Capitol Abuzz with Ideas 

"Family values" takes on new meaning

Legislators' true colors were out on full parade at the Statehouse last week. The challenge for onlookers was to distinguish the senseless from the sane.

In the quote of the week, Rep. Dick Harwood (R-St. Maries) astonished legislators in the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) with: "In my community, we have four people, the only thing they got was high school graduation, and yet they're the main contributors to our community. The key to being successful is to find something you love to do and doing it--not really the education." Harwood is a high school graduate who holds a welding blueprint reading certification from North Idaho Junior College, according to his official biography.

Some people got funny ideas when Rep. Pete Nielsen (R-Mountain Home) told University of Idaho President Tim White that colleges have really screwed things up: "When we approached the late '60s, '70s and '80s, a certain thing started to happen at the colleges that has proven to me to be detrimental to some extent, that we got from the colleges funny ideas about the environment, funny ideas about animals, and et cetera, et cetera."

Governor Kempthorne didn't invite any Democrats to the state employees' pay-raise bill signing, even though virtually all of them voted for it. "Isn't-that-tacky?" remarks were heard, especially since the only two "nays" on the bill had been from Republicans.

Nobody brought up the who-will-change-the-sheets question when discussing Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes' idea of inmates sleeping in shifts at state prisons. Geddes admitted he doesn't really want legislation mandating the clearly problematic idea; he said he only wanted to demonstrate that new, creative ideas should be discussed.

And those power-mad people at the Honeybee Association are looking to expand their duties, and had the House Agricultural Committee abuzz as they heard testimony from Michael Cooper of the state agricultural department. Cooper stung the committee by proposing Honeybee Inspection Reform, which would allow inspectors to grab a scoopful of bees instead of having to hold each little sticky bee up one at a time. The proposed rule would mean that mandatory inspections of bees entering and leaving the state would end. Cooper said, "But they'll have to show their little passports at the border." (Really, he said that.)

"I don't consider myself a lobbyist," the governor's former chief of staff, Phil Reberger, told the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey in 2003. Reberger, who is not registered as a lobbyist, is currently seeking a $50 million state Medicaid contract for his client, Unysis, and had dinner with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Cameron last month to discuss it. Evidently what one considers oneself isn't the question, as Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has opened a formal inquiry into whether Reberger violated state lobbying laws. Idaho's Sunshine Law requires paid lobbyists who communicate with lawmakers to register as such, and if they "influence the approval, modification or rejection of any legislation," to disclose it.

In the family values arena, several major proposals were put forth, with the Idaho Community Action Network (ICAN) once again leading the charge. They proposed the Idaho Health Insurance TRUTH (Transparency in Reporting for Understanding, Trust and Honesty) Act" as legislation to force the health insurance industry to come clean about their finances and practices. "We all know finding good, affordable health insurance these days is about as hard as finding buried treasure--people are paying an arm and a leg, or can't get it at all," said John Cornett of Kuna. ICAN board members spent almost a year on a "scavenger hunt" to try to document the cost of policies, salaries of health insurance executives, reimbursement rates and practices, and dollars spent on marketing, billing, and product design at Blue Cross and Regence Blue Shield, but got almost no cooperation from the insurance industry.

Gov. Kempthorne traveled to Washington, D.C. to explain his Medicaid Reform proposal to a Department of Health and Human Services advisory commission. Medicaid is the default insurance program for the working poor, unemployed and young single moms (and according to who you ask, many Wal-Mart employees). In the face of rapidly rising Medicaid costs, Kempthorne's plan emphasizes prevention and wellness programs. "If we are truly going to solve the problems of the current Medicaid program, we must turn our focus away from an antiquated, regulation-based system and toward one that focuses on results," Kempthorne said in a press release. $1.1 billion in state and federal money is spent each year in Idaho on Medicaid support for 180,000 low-income children, adults, disabled and elderly. The Guv's plan, which includes primary care for children, focuses on saving money by keeping people well, working and home. People who live at home cost less than those who live in nursing homes, for example.

This week, Senator Mike Jorgenson (R-Hayden Lake) will introduce legislation to strengthen protective orders that will give judges the choice of extending the order for convicted felons to stay away from their victims from "one year" to "indefinitely." Jorgenson was prompted to take on the issue when a constituent asked for help after her husband shot her six times, then told prison inmates he would "finish the job" when he is released in July of this year. Jorgenson said his bill has wide support and has been reviewed by interested organizations, the Attorney General's office, Health and Welfare, and the Criminal Division. "I researched other states' laws, and wrote this one as tough as I could to make it harder for people to stalk others," he said. The bill would also increase the distance an offender must leave between himself and a victim from 300 to 1,500 feet.

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