CHEERS ... to state Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Nezperce.
On Wednesday, Stevenson joined a majority of House Business Committee members who backed a bill that requires health care providers to meet billing deadlines. It delays imposition of interest and collection services. And it limits how much lawyers can earn while processing debts.
Backed by Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot of Idaho Falls, the measure is an apt response to a business model practiced by two prominent Idaho Republicans — GOP Second Vice Chairman Bryan Smith of Idaho Falls and his legal associate, state Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls. As documented by East Idaho News, an internet news site VanderSloot founded, their company, Medical Recovery Services, attaches substantial legal fees to relatively small unpaid bills.
For instance, one Melaleuca employee’s $294 medical debt mushroomed into a $5,583 legal judgment. In another case, a patient who never received billing for a colonoscopy was facing more than $30,000 in legal bills until he prevailed in the Idaho Supreme Court.
Under the pending bill, Smith and Zollinger would have to settle for much less — $350 or 100 percent of the amount owed when the case is not contested and no more than $750, or 100 percent of the amount owed, when the case is contested.
Credit Stevenson and her colleagues with looking after patients. The lawyers can look out for themselves.
JEERS ... to Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry President Alex LaBeau.
IACI is no fan of Idaho’s Homestead Exemption, which is supposed to shield half of a modest home’s value from property taxation. The law dates back to a successful 1982 ballot initiative. But four years ago, lawmakers — doing the bidding of IACI and the Idaho Realtors — stripped that measure of its inflation factor. As demand for homes skyrocketed, more and more ordinary Idahoans are paying ever-escalating property taxes. Meanwhile, taxes on commercial properties actually dropped last year.
So how does LaBeau square his actions against the intent of the voters? Kate Talerico of the Idaho Statesman asked.
“We would say they were wrong,” LaBeau replied. “They were misled. And we would say that again today.”
Consider the history of this measure. As Rod Gramer, then of the Idaho Statesman, noted in the late 1970s, homeowners believed they were paying too much while owners of agricultural, commercial, utility and industrial property were paying too little.
Efforts to standardize assessments across the state were driving up residential tax bills. In response, the Idaho Legislature devised a homestead exemption to reverse how property taxes had shifted onto the homeowners. Voters improved the measure by enlarging the exemption and making it permanent. It passed with 56.5 percent of the vote.
In other words, voters did not come up with this idea on their own. Nobody fooled them. Nobody misled them.
If one of Idaho’s chief business lobbyists wants to promote shifting property taxes from his clients to ordinary homeowners, that’s understandable. But he should stop somewhere short of condescension.
CHEERS ... to President Debbie Critchfield of Oakley and the Idaho State Board of Education.
Last week, the State Board essentially told lawmakers to butt out and leave school decisions in the hands of locally elected school boards.
This Legislature is shaping up as the revenge on local authority session. With respect to schools, you have:
l Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, who wants to limit school bond elections to one every 11 months.
l Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who would undermine supplemental levy ballot measures by eliminating special elections in March and August.
l Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, who intends to dictate a one-size-fits-all school year, beginning on the Tuesday following Labor Day.
What will legislators decide next? Setting the thermostats?
JEERS ... to House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell.
A virus going around the Statehouse is infecting committee chairmen with arrogance.
Chaney’s not its first victim. As the Tribune’s William L. Spence noted Thursday, House State Affairs Committee Chairman Steven Harris, R-Meridian, has a raging case, also. While entertaining Rep. Scott’s somewhat vague and confusing attempt to eliminate affirmative action in Idaho, Harris blocked any questions pertaining to the state’s abysmal failure to end legal discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
Now the bug has bitten Chaney.
On Wednesday, his committee was reviewing a series of bills aimed at weakening child protection services.
Talk about bad timing. Just a few days earlier, Ruth Brown of the Idaho Statesman documented 13 cases of children who died from faith healing. Parents who withhold medical treatment from sick and dying children on the basis of religious beliefs are free from investigation and prosecution.
Why not talk about that? asked Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise.
“I’m not going to go down that particular road for the bill we have in front of us now,” Chaney said.
Maybe this ailment is temporary.
Otherwise, it could mean Harris supports legal discrimination. And Chaney isn’t lying awake at night worrying about kids dying from medical neglect.
CHEERS ... to Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, and Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg.
Bucker-Webb is the author of Idaho’s “ban the box” bill. Under it, Idaho would join 35 states, including Washington and Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia, by allowing a former convict to at least get through the front door of an employment interview before discussing his past.
Considering how many people in this nation wind up with some kind of criminal history on their records — it could be as high as one in three — it’s not only fair but clear-eyed.
Buckner-Webb’s bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously on Monday.
Ricks is promoting compensation for Idaho’s wrongfully convicted. Among them is Christopher Tapp of Idaho Falls,who spent 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
The hill cleared the House unanimously on Wednesday. — M.T.