In a lot of ways, it’s been a rough year to be an Idahoan. In the last several months, citizens have had to fight to preserve their most basic constitutional rights.
This was painfully evident during the 2019 legislative session. Idahoans asked the Legislature to implement Medicaid Expansion for over six years, but they refused. When citizens took matters into their own hands and passed Medicaid Expansion through a ballot initiative with 61 percent of the vote, the Legislature lashed out with vengeance. They started by passing legislation that would have made it nearly impossible for citizens to get an issue on the ballot. Only wealthy, special interest groups would have been able to influence a ballot initiative. Thankfully, there was a tremendous outpouring of citizen protest and Gov. Little reluctantly vetoed the bill when he was advised that it was unconstitutional and would likely be challenged in court.
But several members of the Legislature didn’t stop there. Instead of allowing Medicaid Expansion to be implemented the way the voters asked for, the Legislature decided to add a variety of restrictions. These barriers to coverage will cost millions to taxpayers every year if the federal government decides to approve them. It will also create significant barriers to get healthcare for thousands of Idahoans (the very problem we were attempting to solve by expanding Medicaid in the first place). Idahoans came from across the state to testify against the bill but many legislators did not listen. Although similar restrictions were struck down by courts nationwide, the bill was passed by the Idaho House and Senate and signed by the Governor. Now, we await a decision from the federal government on whether or not they will be implemented.
And, the cherry on top of this disrespectful sundae, is the gerrymandering bill. A number of legislators attempted to push through a gerrymandering bill that would have dismantled the balanced, independent redistricting commission that has served us well since 1994. The commission requirements are defined in the Idaho Constitution and must be approved by the Idaho Supreme Court. This process is more efficient than spending millions of taxpayer dollars, for years, to fight district lines in federal courts, as we have seen in other states. Those of us who disagreed with this legislation were able to stop its advancement during the session.
Last week, Republican leadership held a town hall in Twin Falls where they committed to repeat some of the same behavior in the next session. Among numerous proposals, they expressed interest in passing legislation to: 1) restrict the ballot initiative process to make it impossible for citizens to get issues on the ballot, 2) pursue Medicaid Expansion work requirements and 3) ensure that all legislative districts are redrawn by their party.
Idahoans can demand action through their votes and in the initiative/referendum process on the ballot and have a constitutional right to be heard. We should be representing your best interests!
Our first responsibility is to our districts and the people of this state, not to take away the people’s power.
It’s been a rough year to be an Idaho citizen. These rights are in the Idaho Constitution and can only be changed through a voter approved Constitutional Amendment. Subverting the people’s
right to be a part of the political process is just wrong. Elected officials should fight to secure the rights that Idahoans deserve. Our duty is to make sure that your constitutional rights are protected and your voices are heard.
Written by Idaho Democratic lawmakers Sen. Michelle Stennett, Rep. Sally Toone, and Rep. Muffy Davis.