Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Legislature provokes laughter and tears

Every winter the Idaho Legislature provokes laughter and tears as lawmakers sift through stacks of bills that range from mere legal housekeeping to ludicrous eye-rolling legislation.

Here's the silly season's list to date.

Laughter: Former one-term First District Congressman Bill Sali asked the House Transportation Committee for permission to create an "In God We Trust" license plate with part of the sales proceeds going to his newly minted nonprofit, the American Heritage Foundation. Its board of directors includes him, his wife and a nephew. The foundation, according to Sali, will promote good citizenship.

Tears: Instead of kicking Sali's self-serving proposal to the curb, the committee couldn't bring itself to reject the motto that appears on the nation's currency and agreed to consider the proposal.

Tears: The Senate State Affairs Committee in a party-line vote on Friday refused even to print a bill that would have called for freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Just two Democrats, Michelle Stennett of Ketchum and Edgar Malapei of Pocatello, voted to print the bill to expand the purview of the Idaho Human Rights Commission.

The nine-member committee includes three of the chamber's most powerful Republicans, Majority Caucus Chair John McGee of Caldwell, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis of Idaho Falls and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill of Rexberg. Committee Chair McGee constrained debate and allowed no public comment from nearly 300 people who attended the meeting. Republicans dispensed with the question in a mere 10 minutes. Shameful.

Laughter: The Legislature has tied itself up in ideological knots over provisions in the federal Affordable Care Act.

In an effort to overturn the act, Idaho sued the federal government and objected to a provision that would require all Americans to buy health insurance.

With the suit undecided, legislators are caught between accepting federal money to set up an online health insurance exchange, using their own money to set up a state-run exchange or doing nothing and leaving matters in the hands of the feds.

Legislators know the state can ill afford to take on new expenses given the major cuts inflicted on education and human services last year. Yet, they are loath to succumb to federal control.

Tears: A good health insurance exchange would offer consumers enormous benefits by providing online comparisons of coverage and pricing in health insurance. Many other states already have exchanges in place. By dallying, the Legislature is depriving Idahoans of a good tool that could save them money in these hard times.

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