MONDAY the Public Defense Reform Interim Committee held its last meeting, where they signed off on a proposed bill for reforming public defense in Idaho by giving the Public Defense Commission more oversight and doling out grants to the counties to make their systems better.
TUESDAY a bill was introduced to bar cities and counties from setting their own minimum wage, intended to prevent local attempts to raise it like McCall and Coeur d’Alene last year.
Supporters argue it avoids a patchwork of local laws that could be bad for business. The Republican majority has blocked attempts to raise it beyond the federal $7.25 an hour minimum, citing principle and also the possible practical effects of interfering with the free market. The measure also, though, speaks to the larger issue of local control and the role of state government. Democrats in the Capitol often accuse their Republican colleagues of hypocrisy, in railing against federal overreach but at the same time imposing the state Legislature’s conservative will on sometimes more liberal cities. The counter-argument to that, as Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, put it during a debate about preempting local food container and plastic bag ordinances last week, is that “cities and counties are creatures of the state” and therefore the state has a right to regulate what they do.
WEDNESDAY the House State Affairs Committee introduced, on split votes, a bill to remove gender-specific language from future laws and one to create an inspector general’s office to investigate fraud and waste in government.
THURSDAY Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter held a breakfast with the Idaho Press Club, where he announced he was calling on legislative leadership to form a committee to study faith healing and child deaths. Otter emphasized he does not want to restrict religious freedom. His announcement came less than a day after Boise Rep. John Gannon, who has been interested in the issue for the past couple of years, dropped off his proposed bill to amend the exemption to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. It also coincided with a forum that was held at the Capitol Thursday evening, featuring a panel of speakers who support amending the current law, which exempts faith-healing parents from prosecution if their children die.
A few lawmakers attended, including Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, chairman of Health and Welfare on his side of the rotunda. A few people talked about their own experiences, including Brian Hoyt, who grew up in a Followers of Christ family in the Boise area with, from his description, abusive parents and adults around him. He described being told, as a 5-year-old, that the baby who died in his arms died because he didn’t pray hard enough. He talked about his brother, whose broken leg was set with 2-by-4s and bungee cords. When the leg looked crooked, he said, the church elders broke it again to reset it. When Hoyt himself broke bones in his foot after trying out for wrestling in middle school, “I was told this was God’s vengeance on me because I was dealing with people who were not of the faith.” Two weeks later, his parents brought him to the doctor, wearing the same pair of pants because his foot was so swollen he couldn’t take them off.
“This is not about freedom of religion,” Hoyt said. “This is about freedom from abuse and neglect, flat out. I don’t care what faith your flavor is, that is abuse, plain and simple.”
Otter addressed a number of other topics Thursday morning, including saying his proposed hikes in education spending were the top priority before cutting taxes, and that he had concerns about changing the state Constitution to allow for some funding for religious schools.
Also Thursday, a bill to implement the governor’s Primary Care Access Plan proposal, which would give primary care coverage to the poor and uninsured but doesn’t expand Medicaid, was introduced. House Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Wood said he would likely schedule a full hearing in a week-and-a-half or so.
FRIDAY the House and Senate Health and Welfare committees held a joint hearing to take public testimony on whatever people wanted to talk about. Most of the people who came, according to the Spokane Spokesman Review’s “Eye on Boise” blog, argued in favor of Medicaid expansion.
The House also passed a resolution lauding the effects of fluoride on our teeth and precious bodily fluids. In the Magic Valley, most of the water contains low natural levels of fluoride, so adding it to the water usually isn’t a big issue.
NEXT WEEK is the last week the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will hold budget hearings, including on the Idaho State Police, employee pay raises and hearing from committee chairmen. The week after, the committee will start to vote on the actual budgets. Stay tuned.