Monthly Archives: March 2018

2018 Idaho Legislature– Key Takeaways

by Kyle Pfannenstiel and Nina Rydalch

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

The Idaho legislature wound down to a close this week. Here are some key takeaways:

· Several proposals to deal with the state Medicaid gap surfaced. None passed.

· Lawmakers passed one of the biggest tax cuts in state history.

· A national debate on school safety made its way into the legislature.

· K-12 science education standards referencing climate change survived a rocky journey.

Below, a deeper dive into the session.

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A legislative stalemate

While 2018 marked another year of legislative inaction to close the Medicaid gap population, lawmakers made some progress in healthcare. They restored non-emergency dental care to Medicaid recipients after cutting it in 2011 during the recession. That proposal cleared the House narrowly and the Senate with only one fifth of the body opposing, but a proposal aiming to insure half of the gap population didn’t have the same good fortune; it died on a procedural vote.

The Idaho Healthcare Plan, one of departing Gov. Butch Otter’s proposals to reduce healthcare premiums and stabilize markets, suffered a hard death in the House — twice. It cleared committee on a 7-5 vote, only to be sent back from the floor due to lack of support. A few weeks later, Republican Rep. Christy Perry of Nampa made a surprise move to consider the bill, with it clearing committee on another 7-5 vote before again being sent back to committee — where it would die without a vote on the bill itself.

That measure would have directed the state to apply for two waivers through the federal government: one waiving the federal tax credit ban for income earners under 100 percent of the federal poverty limit and another moving people with “medically complex conditions” from the individual market to Medicaid. The first waiver was expected to insure 35,000 of the gap population’s 51,000 to 62,000 people. The second would’ve moved 2,500 to 3,500 people with what officials call “high cost conditions” to Medicaid, according to State Department of Health and Welfare projections.

Another proposal aimed at helping the gap population by covering family planning services for women who lack coverage in that area got to the House floor in early March. Its consideration was continually delayed until its sponsor unsuccessfully pushed to have it considered on one of the last legislative days. House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding’s motion died on a 14-55 vote, earning the Boise Democrat the “crow” — a tradition the House awards to a member for sponsoring a motion with the least amount of support.

The chopping block

Lawmakers approved one of the biggest tax cuts in state history — at nearly $100 million — only to slash another $25 million in taxes to appease criticism the first measure didn’t go far enough for families.

After all was said and done, Idaho conformed to the sweeping changes in federal tax code, including the removal of the dependent exemption, while cutting individual and business income taxes by .475 percent each. To offset conformity to the federal changes that are expected to increase taxes, namely the removal of the dependent exemption, the state created a child tax

credit originally valued at $130. A bill late in the session increased it to $205. Some think the credit still doesn’t provide enough relief for families.

There were also proposals aimed at collecting more taxes, such as an approved bill to collect sales tax on internet purchases that’s estimated to bring in somewhere between $22 to $37 million dollars.

Action to save schools and lives

In the wake of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida school shooting, lawmakers considered multiple bills aimed at addressing student safety.

Only one of those bills, introduced at the beginning of March, appeared a potential product of the February shooting: House Bill 665. The legislation, now signed into law, makes it illegal to threaten a school off school grounds, including threats made on the internet. It also makes carrying weapons with the intention of using them to carry out such a threat a felony.

Law enforcement said in public testimony the bill allows them to take action to prevent attacks on schools. Under former law, law enforcement could only act if the threat made occured on school grounds.

Another approved bill encourages school districts to teach gun safety courses. While offering the courses has been legal, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ron Nate, said the law would clarify in code the ability of schools to do so. The Rexburg Republican said younger children would be taught to stay away from guns and seek out an adult. The courses could potentially prevent unintended injuries and deaths that can occur when children gain access to firearms.

Other bills addressed student safety on a more personal level. Idaho has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In recent years, the legislature has addressed the issue, founding the Suicide Prevention Program in 2016.

This year, the legislature continued taking steps, funding mental health programs with  $113.3 million in appropriations, a significant portion of which goes toward mental health care for children. A bill requiring all school personnel to take suicide prevention training also passed through. However, an attempt to form a committee to study teen suicide and recommend ways to reduce the suicide rate in Idaho failed.

“Science Rules!” – Bill Nye

Years of debate on updating Idaho’s K-12 science education standards came to a close late February, after a Senate panel permanently adopted temporary standards with references to climate change.

Lawmakers still squabbled over adoption of the standard, though, as a House panel previously voted to partially reject them; the move ultimately failed because unanimity is required to modify or stop rules from going into place. Essentially, the Senate panel’s move overruled the House panel’s, leaving the science standards fully intact.

Posted March 31, 2018

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Farmworker Awareness Week

by Jaxon Evers

Idaho Public Radio

Artist Bobby Gaytan was born in Nampa, Idaho, and grew up as a migrant farmworker, and moved throughout the U.S. to work in the fields.

“I was born into this lifestyle,’ Gaytan said Thursday at the University of Idaho in Moscow. “My grandparents began migrating and then my parents continued migrating and they continue working throughout the fields.”

Gayon

(Photos by Jaxon Evers)

Gaytan spoke about the farmworking experience and his passion for art and design as keynote speaker for the 2018 Farmworker Awareness Week Celebration at the University of Idaho.

“Farm workers in the United States work long and hard hours in the field, facing extraordinary challenges and dangerous conditions,” Gaytan said. “They earn some of the lowest wages in the country.”

Gaytan told the audience that he misses the work sometimes.

“What I loved about working in the fields and what I miss about working in the fields sometimes is the quietness of it, you know, the being around this ocean of green…it was just very calm and  it was kind of a perfect time to dream.”

Gayton

“Another thing I learned about working in the fields, later from my parents, was that this was a choice,” Gaytan said. “My mom knew English, she could have gone back to school. My dad had an education…the reason why they chose this, and continued working as migrants was because they felt very strongly on what it meant for our family to stay together and be together and move together. For them, they felt that family was important.”

Gaytan’s introduction to graffiti and art as a young adult led to an artist career.

“15 years old, I started painting, ” he said. “When you do something you love and you get paid for it, that is a great feeling.”

The focus of National Farmworker Awareness Week is to raise awareness about farmworker conditions and issues. 2018 marked the 19th year of the event around the country.

At the UI, the week included the Bandana Project, focusing on workplace and sexual violence against farmworker women.

Posted March 30, 2018

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Otter Assesses 2018 Legislature

Earlier this week in Moscow, speaking to the Idaho Forest Group on March 27, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter was reflective on his time in office, even opening his talk by saying that in his last year as governor he’s doing a lot of things for the last time.

Thursday, he gave his assessment of the 2018 Idaho Legislative session, his last as governor.

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(Gov. Otter and legislative leaders at a press conference, March 29, 2018. Screen grab, ‘Idaho in Session’)

“As I’ve been disposed to do, I like to talk about what we achieved and celebrate what we’ve achieved, rather dwell on things that we didn’t get through,” Otter said at his wrap-up press conference on March 29. “There are always possibilities for the next year.”

Gov. Otter cited the following as successes from this year’s session:

  • More than $100 million in new funding for Idaho’s public schools.
  • Funding the statewide roll-out of a new reading assessment.
  • $3.5 million for the Opportunity Scholarship program.
  • Expanding criminal penalties for willful threats of violence directed at schools, facilities, buses, staff or students.
  • Funding an audit of degree programs in Idaho’s higher education system.
  • Funding a system-wide study into integrating higher education support services.
  • Providing $10 million for a new health sciences building at the College of Western Idaho.
  • Funding start-up costs and ongoing operations at the new College of Eastern Idaho.
  • Expanding post-secondary career-technical education opportunities.
  • Restructuring and empowering the Workforce Development Council.
  • Funding for the addition of three regional behavioral health crisis centers in the Lewiston, Nampa-Caldwell and Pocatello areas.
  • Increasing state support for medical residency programs at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls and Bingham Internal Medicine in Blackfoot.
  • Requiring at least a minimum level of suicide awareness and prevention training for all public school personnel.
  • Restructuring Idaho’s information technology management within the Executive Office of the Governor under the Director of Information Security.
  • Requiring payment of Idaho sales tax on all internet purchases.
  • Providing about $130 million in net income tax relief for Idaho residents.

Posted March 29, 2018

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More Mental Health Resources are Coming to North Idaho

 

A plan to bring more mental health resources and training to north Idaho has been signed into law by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.

The funding is contained in HB 682, the FY ’19 appropriation bill for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Divisions of Mental Health Services, Psychiatric Hospitalization, and Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention, according to the state budget office.

“For the past couple of years we’ve been putting together a proposal to the state of Idaho to address the best way for our area to respond to people going through an immediate crisis of some sort, a behavioral health crisis,” Latah County Commission Chair Tom Lamar said at a March 22 meeting of the Latah Alliance on Mental Illness.

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The proposal would fund behavioral health crisis services at Gritman Hospital in Moscow, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lewiston, Syringa Hospital in Grangeville, Clearwater Valley Hospital in Orofino, and St. Mary’s Hospital in Cottonwood.

“It’ll have five doors that people can walk into,” Lamar said.

The proposal was backed by letters of support from the hospitals, emergency room physicians, the Latah Alliance, the counties, county sheriffs, and local police departments.

The Region 2 Behavioral Health Board will have the authority to contract with the state for implementing this “rural crisis response,” Lamar said, adding that preparation work has already been underway.

HB 682 was signed by Gov. Otter on March 27.

 

(Photo: Latah County Commission Chair Tom Lamar before the Latah Alliance on Mental Illness on March 22, 2018)

(Reporters Kyle Pfannenstiel and Glenn Mosley contributed to this report)

Otter: Idaho has Bright Future in Managing Lands

Speaking in Moscow March 27, Idaho Governor Butch Otter said he believes the state has a very bright future. Idaho Public Radio’s Glenn Mosley reports. (:53)

Listen:

Otter says he’s doing a lot of things for the last time in this, his last year as governor of Idaho. He used his keynote address at a meeting of the Idaho Forest Group contractors to, as he said, “review what we’ve done together.”

Otter recalled the establishment of nine rural firefighting training associations to help battle rangeland fires, the establishment of the Good Neighbor Authority on forest management, and he spoke about the value of the collaborative approach to finding solutions:

Gov. Butch Otter: “The value of collaboratives, about the value of making those decisions on the ground, in the forest, on the desert, and not in court.”

Otter said he was grateful for the fire fighting funding fix in the federal omnibus budget, and he said Idaho has a bright future in the management of  lands, especially if the state continues to set the models. He said all the other states are watching, and applauding Idaho’s efforts.

I’m Glenn Mosley.

Posted March 27, 2018

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Child Welfare System Report Released

by Nina Rydalch

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

Children in foster care are often thought of as one of the most vulnerable populations in Idaho.

While children are without a permanent home, the state is responsible for what happens to children, said Lauren Bailey with the Office of Performance Evaluations during a presentation to the Idaho State Legislature’s Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on March 1.

“In the absence of a stable, permanent home, the state acts as a surrogate parent, and is responsible for providing tools and resources to prepare these youth to become independent adults,” Bailey said.

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During the presentation, OPE evaluators told legislators what has been happening with the surrogate children of the state, and gave recommendations on how Idaho can be a better parent in future.

Principal Evaluator Lance McCleave said the OPE study sought to answer three questions:

How does the state keep children safe, and out of foster care; How can youth be prevented from going into the juvenile justice system; and is the state preparing youth for independent living as adults?

Staying safe, and out of foster care

McCleave said diverting children from foster care while ensuring their safety is not very common, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be.

“If the children are kept safe and kept with their family, it’s preferable to putting children in foster care,” McCleave said.

But, he said, “”There’s not the same level of legal protection for the children in those cases … (out-of-home diversions) should be used deliberately with clear guidelines for removing the children or putting them with family.”

He said the recommendation is for the Department of Health and Welfare to clarify when out-of-home diversions should be used and when they should not, for greater consistency.

Where Child Protective Services meets the justice system

According to a draft report of the study, 640 children who had some contact with child protection systems between 2005 and 2017 were put on probation or committed to the Department of Juvenile Corrections between 2014 and 2015. The total number of youth on probation or committed was 1,870.

More youth who went through child protection evaluations were committed or put on probation than foster children, according to the report.

McCleave said tracking youth who go through the child protection system as well as the justice system is difficult, due to the confidential nature of the information different organizations hold. He said there should be specific guidelines for what different organizations can share.

“That is a major stumbling block, knowing ‘can we share this? Under what conditions can we share this?’” he said.

Aging Out

Once children turn 18 in Idaho, they are no longer eligible for foster care unless they are still in high school, where the age is 19. The transition to independent living can be a challenge. Bailey said in a 2015 study, 47 percent of 21-year-old former foster children reported experiencing homelessness during the previous two years.

Bailey said while the Department of Health and Welfare provides an Independent Living Program to help foster children and former foster children from the ages of 15 to 21, few take advantage of the program up to the age of 21.

Only 18 percent of youth who aged out of the system in 2016 still participated in the program as of January 2018, she said. She said youth have said they are “uncertain about eligibility for certain benefits.”

Benefits of the program include room and board assistance, Medicaid and education and training vouchers that can help pay for college or vocational school.

Bailey said the transfer of information, which at this point is mostly verbal, needs to be clearer.

“We recommend that Child and Family Services strengthen training materials,” Bailey said. “Case workers need to understand eligibility requirements and when it is important to communicate that information and how to consistently deliver that information.”

Representatives from the Department of Health and Welfare, Department of Juvenile Corrections and Idaho Supreme Court spoke about their responses to the report, including Russ Barron, the director of the Department of Health and Welfare, who said, “We want to do all that we can for the children in Idaho.”

The report, “Child Welfare System: Reducing the Risk of Adverse Outcomes,” is available at the link:

https://legislature.idaho.gov/ope/reports/r1803/

Posted March 27, 2018

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Otter Signs School Threats Bill

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed HB 665, the bill beefing up measures against school safety  threats, into law on Friday, March 23.

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(State of Idaho photo)

The bill carries an emergency clause, putting it into effect immediately.

This legislation updates current Idaho law “to provide for a misdemeanor charge to willful threats of violence directed at schools, school activity venues, school buses, school staff and/or school students, regardless of the point of origin, and delivered by any means of communication,” according to the bill summary.

Under the previous statute, a person making a credible threat against a school could only be arrested if the threat was made on school grounds. The new law covers those threats made off school grounds, including those made by phone, e-mail, and social media.

The new law also provides for a felony charge if a person is found in possession of dangerous weapons in the carrying out the threat and after first having made such a threat.

The bill passed the House 52-12 on March 9, and passed the Senate 32-1 on March 16. It was sponsored by Rep. Wendy Horman, Rep. Patrick McDonald, Rep. John Gannon, and was backed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

Thousands of people rallied at the Idaho State Capitol earlier this month, calling for an end to gun violence. That rally was followed by #MarchforOurLives rallies in Idaho this weekend, including protests Moscow, Boise, and Lewiston.

Posted March 25, 2018

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