GOP leaders see health care, ed reform, business property tax as session issues

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Rep. Scott Bedke, left, and Sen. Brent Hill look ahead to the legislative session.

It’s no secret that in Idaho, Republicans set the agenda for both the state House of Representatives and the Senate due to overwhelming majorities in both chambers. Yet what that agenda might consist of, and where it might lead in the 2013 legislative session, is a bit unclear.

“It is not my role to drive my opinions into the minds of the other legislators,” says Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, the newly elected speaker of the House of Representatives. In an interview with IdahoReporter.com when asked about a slew of issues that will likely confront the Legislature this year, Bedke displayed the same restraint with his own positions that he is proposing to exercise with his fellow House members. “Forty-five percent of the House has turned over, so we’ve got a lot of new members. My task is to get the new members up to speed on the issues and procedures, and let them arrive at their own policy positions.”

However Bedke, along with Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, the Senate president pro tempore, both acknowledge that education reform legislation is likely to emerge again this year. “There were a lot of popular education reforms embedded in Propositions 1, 2 and 3, despite the propositions’ rejection in last November’s election,” Bedke says.

“There is bipartisan agreement that we need education reform in Idaho,” Hill told IdahoReporter.com. “But the stakeholders need to be heard, before the Legislature acts again on this.” Bedke noted his confidence that Idahoans want “the latest and greatest” technology in public school classrooms, while Hill expressed caution over the price of such technology.

On the issue of eliminating Idaho’s business personal property tax—a tax that is levied by the state and that is used to generate revenues to fund county government services—the two legislative leaders are cautious. “The veteran House members are quite familiar with it,” Bedke says, “but eliminating the tax will take $140 million away from the county governments each year.” While Hill calls the tax “onerous,” he concurs with Bedke that merely repealing the tax is insufficient, and that a mechanism to make up for the lost revenue will have to be established.

Hill and Bedke feel that health care issues will be prominent in the upcoming legislative session. Hill supports the idea of Idaho creating its own state-based insurance exchange as a means of complying with federal Obamacare mandates, a position championed by Gov. Butch Otter, but Bedke declined to offer an opinion on the matter. “The House membership encompasses a lot of people from very diverse backgrounds. I intend to create a venue where the members’ voices can be heard, a venue where we can all listen and learn,” Bedke says.

While the House and Senate leaders agree there will be debate on creating a state-based insurance exchange, the Legislature may not consider whether or not to expand the eligibility for Medicaid in Idaho. Portions of the Obamacare law originally mandated that the individual states must do this, although the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state Medicaid mandates. Despite this, however, the U.S. Congress has appropriated federal funding for states that choose this course.

“I don’t think Medicaid expansion is an issue that we’re going to have to deal with this year,” Hill told IdahoReporter.com. “I am, however, very impressed with some of the Medicaid reforms that the state of Florida has enacted in recent years, and I think we can adopt some of what Florida has done to make our state’s Medicaid program more cost effective and efficient.” Bedke offered no specifics on what the House might do with the prospect of Medicaid expansion.

The Idaho Legislature will begin its 2013 legislative session Monday, Jan. 7.

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