roller ride. (McIntyre has not reimbursed the county for the hockey game.) Regardless, personal purchases of any type with public money is against the rules reimbursed or not.

McIntyre has been asked to surrender her credit card. She has refused.

“Every department has things like this,” McIntyre said. “They’re just coming after me.”

“When things don’t align, it is my job to point out where things are wrong or could use improvement,” Rich said. “My office and I do that for the entire county — my office included. It is my job, and at times, it is not popular.”

The Idaho Debates where McIntyre addressed these issues with her Republican opponents Julie A. Ellsworth and Tom Kealey can be watched right here if you can’t get enough treasurer information.

 

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Wasden v. Immigration

By Seth Ogilvie

“They need to put on their big boy pants, and they need to fix the problem.”

That sharp line wasn’t coming from just anywhere. It came from Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and it cut toward Congress.

“This problem has to be solved. These are human beings,”  said Wasden, a Republican, as he addressed Friday’s University of Idaho’s Symposium on Immigration Law and Policy. “Our entire immigration system is awful, and it must be fixed.”

Wasden’s comment came as a surprise to those who remember that in 2017, Wasden joined nine other attorneys general and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to threaten President Donald Trump’s administration with a lawsuit if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program continued.

Months after that threat and days after Wasden made his comments at University of Idaho, Trump announced on Twitter that “DACA is dead.”

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Former President Barack Obama’s administration created the DACA program by a memorandum on June 15, 2012. That memo instructed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to spend less time and money on low priority cases, and allowed for people to apply for a two year period without deportation.

In an additional 2014 memorandum, the Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanded the DACA program. DAPA works a lot like DACA, but for parents of American citizens.

To receive the DACA reprieve, people need to have been under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, enter the United States before their 16th birthday, be in school or have graduated or completed a general education program. They also must pass a background check.

Trump planned to end the program in March, but DACA is currently still in existence as several cases move through the court system.

Idaho currently has 6,497 total DACA approved cases as of January. If DACA is indeed dead, the federal government will attempt to deport these people, separating them from friends and family in our state.

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At the University of Idaho symposium on Friday, Wasden told a story of a deported friend.

“He was as American as I am or you are,” Wasden.

Still, Wasden said he believes Obama acted inappropriately with the creation of DACA. “It was false hope, because the next president has the same ability” to reverse Obama’s DACA decision.

“I’m on record saying Congress has to fix this problem,” said Wasden. “I don’t have a problem telling them face to face.”

When asked if he would go to Congress and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador’s office to demand a clean DACA bill — in other words, legislation dealing solely with childhood arrivals, without addressing a border wall, detention center funding, or other immigration issues — Wasden responded “absolutely.”

Wasden did not say when he has previously supported a clean DACA, but he claimed he had already said so on the record.

“This is a humanitarian issue,” Wasden said.

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Democracy in the streets

By Seth Ogilvie

Everyone has an opinion. The strange thing is some people are probably getting paid to think that way. As I stood in line to enter the Treefort music festival this past weekend, that became abundantly clear. A person with a clipboard approached me, asking “Do you like horseys? Do you like healthcare? Do you like healthy horses?”

Another person trailed behind the signature-gatherer, countering, “That’s not true. You need to get the facts.”

Two ballot initiatives were on the clipboard: One to expand Medicaid in Idaho, and another to legalize historic horse racing, an activity critics have compared to casino gaming or slot machines. That person with the clipboard was most likely paid to collect signatures for the two ballot initiatives, a common practice for groups looking to get issues in front of voters.

The person saying “That’s not true” was also most likely being paid.

I declined to sign the petition or enter into the conversation, but the new form of paid democracy made an imprint.

I witnessed the same interaction two more times over the Treefort weekend. It started to become a choreographed dance between the petitioner and the anti-petitioner. They both played their role and they both likely got paychecks, a jaded modern sense or democracy.

On Tuesday, I saw a different side of the issue. A young man wearing a “Save Horse Racing” shirt and holding a clipboard walked into a local coffee shop, talking loudly on the phone. “They’re harassing me. I just feel uncomfortable,” he said.

He appeared distressed. Melissa Davlin and I were close enough to overhear the conversation. After he hung up, I asked him if he would like to chat. He said  “You’re reporters. I can’t legally talk to you,” then left the coffee shop.

That is what I’ve seen with my own eyes. Those are the actors playing out this story.

These are the directors: A PAC called Committee to Save Idaho Horse Racing, Create Jobs, and Fund Public Schools. Their chairman is the previous speaker of the house Bruce Newcomb and their treasurer is John Sheldon.

The other director is the North Idaho Voter Project. Their chairman is Heather Keen, and treasurer is Tyrel Stevenson.

Paid signature collectors are not new. They have existed in Idaho for years going back to Propositions 1, 2, 3, and before.

But those anti-signature gatherers stood out to us.

“Nobody is aware of this happening before,” said Todd Dvorak, director of public media relations for Strategies 360 in Idaho, a consulting firm involved with gathering signatures for the horse racing petition. “But I know companies who have contracted these sort of things out are aware of these things happening in other states.”

“I don’t think anyone invented it. If you look at California and Oregon, they do it all the time,” said Tyrel Stevenson, treasurer for North Idaho Voter Project. “It is democracy on the streets is what it is.”

Both sides claim a First Amendment right to be on the streets.

“We get the free speech thing. It protects the canvassers as it does the blockers, but the folks that are being harassed, we feel like that infringes on the democratic process,” Dvorak said. “We don’t think that is the way politics should be done in this state.”

“I think people’s First Amendment right to provide people with useful information is a very strong right, and I think it is not without limits. I don’t think it allows people to disturb the peace or to assault or batter. I don’t think there is an acceptance to criminal laws on the book right now for that type of conduct,” Stevenson said. “I can assure you, any people that I’m associated with would never break the law, and if they do they are going to be subject to the same penalties that you or I would.”

The people gathering the signatures are required to follow Idaho election laws.

“(Petition gatherers) have to be Idaho natives. They have to be a certain age to take part in this and they are obligated to provide factual information about this and they are doing so verbally and in the pamphlets that we provide, and that information mirrors what is on the ballot, and that information has already been signed off on by the Attorney General’s office and the Secretary of State,” Dvorak said. “(Our) side has to follow a certain set of rules. The other side doesn’t have that set of standards.”

According to Tim Hurst, chief deputy at the Secretary of State’s office, there is nothing in the code that would specifically address the ‘blocking’ outside of a possible intimidation statute.

“There is very little guidance,” said Stevenson. “I think there are a lot of questions that have not been resolved when it comes to initiative and referendum activity in Idaho. We’ve had so little of it. We haven’t had an initiative on the ballot in years. It’s so difficult to do it.”

“This is a blatant attempt to disrupt and undermine the process of direct democracy by physically and verbally intimidating voters,” said Bruce Newcomb, former Speaker of the House and chairman of the Save Idaho Horse Racing campaign, in a Wednesday press release. “While campaigns can be and often are wars of words, these folks are using in-your-face intimidation tactics to prevent the people from putting a key policy question on the ballot.”

“The blockers are waiting outside the headquarters every morning to follow where are folks are going, and to set up right where they are,” said Dvorak.

Legal action may be the only remedy available for petition gatherers who feel threatened.

“If people are breaking the law, they should contact law enforcement,” said Stevenson. Dvorak said no one has filed police reports.

The Attorney General’s office had not yet commented on whether there are any rules that would govern the interactions between pro- and anti-ballot initiative workers at the time this story was published.

For a ballot initiative to get on the ballot the bar is incredibly high. Regardless of the so called “blockers,” the chance of success is slim.

But Newcomb, one of the backers of the initiatives, asked in a press release what opponents are afraid of. “Why not allow the question to go to voters, who can then settle the matter at the ballot box?’” he said.

“They are not very happy with me right now,” Stevenson acknowledged. “If they were willing to stop gathering signatures, I would be willing to stop doing what I’m doing.”

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Idaho officials not ready to pull the plug on insurance plan

Think the feds threw cold water on the Otter administration’s plans to offer non-ACA compliant insurance plans?

The Idaho Department of Insurance disagrees.

Idaho officials are pushing back against interpretations of a letter questioning Idaho’s insurance plans, according to a joint statement released by Department of Insurance Director Dean Cameron, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Lt. Gov. Brad Little. 

“Contrary to news media interpretations, the letter from CMS Administrator Verma was not a rejection of our approach to providing more affordable health insurance options for the people of Idaho. Her letter made it clear that Idaho’s efforts to pursue innovative alternatives hold great promise, and we believe that Idaho’s plan aligns with the State’s responsibility for ‘substantially enforcing’ Obamacare,” the statement said.

The letter from the feds, sent Thursday afternoon by Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, isn’t a verdict, Cameron argues. Instead, the notice gives Idaho 30 days to respond to Verma’s concerns that the plans don’t fully meet Affordable Care Act requirements.

“We were anticipating a letter saying essentially what it says,” Cameron told Idaho Reports. “…All along, we said we’re pushing the boundary lines a little bit, and it’s appropriate for them to say ‘Your toes are across the line here.'”

The language Verma uses — “we have reason to believe that Idaho may not be substantially enforcing provisions of the PP ACA” — isn’t definitive, either, Cameron said.

Verma’s use of the phrase “substantially” meeting ACA requirements is also open to interpretation, he added, pointing to Idaho’s 260 insurance plans that fully meet ACA standards. Even the five plans that Blue Cross of Idaho introduced under the scheme are mostly compliant, he argued. (Those plans haven’t yet been approved by the Department of Insurance.)

Requests for comment from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services weren’t immediately returned.

Regardless of whether Otter and Cameron’s interpretation is right, they’re not going to end the conversation here. We’ll have more on this on Friday’s Idaho Reports.

Read full joint statement below.

 

“Contrary to news media interpretations, the letter from CMS Administrator Verma was not a rejection of our approach to providing more affordable health insurance options for the people of Idaho. Her letter made it clear that Idaho’s efforts to pursue innovative alternatives hold great promise, and we believe that Idaho’s plan aligns with the State’s responsibility for “substantially enforcing” Obamacare. In fact, we consider the letter an invitation from CMS to continue discussing the specifics of what can and cannot be included in state-based plans.  We will consider all possible options and then continue discussions with CMS and HHS on how best to achieve our shared goals of reducing the costs of coverage and stabilizing our health insurance market.”

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The curious case of @SenDantheMan

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, is usually a reserved man. He speaks calmly and emphatically, even about issues over which he feels strongly, like abortion. But he’s known for his outbursts.

profile

A screen grab of the now-deleted @SenDantheMan Twitter profile.

The same could be said for @SenDantheMan, a Twitter account with the District 5 lawmaker’s name, photo and a link to his campaign site. Most of the tweets were mundane, the sort you’d expect to see from a Republican politician in his 60s: A comment about how there will be a way forward for health care post-Obamacare, a retweet of Idaho State Police congratulating an Eagle Scout, support for the Second Amendment. Like many Idaho lawmakers’ Twitter accounts, @SenDantheMan went mostly silent after the 2017 legislative session.

On Monday, the account became active again, shortly after a taped verbal altercation between Foreman and a group of University of Idaho students went public. Whoever running the account sent a tweet to University of Idaho student Kim Scheffelmaier to “go talk about killing babies with Maryanne Jordan.”

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Scheffelmaier had been among the UI students who had traveled from Moscow to Boise for Planned Parenthood’s lobby day, and wrote on her account that she and other students had planned on a 9 am appointment with Foreman to discuss birth control and sex education.

Foreman later said the account wasn’t affiliated with him, and on Monday night, tweets from the account itself claimed it had been a parody the whole time.

apologytweet

If the world of social media weren’t confusing enough, that series of tweets from the now-defunct Twitter account prompted an ethics complaint from Sen. Maryanne Jordan, as well as a discussion about civility, truth, and what you should and shouldn’t believe online.

On Tuesday, Foreman told Idaho Reports that he’s never had a Twitter account, despite mentioning Twitter use in a past interview.

In that May 2017 interview with CrossPolitic, a Christian podcast based out of Moscow, Foreman says he’d watched for whether churches would support his legislation that would criminalize abortion.

“When I was bringing my anti-abortion legislation to the forefront down in Boise, there was a grand total of zero churches that stood up,” Foreman said in the interview. “I didn’t get a single phone call, a text, a tweet, an e-mail, a letter, nothing.” That was the only reference to Twitter in the hour-long episode, though two of the hosts later tagged the @SenDantheMan account while promoting the show or engaging with him and other former guests.

Source: CrossPolitic.com. 

When asked about that interview, Foreman said he didn’t remember that part of the discussion.

“If I said Twitter, I misspoke because I wouldn’t even know how to get on Twitter,” Foreman told Idaho Reports on Tuesday. Foreman does have both personal and campaign Facebook pages, though he updates those rarely.

“When it comes to social media, you’re looking at a Neanderthal. I don’t do that stuff,” he said.

Foreman declined to say whether he’d yet spoken to Jordan to clear the air.

There’s no question that Foreman yelled at the University of Idaho students on Monday — that interaction was caught on at least two cell phone cameras. Attacking a fellow senator, however, would add another level of gravity to Foreman’s actions.

Beyond the questions of civility, the @SenDantheMan dust-up raises broader questions of accountability for online communications. If the account’s claim is true — that @SenDantheMan was fake the whole time — then it’s yet another example of untrustworthy social media accounts claiming to be one thing and perpetuating lies. It also caused a significant amount of grief for both Foreman and Jordan, as well as members of Senate leadership tasked with investigating the claim.

And whether or not the account was Foreman’s, @SenDantheMan lays out a roadmap for public officials with unverified accounts to make bombastic statements, then claim the account wasn’t theirs. Regret what you’ve written? Just delete it and say you had no connection to it.

There’s no proof one way or another, but everything posted on the account through Monday indicated it was connected with Foreman.

foremancache4

Before the account was deleted, posts dating back to Feb. 2017 line up with Foreman’s political ideology, and include language that’s identical or nearly identical to what Foreman has said in interviews and in writing, such as “Murder is murder” and “abortion kills a precious living being.”

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Some phrases were verbatim from Foreman’s website.

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In another post, the account interacts with Twitter user @iamaroadtrip, defending Foreman’s anti-abortion legislation.

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Sen. Maryanne Jordan and Sen. Dan Foreman at the Feb. 20 Senate Health and Welfare meeting. Melissa Davlin/Idaho Reports. 

The dig at Maryanne Jordan was also specific. Both Jordan and Foreman serve on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, and sit right next to each other. Whoever wrote that either had an intimate knowledge of the Idaho Legislature, or got lucky and picked a random Senate Democrat who happens to be on a committee with Foreman.

There were no tweets that indicated it was a parody — no over-the-top ideological statements, no poking fun at Foreman or anyone else, and nothing taking advantage of other times Foreman has been in the news for controversial actions, such as yelling at a constituent at the Latah County Fair in 2017.

Backing away from controversy on social media isn’t uncommon for politicians. Most use some variation of the excuses “I was hacked” or “A staffer made that post.” In some cases, the politician was telling the truth. (Looking at you, “Me likey Broke Girls.”) In other cases, they weren’t. 

And parody accounts aren’t rare, even in the relatively tiny #idpol and #idleg Twitterverse. But all of those known parodies are over-the-top and meant to make fun of their targets, affectionately or otherwise. Parodies, by their very nature, lampoon the subjects to make a political point. Along the same lines, they’re not meant to make audiences believe they’re actually real.

Nothing about @SenDantheMan was, well, funny. Nothing was ironic. Nothing posted before Monday would have been questioned as out of character for Foreman. Straight-up impersonations are more rare, but not unheard of. 

While there are ways to compel Twitter to reveal who is behind anonymous, fake or questionable accounts, the bar for that is high. The social media platform usually errs on the side of user privacy. Last year, Twitter refused to comply with a federal request to reveal the user behind an anonymous anti-Trump account. Police can investigate who is behind Twitter accounts, but that’s usually reserved for extreme cases, such as assault or threats.

Dr. Jaclyn Kettler, associate professor with the School of Public Service at Boise State University, told Idaho Reports she had never seen a parody account that didn’t act like a parody, and one that shriveled and disappeared right at the time it was getting the most attention. Imagine spending twelve months working on a painting, then ripping it up as soon as someone looked at it.

“You’d kind of imagine this would be the best time for attention,” Kettler said.

Regardless of who is behind @SenDantheMan, the incident doesn’t bode well for Idaho’s already fraught political discourse. At least when someone is yelling at you in the halls of the statehouse, you know who is doing it.

 

Seth Ogilvie contributed to this report. 

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Ahlquist supporting PAC claim called into question

 

 

 

Updated 5:30 pm 2/23 with additional comments from Ahlquist’s campaign, St. Alphonsus and St. Luke’s.

PAC claims that Republican gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist founded an organization that supported victims of sexual assault and domestic violence were called into question this week.

According to campaign manager David Johnston on Thursday, Ahlquist founded the foundation’s board of the FACES of Hope, a community organization that supports victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Johnston then clarified Friday that Ahlquist was president during the forming of the FACES Foundation.

“Tommy Ahlquist was responsible for starting the SART program at St. Alphonsus and St. Luke’s hospitals in Idaho,” Johnston said. “SART is a sexual assault response team that Ahlquist created, and that program organized the people and created a framework for the FACES Foundation to be formed.”

St. Alphonsus and St. Luke’s representatives were unable to confirm Ahlquist was involved in or created the SART program.

“It was FACES that created the SART program,” said Joshua Schlaich, media relations coordinator from St. Alphonsus.

St. Luke’s Public Relations Manager Anita Kissée, told Idaho Reports “Per Dr. King, he and Cyndee Cook were key in developing the SANE -sexual assault nurse examiner program.”

The Ahlquist campaign website currently claims Ahlquist was “inspired to help create FACES of Hope Victim’s Center.”

Tommy_Website

The multiple claims are hard to follow. There is the FACES claim, then there is the FACES Foundation claim, and the SART program claim. All three are similar, but not the same.

The FACES Foundation came into existence in June 2016, 10 years after FACES Family Justice Center was incorporated.

Here is the original filing with the Idaho Secretary of State in 2006:original-faces

 

Ten years after that, the documents for the FACES Foundation were filed, but they do not have Tommy Ahlquist’s name on them.

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If Ahlquist was involved with the founding of the FACES Foundation, the people who filed the paperwork forgot to include his name, and they left him out of their history:

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The Ahlquist campaign website doesn’t currently claim that he founded FACES, but the Wikipedia entry for Ahlquist does hint at it:

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Then there’s that video you saw at the top of the story, an advertisement paid for by the Idaho First PAC. That PAC’s largest contributor is John T Ahlquist Jr., Tommy Ahlquist father.

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Ahlquist was the president of the FACES Family Justice Center for a few years, and he was a board member. Representatives from FACES declined to comment on Ahlquist’s current and past involvement with the organization. Ahlquist is no longer president or a member of the board, and the public records don’t point to him being a founder. The Idaho First PAC has not yet returned a request for comment.

 

 

 

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The Idaho health care bill is on life support.

By Seth Ogilvie

On Tuesday, the Idaho House of Representatives placed house bill 464, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s dual-waiver proposal, into a legislatively induced coma for two weeks.

House leaders feared if the vote were held on Tuesday, the bill would die on the floor.

Monday’s vote on Medicaid dental coverage appeared to trigger Tuesday’s emergency legislative procedure. That bill, which would restore non-emergency dental services to Medicaid, passed, but it was a violation of the so-called Bedke Rule, meaning more House Republicans voted against the bill than supported it.

That vote painted an ominous path for the dual waiver plan.

“There has got to be some support built for that issue at this point,” House Speaker Scott Bedke told Idaho Reports on Tuesday. “I think people want to take a look at it.”

Rep. Fred Wood, the floor sponsor of the bill and only doctor currently serving in the Idaho Legislature, believes the dual waiver plan still has a chance at life. “I think it is reasonably promising,” said Wood.

It will take a lot of work to pass the bill and even more to hurdle the Bedke rule. But Bedke is staying out of the fight. “I am not personally working to build support,” said Bedke, “but I know some might be.”

“Right now it’s close,” said Wood, “and it will be close.”

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