Stapilus: The pot initiative
OTHER VIEW

Stapilus: The pot initiative

  • 3
{{featured_button_text}}

Was it only two years ago that seemingly quixotic ballot issue effort was underway to expand Medicaid health insurance in Idaho?

It seemed like an improbable thing. Nearly all of the elected officials in Idaho who had anything to say about the Affordable Care Act, of which Medicaid expansion was a critical piece, were heaping abuse on it at every opportunity.

The intensity of the opposition among the state’s political leadership at least was overwhelming, which should have been an indicator that expansion just wasn’t likely to happen, even at the voter level, right?

But it didn’t work out that way. Medicaid expansion not only passed among the Idaho voters, it passed in a landslide. And while the legislature fought back, a modified version of it is now going on the books and coming into place. Apparently, at least.

Legalized medical marijuana, the subject of an intensive petition drive, must seem about as improbable now as Medicaid did then. But the state’s Medicaid experience tells us this: Don’t write off the prospects that it will go on the Idaho books.

While the Affordable Care Act never polled massively well in Idaho (probably it does better now than it did six or eight years ago), Medicaid expansion in recent years at least consistently polled well. While complete marijuana legalization still does not poll well in Idaho, medical marijuana does; well enough to suggest that a narrowly-crafted measure to legalize and regulate it would have a decent chance of passage if it reaches the ballot in November next year.

Will it reach the ballot? The effort already has cleared several bars, and the petition signature process is underway; it will continue until next spring. Getting any issue on the ballot in Idaho these days requires an excellent level of organization and energy. The Medicaid expansion campaign was unusually well organized and did a terrific job; it will not be easy to replicate. But it also created a template, a specific set of steps and plan of attack that other ballot issue campaigns could use in the future. Such as medical marijuana, this year.

Backers need to collect more than 55,000 signatures, distributed around the state in specific ways. That makes the effort more difficult, but—and this was a lesson coming out of Medicaid expansion—it also means that if organizers do develop a powerful and thorough enough campaign to get that done, they also have developed a strong enough campaign to sell the case affirmatively to the voters.

The case also has another advantage: Earlier adoption by neighboring states. By the time Idaho voters got to decide on Medicaid expansion, they could look around and see a number of nearby states that already had taken action on that front, and found no great negatives accruing. In the case of medical marijuana, most of the states bordering Idaho already have taken the legalize-and-regulate route (which resembles what Idaho does with alcohol), and while there are some problems the skies have not fallen in. In southwest Idaho, residents are seeing regular visits between the Boise metro area and the city of Ontario, less than an hour away, as Idahoans buy what they want and can’t buy (legally) at home.

The same thing happens in other border areas. None of this is going unnoticed by Idaho voters.

If the measure does make the ballot and does pass, many legislators would no doubt want to take an ax to it at the next legislative session. But they might have cause to hesitate. The effort by legislators this year to undermine the will of a landslide portion of Idaho voters, followed by an effort to virtually kill off the initiative process in Idaho, has led to some backlash. If on top of that a majority of Idaho voters choose to legalize medical marijuana, and legislators move to repeal it, what might be the political impact of that?

Imagine opposition to a marijuana liberalization law as the basis for a serious political threat to Idaho legislators. As unlikely as it sounds, the pieces for that could be coming together.

That’s down the road, of course. The legalization advocates have a long way to go before all that could happen.

But as the Medicaid expansion activists would tell you, never write off an effort backed by enough people.

Randy Stapilus is a former Idaho newspaper reporter and editor and blogs at www.ridenbaugh.com. He can be reached at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

2
0
0
0
1

Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Idaho’s structure of electing governors and LG’s completely separately — different from many states which bind them together — allows for the office holders to come from different points of view.

For future historians and artists who'll chronicle today's health and economic crisis, one humble item will stand out as the chief cultural emblem of the times: wearing a mask. Or not.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.

RAPID-RESPONSE TESTING

That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.

NO COORIDINATED EFFORTS

No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News