Education, Healthcare Likely Hot Topics During 2014 Idaho Legislature

Jan 5, 2014

The 2014 Idaho Legislature kicks off Monday with Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter’s annual State of the State speech. 

Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

Lawmakers will look at a variety of issues this year, from the budget to education, all through the lens of primary elections, which come up in May.

Boise State University Political Science professor Gary Moncrief says lawmakers will look closely at a couple of issues: healthcare and education.

“There’s going to some questions raised about the Idaho health exchange [known as Your Health Idaho] and whether we should be part of that,” says Moncrief.

Moncrief says the other debate that will continue from previous years is whether Idaho should expand Medicaid coverage to more low-income people. "A lot of states have expanded Medicaid because the federal government is picking up virtually all of that [additional cost] for nine or 10 years," he says. "But there’s also a philosophical resistance to expansion of any kind of government services among some people."

Moncrief says the other big debate will revolve around education funding.

"The funding of education this year will be an issue and the Common Core thing, which some people have had some second thoughts about that," says Moncrief. "And implementation of the Governor’s Education Task Force reforms in education. So I think health care and education are going to be the primary issues around which a great deal is going to swirl.”

Q. We’ve already seen the beginnings of legislation to pilot a pre-k program, will that get far?

A. It’s hard to say.  A lot of states seem to be going kind of in that direction. But we’ve also heard Gov.  Otter caution that the budget isn’t really flush this year. It’s certainly better than it’s been, there is a bit of a surplus.

There will be a movement on the part of a number of people in the Legislature to put most of that surplus money into education. I think there is a fair amount of support for that. On the other hand, there will be some movement to hold that back, to put more of it into the rainy day fund, so we’ll see how that goes at this point.

Q. Other states, like Utah, they’re seeing the courts overturn their laws against gay marriage. Do you think Idaho lawmakers will tackle that issue this session?

A. No.  They may talk about it a little bit, but I don’t think they will do very much because, at this point, it’s really up to the courts. I don’t see that really very much will happen in many Legislatures, especially those that have some kind of ban against same sex marriage now, like Idaho does. I can’t see most of those states doing much through the legislative process, it’s going to go through the judicial process.

Q. Primary elections are set for May, how will the specter of elections affect lawmakers?

A. I’m referring to that this year as the four “P’s,” Posturing Politicians Pandering for the Primary. That’s because we’re going to see a lot of it.  What we have lining up here is a primary election, which is exactly what the most conservative wing of the Republican Party wanted, which is a closed primary so they can directly challenge the more moderate wing of the party. 

You’ve got a challenge from Sen. Russell Fulcher, R-Meridian, to Gov. Otter. You have at least one state legislator who is going to run for Secretary of State and that’s a fairly large field at this point. There's been some signaling from Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, about possibly running against Tom Luna for Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction, I don’t know how far that’s going but I think that’s a possibility. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Lt. Gov. Brad Little draws a challenge also in the primary, perhaps from another legislator, perhaps from someone in leadership.

So I think what you’ve got is a primary on the Republican side that is really lining up as Tea Party people vs. more mainstream Republicans, and I don’t see any way that isn’t going to play out, at least to some extent, in the legislative session because a number of these people are state legislators. They’re going to have a platform and they’re going to be raising some of these issues.  It’s going to be a pretty interesting session from that point of view 

We’ll have more on what Governor Otter’s priorities are for this year’s legislative session, during Monday’s All Things Considered from 2 p.m.-6 p.m. on KBSX 91.5.

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