Idaho Examiner -
Idaho Rep. Tom Loertscher

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

House Highlights - Week Ten 2006

By Tom Loertscher

You can usually tell when the Media is having a slow news day. On those days they are searching for something - anything to write about. This week had anything but slow news days and what was amazing was to see the press scurrying around trying to get the latest little tidbit. The news of the appointment of Governor Kempthorne had no sooner been rumored than it became fact and then the speculations began. What would Lt. Governor Risch do now? Would he change his mind and now run for Governor? How long would it be before all these changes would take place? Whenever a member of the press asks me about something like this I like to start asking them questions about what they think. It’s fun to listen to their responses before they realize they are the ones that are supposed to be doing the questioning.

Governor Kempthorne had been hoping for something like this to happen for so long without results that many thought he had given up. Now Idaho is having one of those rare and historical moments. After the Governor is confirmed into the Bush Cabinet, Jim Risch will become Governor and may be the first ever sitting Governor in Idaho’s history to be running for Lt. Governor. At any rate I wish Governor Kempthorne well as he moves on.

One reporter I ran across on the day of the announcement was hurrying to a committee meeting being quite out of breath. He was lamenting somewhat that it was a “too much news day.” I started to kid him a little about this not being a very typical day of reporting at the capitol. It just so happened that a piece of major water legislation was being heard in the Resource Committee. The controversy connected with the bill is over aquifer recharge and how it might affect Idaho Power Company’s water right. The down side of an issue like this one is that it came up so fast that very few members of the House had much opportunity to study the issues. Idaho Power lobbyists were in fine form as they attempted to corner Representatives upon entry to the House chambers. I can’t remember a time when the two sides were so confrontational, both with a believable story to tell. There are two dimensions to this that may not get talked about very much that are worth mentioning. Some of the debate on the House floor was a bit of over the edge for me because it was too centered around trying to belittle the power company rather than sticking to the policy issue involved. The second matter was that discussion was absent on the 1994 recharge bill that was very poorly written, and that becomes what law suits are made of. I voted for the bill after doing some research and careful listening to people back home that I trust in these matters.

Though it rarely makes the news, even on a slow news day, there continue to be interesting things happening with Medicaid. We are moving ahead at warp speed with what is being called Medicaid Modernization. It is being sold to the House in the name of saving money but one of the things that very few of us understand is how many of these “reform” measures contain program expansions. I sounded an alarm about one such program increase and almost before the committee action was read across the desk it was pulled back to committee. I don’t know about you, but where I went to school expansion meant to make something bigger. The last number I saw on new programs was in the $10 million of General Fund, not including the one that was headed off.

There may be some slow news yet in store for this session, but not very many as things are rapidly coming to a head. Some big battles are still out there, and that will signal some very long days of floor action. Don’t get me wrong, there probably isn’t anything wrong with a lack of newsworthy happenings around the House. How does that go, “No news is good news?” Oh, if it were only true, especially around these marbled halls.

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