If they opposed it, why didn’t they kill it?

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Have some questions after House Health and Welfare sent the Medicaid requirements bill to general orders? I did too! Here are a few answers.

-Why did the five Republicans who opposed the original work requirement bill vote to send the Senate bill to general orders instead of kill it? Because there are some needed tweaks, like a waiver to use Medicaid funds to pay for mental health care, said Rep. Jarom Wagoner, vice chair of the committee. Wagoner acknowledged it’s a long shot that the House will vote for just those uncontroversial tweaks to Medicaid expansion, but it’s worth a shot, he said. Expect multiple amendments, some of which will compete with each other. 

-Is the court decision striking down work requirements on the House’s radar? Yes, said Rep. Megan Blanksma, House Majority Caucus Chairwoman and member of the committee. But, she said, she doesn’t know what will come out of those discussions. As of Wednesday’s committee meeting, the House hadn’t had a chance to caucus and examine the Senate’s amended bill.

-Will we see amendments before they hit the House floor? Only if the amendment authors choose to release them to the public and reporters. Typically, those amendments and fiscal notes are submitted directly to the House clerk, and no one sees them until the House takes them up. That said, authors can choose to share them ahead of time.

 

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Deja vu on Medicaid hearing? Not quite.

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

It might seem like deja vu in House Health and Welfare this morning as the committee considers a Medicaid expansion sideboard bill — one that, with amendments from the Senate, is nearly identical to the House version that the Senate Health and Welfare committee voted to hold last week.

But there are key differences in this hearing. Keep a few things in mind:

  1. Five Republican members of the House Health and Welfare committee opposed the original work requirement bill when it hit the House floor: Reps. Fred Wood, Jarom Wagoner, Marc Gibbs, Laura Lickley, and Mike Kingsley. Those five had initially joined their Republican colleagues to send 277 out of committee with no recommendation, then ultimately voted against it with Republicans. Now that this is the final stop before the amended Senate bill goes to the House floor, their votes might change.
  2. Chairman Wood tells me Rep. Chad Christensen, one of the Republican committee members who voted for the bill on the House floor, is absent today, and doesn’t have a substitute. That will affect what could be a close vote. Other Republican committee members who supported the original work requirement bill: Reps. Megan Blanksma, Bryan Zollinger, John Green, and bill sponsor John Vander Woude.
  3. Just because the Senate amended the bill doesn’t mean the House can’t also amend it. Expect some competing tweaks.
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Analysis: 10 percent requirement makes district-by-district efforts even more disproportionate

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

While each of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts has about 45,000 residents (at least at the time of the last US Census), the number of people who vote varies widely in those districts.

That has a big impact on voter initiative efforts — and if the governor signs Senate Bill 1159 and House Bill 296, those efforts will become even more disproportionate in some areas of the state.

The proposed changes to the voter initiative system — one of which has passed both the House and Senate — would raise the number of signatures required for a ballot initiative to 10 percent of “qualified electors” — in other words, registered voters — in 32 legislative districts. (House Bill 296 would lower that to 24 districts.)

Idaho currently requires 6 percent of qualified electors in 18 legislative districts sign a petition to get an initiative on the ballot.

During Tuesday’s Senate State Affairs hearing for House Bill 296, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill asked bill sponsor Sen. C. Scott Grow if Utah and other states use ten percent of registered voters, or ten percent of those who participated in the last election.

The answer: Almost all other states use turnout instead of registered voters. (Hill ultimately voted to send the bill out of committee with a do-pass recommendation.)

According to an analysis on voter initiatives by Senate intern Colin Nash, no other state requires 10 percent of registered voters.  The highest threshold, Wyoming, requires 15 percent of the number of votes cast in the last general election. 

There’s a key difference between registered voters and votes cast. Take Idaho’s 2018 election, for example, which saw record-breaking turnout throughout the state. Even with voter turnout hitting between 60 and 75 percent in most counties, there was a huge difference in those who could have voted and those who did.

Most of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts had between 8,000 and 9,000 registered voters who didn’t show up for the 2018 general election. That means Senate Bill 1159’s proposal of using 10 percent of registered voters instead of 10 percent of voters who participated in the last election would require 800 to 900 more signatures in those districts.

District 34, Sen. Hill’s eastern Idaho rural district, had the biggest difference between registered voters and turnout. If the proposal used 10 percent of voters who simply participated in the last election, signature-gatherers would need to get just 1,178 voters to sign on from Dist. 34. Under this proposal, that number of needed signatures more than doubles.

dist34

District 34 needed signatures based on 2018 voter registration and turnout.

District 27, House Speaker Scott Bedke’s rural district, had a fairly high turnout percentage, but the lowest raw numbers of both registered voters and actual votes cast in the entire state. Signature gatherers would need 1,838 voters under the current proposal, as opposed to 1,103 under the current system. 

dist27

District 27 needed signatures based on 2018 voter registration and turnout.

On the other hand, bill sponsor Sen. Grow’s District 14 — located in west Ada County — had the highest raw number of registered voters in the state, with more than twice the number of registered voters and votes cast than Bedke’s District 27.

dist14

District 14 needed signatures based on 2018 voter turnout and registration.

Under Senate Bill 1159, signature gatherers would need 2,000 more signatures in District 14 than in District 27.

comparison

Signatures needed in legislative districts 14, 27 and 34 under Senate Bill 1159 based on 2018 voter registration.

Under the current system, signature gatherers would still have to pony up more signatures in District 14 than District 27, but only about 1,200 more.

comparison2

 

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A wonky workaround to tweaking 1159

Idaho Reports producer Seth Ogilvie pointed this out yesterday.

So much attention is (rightfully) on the secret Ways and Means meeting held Thursday to propose changes to the voter initiative bill, but the manner in which the House is making those changes is just as significant.

The House is proposing changes in a trailer bill, HB 296, instead of in amendments, which is the most common way to tweak legislation.  That’s critical. Even if they pass both SB1159 and the trailer, the Senate doesn’t have to concur with the trailer. In that case, the original bill will be the only one going to Gov. Brad Little.

Had they sent the bill to the House’s amending order, the Senate would have had to debate and vote on SB1159 again. But as it is, the Senate doesn’t even have to consider HB296, and the original bill could be signed into law without the changes.

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Fight over office space prompts cease and desist letter

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Contention over limited office space in the statehouse has prompted a cease and desist letter from a former constitutional officer.

Last week, Ron Crane sent a letter to two members of House leadership demanding they stop citing Crane as a supporter of an effort to move the State Treasurer from the first floor of the capitol, opening up that space for House member offices.

The letter references a March 15 appearance on KBOI by House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding and House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks. In the interview, Erpelding said Crane had an agreement with the legislature that the state treasurer’s office should move from the first floor of the Idaho Statehouse after Crane retired so lawmakers could take over the space.

“Ron Crane hereby demands that both of you cease and desist stating, writing, or inferring that Ron Crane, at any time, as a party to any agreement to voluntarily relocate the Idaho State Treasurer’s physical office, or its functions, either during or after his tenure, out of the Idaho State Capitol building,” the letter states. “Any statement or implication to that effect is not true.”

In a Tuesday interview with Idaho Reports, Erpelding acknowledged he may have misspoken on the radio. “However, my intention was to say that Ron Crane was well aware of the legislature’s intent to move to the first floor,” Erpelding said. “He was not in the dark about this at any time.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the House Republican Caucus issued a statement saying Crane’s letter was unnecessary and extreme. “(A) simple phone call to discuss the interview would have been sufficient,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke in the statement. “House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks and Minority Party Leader, Mat Erpelding, were simply responding to an interview by the current Treasurer on 670 KBOI with Nate Shelman regarding an agreement that was made more than a decade ago. Instead of forcing the move then, a gentleman’s agreement was made to hold off on the move until the former Treasurer retired. That time has come.”

A long-simmering fight

Crane also provided 2018 correspondence between Crane and Bedke on the issue, as well as minutes from two 2007 Capitol Commission meetings, which he says negate the claim he ever agreed to a move. 

In a January 2018 letter to Crane, Bedke pointed to a section of Idaho Code that gives the legislature control of the first floor of the statehouse. “The Legislature temporarily allocated first-floor space to the State Treasurer, but that allocation was temporary and was meant to last only until the Legislature needed more space,” Bedke wrote.

“I was involved in the immediate follow-up discussions when the Governor and the legislative leadership reached a compromise on the allocation of space,” Crane wrote to Bedke in February 2018. “At that time, the Governor asked me if I wanted to move to the second floor or remain in my current office space on the first floor. My response was that I wished to retain the office space on the first floor, next to the original vault. The Governor agreed to this request and I do not recall any discussion of this being a temporary situation.”

Crane also included a 2007 letter from Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to Senate President Pro Tem Robert Geddes that supports his claim.

“In summary, the State Treasurer shall occupy all of the office space located on the south side of the east wing of the first floor. The use of the words “temporary basis” was not and will not be a part of any agreement,” the unsigned letter says.

Minutes from 2007 Capitol Commission meetings do not say the treasurer’s occupation of the office would be temporary.

Moving ahead

Though current treasurer Julie Ellsworth has also opposed vacating the first floor, lawmakers are moving forward with the expansion. Crane’s letter comes as the Legislature considers an emergency $10 million appropriation to fund the new office space and a remodel of the east wing first floor, as well as a bill that would remove the requirement that moneys kept by the State Treasurer must be stored in the vault located on the first floor. 

The fight over office space centers on lawmakers’ complaints over inadequate cubicle space in the basement of the capitol. While all of Idaho’s 35 senators have private offices, 49 of the House’s 70 members are in cramped cubicles without doors. Bill Spence of the Lewiston Tribune has more on the fight here. 

Rep. Brent Crane, Ron Crane’s son, said he doesn’t support the $10 million appropriation for the move and remodel, and will vote against it. 

“I think it’s going to be very problematic to try to defend that,” Crane said, who also voted against the bill regarding the vault. (That bill was sponsored by Monks, who succeeded Rep. Crane as House Assistant Majority Leader.)

Brent Crane called the expansion to the first floor short-sighted, saying he didn’t think it took into account the need for more legislative staff members in the future.

Instead, he hopes leadership will look at other options, pointing to lawmakers’ previous occupation of the basement in the JR Williams building across State Street.

Erpelding disagreed.

“The only way to effectively allow for space for legislators and staff… is to look at the first floor,” he said.

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An email, a Senator and a bathroom

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Police reports involving a key Idaho lawmaker and a Boise high school bathroom started circulating the Statehouse last week.

The police reports, obtained by Idaho Reports, appears to have been scanned on March 10 and circulated by an anonymous, secure email account mimicking state Sen. Fred Martin, a Republican from Boise who has been at the center of several of this year’s most contentious legislative issues.

The email came from “fred.martin” <fred.martin@protonmail.com>. Proton mail is an encryption email service based out of Switzerland. The anonymous emailer asked the questions “Is he a pervert?  You decide. Did he use his position to cover it up? Sure seems that way.” Attached in the email were photos of the police reports.

“I feel like the email was a form of intimidation,” Martin told Idaho Reports on Saturday. “I took it as a threat.”

Idaho Reports has requested a copy of the reports from the Boise Police Department and also requested the names of all others who have obtained a copy of the documents. As of Saturday, Boise police have not yet responded. Boise police officials, however, have confirmed to legislators the reports are not a forgery. Martin himself confirmed they were not a forgery but said they were factually wrong.

Martin told Idaho reports “there is an active investigation into this email that has been turned over to the attorney general’s office.”

A spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden had “no comment” on whether or not an investigation exists.

Martin is the chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare committee and is the gatekeeper of multiple high-profile policy decisions from immunization exemptions to Medicaid expansion work requirements.

Martin has said he opposes restrictions on Medicaid expansion and will not allow a hearing on the immunization exemptions bill, which has already cleared the House earlier this year.

Martin says this email has only strengthened his stance on these issues. “The committee did not want to hear 133 (the immunization bill)” said Martin. “Now we never will.”

“This email is not related at all to Medicaid expansion and will have no impact,” said Martin.

Some members of Democratic leadership see a possible correlation between the timing of this email and the positions Martin has taken.

“Anyone who is not toeing the line is at risk” said Senate Assistant Minority Leader Cherie Buckner-Webb, a Democrat from Boise.

“Martin exhibited suspicious behaviors during two known incidents on the property of Centennial H.S.,” the report reads of two incidents occurring in 2012 and 2014. “He had several inconsistent statements during an interview.”

However, the police concluded “at this point in the investigation, I have not identified any criminal activity that is prosecutable.”

The email was sent last week to multiple legislators in the Senate and the House seemingly at random. Idaho Reports has confirmed at least 10 House members and multiple senators received the email.

The documents attached in the email are titled “Scanned Documents 3.10.2019_page_01.jpg.” On March 8th, Miste Gardner-Karlfedt — a person active in Health Freedom Idaho — posted a clearly edited image on Facebook of Martin exiting a bathroom.

Screen Shot 2019-03-16 at 5.03.45 PM

Health Freedom Idaho has actively supported the immunization exemption bill. The group often posts about parental rights and the dangers of vaccinations.

Meanwhile, Dustin Hurst, communications director for the libertarian-leaning Idaho Freedom Foundation, responded: “Just wait until Tomorrow.”

Hurst told Idaho Reports on Saturday “that was a reference to our king Martin graphic.”

That king Martin graphic came out at 11:30 A.M on the same day as the bathroom photo was posted.

“I think the actions of Health Freedom Idaho hurt their cause,” Martin told Idaho Reports.

On a Health Freedom Idaho facebook post on Saturday the group denied being responsible for the email.  “Sen Martin is pointing the finger at HFI for releasing his police reports. While the contents of these reports are very concerning to many parents and Health Freedom Idaho members, we did not release these reports. It appears Mr. Martin is attempting to shift the public’s focus away from the contents of the police investigation, but Idaho citizens are too smart for this.”

The incidents in the report took place in 2012 and 2014. The first incident took place after a basketball game at Centennial High School in Boise. According to that report, Martin was wearing a long dress coat and had gloves on both hands when he entered the school by himself around 10:45 p.m.

Multiple custodians reported seeing Martin in the school at this time. One custodian who was cleaning bathrooms reported seeing Martin in the girls’ bathroom. The police report says “Martin was inside the women’s bathroom behind the wall with his back to the bathroom stalls and sinks.” The report continues “Martin was peering from behind the wall looking out the door into the hallway.”

“I was at the school after hours, but it wasn’t two in the morning, people were there,” Martin told Idaho Reports on Saturday. “I didn’t go into the bathroom, there was a cart, and I yelled into the bathroom because I was trying to talk to someone.”

The custodian “indicated he was startled because Martin was inside the women’s bathroom peering and had gloves on.” Martin appeared to be startled, according to the report, and left quickly without the two people exchanging any words. The custodian notified his supervisor after Martin allegedly left the building.

“No one followed me out,” said Martin on Saturday.

The report indicates that security footage from the school did not contradict the custodian’s memory of the incident. In the report, Martin denied ever entering the girls’ bathroom, but after being told, there was a witness “indicated he may have stepped out of the hallway into the little area at the entrance to the bathroom.” The report continues to say “Martin then made a statement about defining when the bathroom begins and when it ends.”

In the report, Martin said he was at the school to find out who had won the girls basketball game and his actions were entirely innocent. The report, however, says “Martin indicated that he saw several kids in the gym, but for some reason, he did not ask the kids who won the game.”

On Saturday, Martin told Idaho Reports he was attempting to find out the score of his grand-niece’s basketball game. Martin talked to Idaho Reports while attending a volleyball game in the Magic Valley.

When Martin was asked by investigators what he thought he was being accused of  “he stated he did not want to say it out loud or write it down,” says the report. “Martin then made several statements about knowing who he was and living a kind of life. Martin later stated he thought the accusation, because of the investigations, were centered on something to the effect of a peeping Tom.”

“Nothing in that report is true outside of me being at the school,” Martin told Idaho Reports.

Security cameras captured the second incident in 2014 outside the school. “Cameras showed a man who appeared to be Fred Martin pull up in a red Mustang,” says the report. “Martin first checked the two center main doors then checked the most eastern main door. Martin had negative results as all doors were locked. In the video, it shows Martin looking over his right shoulder as he was approaching the building as he was checking the doors. Martin walked back towards his vehicle where he was intercepted by a custodian who asked Martin if he needed help.”

Officers questioned Martin in his legislative office after the second incident. In those interviews, the report suggests Martin may have been receiving information about the investigation from sources within law enforcement “It appeared law enforcement was somehow involved in Martin obtaining information about the investigation on both occasions.”

Martin has never been arrested or tried for any of the actions in either report, and the investigators ultimately concluded no criminal activity that could be prosecuted was identified in the investigation.

“I will not be intimidated, I know who I am and those that know me, know who I am,” Martin told Idaho Reports Saturday. “Those who love me, know who I am.”

If you’d like to read the report here it is:

Scanned Documents 3.10.2019_Page_01

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No good formula to create the Education funding formula

Wide view of the boise capital building

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Backroom fights and posturing over how to fund Idaho’s education system found their way to the House floor last week and continued Monday. House Democrats joined with more conservative members of the Idaho Legislature to vote down the State Board of Education’s budget to signal their unhappiness with the rewriting of the state’s most key budget item: funding Idaho’s schools.

“If you want to exclude us from policymaking, then don’t expect us to vote for your budgets,” said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding. “That is not congruent.”

A key tension? Democrats feel left out of important policy discussions.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a Boise Democrat, says she’s been a member of the drafting team to create the legislation since its inception nearly five years ago. She says she hasn’t been invited to any actual drafting meetings since December. Yet people have been writing possible proposals without her.

Ward-Engelking says she and Democrat Rep. John McCrostie – a fellow funding formula member – “were not invited to the meetings where the draft was finalized.”

“They are more concerned with their power than good, well-reasoned policy,” said Erpelding. The Democrats are looking at killing appropriations bill as a way to force themselves back into the conversation

“To punch when necessary,” said Erpelding. “But only punch to win.”

The Senate education chairman disagrees. “I can tell you that there haven’t been any discussions being had behind closed doors,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, who oversees the education panel. “They’ve been open, so anyone that wanted to participate or know what was going on was welcome.”

GOP Rep. Wendy Horman, who is in charge of writing the education budget, emphasized no one was purposely left out and she has taken a backseat.

The funding formula proposal was turned over to the House and Senate education committee in a joint hearing in December, said Horman, who then added she stepped away from the process after co-chairing the interim funding formula committee.

Senate and House education leaders have held almost 20 hours of meetings with stakeholders and legislators.  “If they’re saying we haven’t had any input,” said Mortimer. “I’m saying that’s not necessarily the fault of the of the environment that we’re we’re making this legislation in.”

“It wasn’t only Democrats who felt they were shut out of the funding formula drafting process,” Horman said. “Members of the House Education Committee have certainly spoken publicly about feeling excluded from the process.”

The Democrats and some of the House Education Committee members are not alone in raising concerns. Some of the stakeholders who attended the funding formula meetings also feel like they haven’t been heard.

There have been lengthy and productive public meetings, but the concern is that key conversations are happening in private.

“It’s a giant investment of time, and we’re the ones who have to implement it,” said Quinn Perry, lobbyist for the Idaho School Boards Association.

“The working group, in my opinion, has done what it needed to do,” said Mortimer. “That was talk about the major issues some of the differences of opinion and we covered all of that.”

Tensions have since been heightened when the House Education Committee started talking about a bill – which may or may not have actually existed – stakeholders say they knew nothing about.

Around the same time, that same panel also raised eyebrows from stakeholders and Democrats when it started drafting funding formula legislation of its own.

Legislative leadership directed Horman and Republican Sen. Lori Den Hartog to also draft their own funding formula version.

“It must have become clear to both House and Senate leadership this week that the process wasn’t working, and the Senate Education Chairman was directed by joint leadership to work on a draft on Wednesday evening,” said Den Hartog.” “I have assisted the Chairman with that.”

“Leadership agreed it was time to get a bill moving that honored the intent of the interim committee and incorporated stakeholder input,” said Horman. “(Den Hartog) and I got tasked with taking the interim committee’s version adding the stakeholder input and coming up with a draft.”

That was when Democrats and stakeholders started to object. “I said, what are you doing you’re going to blow the whole thing up, we cannot put something forward that doesn’t have stakeholder buy-in,” said Ward-Engelking. “It’s just not the right thing to do.”

“We’ve seen in the past what happens when stakeholders are not involved,” said Perry. “They’re not going to be calling legislators they’re going to be calling us.”

Critics of the process harken back to the Luna Law days, where in 2011 stakeholders also argued they were left out of important education policy decisions and eventually overturned the Legislature’s decisions through citizen initiatives.

“I think we’ll see a very similar situation that we saw with the Luna laws where people are going to say this isn’t right. You know you’re not talking to the people that are in the field, the people that are doing the day to day work with children and that’s whom people care about, we care about the children of Idaho,” said Ward-Engelking.

“My fear, if we don’t involve the stakeholders, is that it becomes a very political bill and we’re not looking out for the interests of our children here in Idaho,” she added.

A new funding formula, however, can only be created by the Legislature and the process is not even close to a conclusion. “It’s time now to let the legislative process happen,” said Mortimer. “Time for a bill to be brought, time for us to say yes this is what we want to do and not everyone may agree but if the majority agrees then that’s the way the legislative process works.”

People are still holding out hope despite the criticism and obstacles. “I believe a compromise could be reached on this,” said Horman. “I think we can get to a bill that takes into consideration the recommendations of the interim committee as modified by additional stakeholder input and we can get a compromise bill done this year.”

“I think we need to go back to the bill that the stakeholders have endorsed,” said Ward-Engelking. “That’s where we need to start and vote it up or down, and if they vote it down, we put this off and see what the governor’s task force can do to resolve this situation.”

Mortimer does not believe waiting until next year is an option. “It is not acceptable to me, and I don’t think it’s acceptable to a lot of people,” said Mortimer. “We’ve already worked on it three years… it needs to happen, and it’s our responsibility to educate those that haven’t been here so long. I think if we miss the opportunity to at least get the framework in place, then we miss a real opportunity.”

Even the stakeholders still have hope. “We are committed to continuing our work with the Legislature to craft language that will work for everyone,” said Perry  “We will also continue our efforts to ensure the transition to a student-based formula will be as smooth as possible for our school districts and charter schools.”

In the end, though, hope doesn’t craft legislation. With a bill introduced and the killed in the House Education Committee today and a possible future bill in the Senate this week, we’ll have to wait and see what lawmakers, stakeholders and the people of Idaho can get behind.

Then keep an eye on Sen. C. Scott Grow’s ballot initiative bill, just in case this does end up like the Luna laws.

 

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