BOISE -- We are in the final weeks of the 2013 Idaho legislative session. KTVB political analyst Dr. Jim Weatherby says he expected the Idaho Legislature to tackle four main issues this session, and they have.
First, in response to the Affordable Care Act, there is the possible creation of a state health insurance exchange. Some conservative lawmakers say creating the exchange helps the state maintain some control, while others will not support any part of the president's healthcare overhaul.
"It's not the exchange," said Dr. Weatherby. "It's Obama and the federal government, and all the paranoia that goes with that."
The bill to create that exchange passed the House last week and now heads to the Senate. Weatherby says he believes it will become law.
The next big issue is also related to a key provision of the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Tom Loertscher,R-Iona, just introduced a bill that would expand Medicaid for another 104,000 low-income people, replacing a program Loertscher himself helped create years ago. He says it would save millions in property taxes.
"He's saying, 'Let's take advantage of the Medicaid expansion, where the federal government, at least in the first three years, pays 100 percent,'" said Weatherby. "Now, that's not to say that bill's going to go anywhere. As I understand, the governor has said in response, 'No. Not this year.'"
Education is always a big issue in the Idaho Statehouse and it is again this year. Teacher contracts have been under major debate and charter schools are close to getting facilities funding.
But Weatherby says there has still been no talk about restoring the historic education cuts from three years ago. "It's not a part of the current revenue stream. And nobody, nobody is talking about a tax increase. 'Tax' is a bad word these days."
And the final big issue is the possible repeal of the business personal property tax. Most agree it's a bad tax, but it provides critical funding to city and county government. There are two competing bills, one that would partially repeal the tax, and the other fully repeal it.
Weatherby says both those bills could be revised and voted on in committee this week, making the next few days crucial. "Here's a tax that nobody seems to like or defend. But the real question is, if you repeal it, where do you find the replacement money, if any?"
Weatherby says lawmakers hope they can finish the session by the end of March, but it will likely go into April.
Coming up Monday in the Legislature, the House Education Committee will consider five new proposed bills. The House State Affairs Committee will debate a public lands bill. And, the Senate Education Committee takes up that charter school funding bill.