The 2016 session of the Idaho Legislature has been open for about a week now, and we're already starting to see some issues come to the fore. Having watched the Statehouse for more than 10 years, I know there's no telling where it will go in the coming months. I'll admit to feeling some optimism for the session as discussion is already coalescing around health care funding and the so-called Medicaid "gap," which drops some 78,000 Idahoans through the cracks of the insurance system because they make too much for federal assistance but not enough to participate in the state-run insurance exchange.
After the trauma of the 2015 session, which my former College of Idaho political-economy professor Jasper LiCalzi described as a "Dumpster fire" in a segment on Channel 6 a few days ago, let's hope lawmakers this year can tear their attention from ideology and finally focus on some things that actually affect their constituents' lives.
Work at the Capitol has for the past few years been sidetracked by a contingent of legislators—most of them new to the body—who seem more interested in pushing bizarre policy experiments than tackling any of a host of dire issues: health care funding and Medicaid expansion being chief among them.
The Idaho Legislature has at least since the '90s suffered a nutty streak, but it has more often than not been embarrassing rather than damaging. That has changed. When a gang of ultra-conservative legislators held child support payments hostage over a truly paranoiac fear of Shariah law, it proved the lunatics have gotten dangerously close to taking over the asylum. That their posturing put at risk millions of dollars and triggered a special session was a disaster narrowly averted.
With fingers crossed, I hope for the best this session—or at least nothing worse than 2015. Contrary to what some might say, I know there are intelligent, reasonable lawmakers of both parties who serve in good faith to better the state. Let's hope their voices are the ones to lead the session, rather than those of the few who work in service of a fantasy state that exists nowhere but in their fevered imaginations.