Bible-in-Schools and Medicaid Bills Mark Idaho Governor's First Vetoes of 2016

by | April 6, 2016 AT 3:00 PM

By Nathan Brown

The governor vetoed his first two bills of the year Tuesday. One was a controversial measure to allow the use of religious texts in Idaho schools, and the other a funding bill meant to accompany a failed bill to apply for a Medicaid expansion waiver.

In his veto message, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter quoted the Idaho Constitution, which bans the use of "books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character" in public schools. The Idaho Attorney General's Office previously said the bill is allowable under the U.S. Constitution but violates Idaho's.

"I have deep respect and appreciation for the Bible as religious doctrine as well as a piece of historic literature," Otter wrote. "However, allowing S1342 to become law is in direct contravention to the Idaho Constitution, and it could result in a loss of funding and costly litigation for Idaho public schools."

The bill would have let schools use "religious texts, including the Bible," where it is relevant to a subject, while forbidding doctrinal instruction. The original version of the bill only mentioned the Bible, but a Senate committee amended it to include other religious texts and it passed the Senate with a few Democrats joining the GOP to support it. It then passed the House on a mostly party-line vote, although Magic Valley Republicans Fred Wood and Lance Clow voted against it after an unsuccessful attempt to remove the explicit reference to the Bible.

Otter also vetoed the funding bill that was meant to accompany a bill to authorize the Department of Health and Welfare to apply for a Medicaid expansion waiver. The House passed the funding bill on a Thursday night, but killed the bill authorizing the waiver application the next morning as one of its last acts of the session.

The money, if the accompanying policy bill had passed, would have gone toward $5 million a year in grants for community health clinics plus $400,000 to gather data on the uninsured in the "Medicaid gap."

"The aforementioned bills were placebos, not a panacea to address the health care needs of 78,000 Idahoans," Otter wrote. "The need still exists and I hope we can summon the resolve to finally address the issue during the next session of the Idaho legislature."

The Legislature ended this year's session without passing anything toward covering the uninsured, although House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said he plans to create a workgroup of lawmakers to study the issue during the interim. Otter ruled out taking executive action on Medicaid expansion or calling a special session on the issue.

(c)2016 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)