- Kelsey Hawes
Members of the Idaho Legislature slunk away from the Statehouse Friday without taking action on two issues of great importance to the state's working poor: the minimum wage and lack of access to health care.
Nearly 78,000 people in the Gem State are caught in the so-called Medicaid Gap—ineligible for Medicaid assistance or the state-run health insurance exchange.
Voting on party lines, the Republican majority of the Idaho House voted to kill a measure that would have begun a process to seek federal funding for a managed-care program. The vote came one day after a startling remark made on the floor of the Idaho Senate by Sen. Jim Rice (R-Caldwell).
"Not one of those who left bloody tracks in the snow at Valley Forge did so over free health care. It's not a right," he said.
Meanwhile, minority leadership walked away from the 2016 legislative session saying they would now urge Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to deal with the Medicaid Gap by executive order, or even call for a special session of the Legislature to revisit the issue.
"The fact that House Republicans were unable to see the plight of the 78,000 was very disappointing," said House Minority Leader John Rusche (D-Lewiston). "Idaho should be disappointed in what Republicans have done to them."
Before leaving Boise, Republican House members also took a final shot at urban Idaho by passing an urban renewal reform package that tightens the leash on urban renewal agencies. Under the new rules, 60 percent voter approval would now be required when a URA wants to fund a new project such as a library or city hall.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau on Friday reported Idaho's population was continuing to shift away from rural to urban areas, with Ada, Bannock, Bonneville, Canyon, Kootenai and Twin Falls accounting for nearly 90 percent of state's growth.
The 2016 edition of the Idaho Legislature lasted 75 days. The shortest on record was 2004, when lawmakers wrapped up in 69 days.