Opponents of Otter’s health exchange begin debate with delaying tactic

Above: Sheryl Nuxholl of Cottonwood debates against the health exchange.

Opponents of Gov. Butch Otter’s state-run health exchange are playing hard ball in attempting to stall the bill before final passage.

At the start of Thursday’s debate, Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, took the unusual step of objecting to the routine waiver of the reading of House Bill 248. Secretary of the Senate Jennifer Novak immediately began reading the six-page bill, at a rapid clip.

After 11 minutes, Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, resumed his opening debate, shortly after 10 a.m. Tippets, the floor sponsor, also led debate last month on Senate Bill 1042, a similar bill that passed 23-12 after six hours of debate. HB 248, which passed 41-29 last week, made changes to SB 1042, requiring the Senate to debate the exchange issue again.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, aim to adjourn for the year by March 29. But if opponents object to waiving the constitutional requirement that bill be read aloud, that goal could easily slip.

One key hurdle to adjournment is Thursday’s Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee hearing on HB 315, a partial repeal of the personal property tax on business equipment. That meeting is set for 3 p.m.

If the Senate debate eclipses the six-hour mark set last month, consideration of HB 315 may be delayed.By 11 a.m., Tippets offered the only debate in favor of the bill. Opponents dominated the debate, with GOP Sens. Russ Fulcher of Meridian, Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood and Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens speaking. The absence of debate by proponents may be disengaging because they already made their case and won 23-12.

Vick used the Underground Railroad, the “separate but equal” Plessy v. Ferguson case and Rosa Parks to make his case that resisting Obamacare is the right course.

Crediting Parks for sparking the civil rights movement, Vick said, “Did she do that by taking the very best seat at the back of the bus?…History teaches us we don’t change a bad law by complying with it.”

Added Vick, “If you want to reverse Obamacare…then you need to vote no.”

Sen. Bob Nonini, R, Coeur d’Alene, argued that insurance companies and hospitals are supporting the bill to enrich themselves. When he began criticizing the lobbying practices of supporters, President Pro Tem Brent Hill rose to ask Lt. Gov. Brad Little to intervene.

“I think our rules require us to discuss the merits of the bill,” said Hill, R-Rexburg.

“Sen. Nonini?” said Little, prompting Nonini to drop the talk of lobbyists taking lawmakers to lunch.

Nonini said he chose the darkest suit and tie he could to mark the day. “Today’s a day to feel in mourning that we are really going to pass this piece of legislation and send it to the gentleman on the second floor (Otter).”

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, debated in favor of the bill, saying a state role is preferable to deferring to the federal government.

And Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, countered the conventional GOP view, held even among supporters of HB 248, that Obamacare is an abomination.  “I happen to be proud and pleased to support this bill,” she said.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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