BOISE • Legislative leaders plan to name three informal work groups before the 2017 session, including ones that will try to tackle the much-debated “Medicaid gap” and the state’s controversial faith-healing laws.
These work groups will be named at the Legislative Council meeting Friday in Boise, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said on Tuesday. A third work group will be appointed to study the state’s invasive species programs, Hill said.
The Legislative Council meeting is where the members of the more formal “interim committees” will also be named. These are authorized by the Legislature, and this year’s interim committees includes ones to study the public school funding formula, the state’s foster care system and natural resources issues.
Work groups are a little different; Hill and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, can appoint them on their own authority and don’t need legislative or other authorization.
The meeting will also feature presentations on other issues, such as an update on the state general fund and on the state Capitol’s compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Idaho has so far opted not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and how or whether to extend coverage to the estimated 78,000 people in the so-called Medicaid gap — those who qualify neither for Medicaid nor for subsidized insurance on the state exchange — has been a hot topic for the past several years. This year, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter put forth a state-funded plan to extend primary care coverage to the uninsured that stalled in the Legislature.
As the 2016 session wound down, the state Senate passed a bill to start work on applying for a federal waiver to implement a state-designed Medicaid expansion plan, which the House killed on the last day of the session. Bedke said at the time that he would appoint a work group to study the issue during the interim.
Idaho’s child-neglect laws currently exempt parents from prosecution if a child gets sick or dies when the parents are trying to treat them through faith healing. Boise Democrat John Gannon first introduced legislation in 2014 to modify the law in cases where serious injury or death could result, after the higher-than-normal number of child deaths among the faith-healing Followers of Christ denomination, which has some adherents in Idaho, hit the news. His bills haven’t gotten a hearing, with some Republicans saying they oppose changing the law on religious freedom grounds.
Otter sent Hill and Bedke a letter in February asking them to name a work group to study the issue.
The topic gained more attention after the session when an article in the British-based newspaper the Guardian prominently featured Mariah Walton, who grew up in Declo and is seriously ill today because her parents never got the hole in her heart treated when she was a child. Mariah and her sister Emily Walton later appeared on national TV programs to tell their story.