Wednesday, 26 November 2014
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Sue Chew - Idaho State Representative - Boise District 17
In The Cloud PDF Print E-mail

In the Cloud

 Sometimes I think that legislators have their heads in a cloud. While this could refer to some of the policies that pass around here, in this case I’m talking about Cloud computing. Why has Cloud computing become an issue in the Idaho Legislature?

 Cloud computing is replacing the previous model of computer technology stored on individual computers and physical media such as CD’s. This movement from purchasing programs from brick and mortar stores to downloading and subscribing to online services has implications for the State’s tax revenue. A more robust policy is therefore needed to ensure appropriate taxation in the ever changing world of technology.

 Traditionally Idaho has decided to tax goods but not services. This movement toward Cloud computing requires a change of policy to allow for certain Cloud services to be taxable. House Bill 598 that passed the House recently would divert normal sales tax for Cloud computing by defining it as a service.  The fiscal note brought by the sponsors stated a $2-$5 million loss in revenue for the taxpayers of Idaho (and the education system). The Tax Comission calculated the loss to be closer to $5-8 million.

 This bill is significant because it notably undoes work from last session. In 2013, legislators made it clear that purchases of nearly all digital goods– regardless of whether they were downloaded or purchased at a store—should be accompanied with the traditional sales tax. H 598 would repeal this 2013 decision and remove sales tax from nearly all digitally purchased goods.

 In addition, H 598 opens the door for tax discrimination. A simple example of this would be a tech-savvy person who downloads their software and does not pay sales tax. It would be discriminatory against a person who is less tech-savvy and more likely to visit a store – and pay sales tax – on the same product because it is delivered on a CD instead of being downloaded. This not only takes revenue away from the State, but hurts our local brick and mortar stores as well because people would purchase more goods online to save the sales tax.

 Perhaps most importantly, H 598 misses the opportunity to better serve Idahoans in the 21st century. The bill fails to modernize the tax code to allow Idaho to generate revenue in the ever changing tech economy.

 Because of the complicated nature of the taxation of digital goods and services, I believe the creation of a task force comprised of a bipartisan group of legislators, members of the technology community, and the Idaho Tax Commission to ensure that fair and simple tax policies are implemented in the State of Idaho to address these issues in the years to come.

 I hope that the House can make better decisions next session.

 
Fall into the Gap or Approve the Private Option (The Medicaid Expansion)? PDF Print E-mail

 

 Fall into the Gap or Approve the Private Option (The Medicaid Expansion)?  

Do you fall in the gap? What is the gap? To read more click here.

In 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal government couldn’t mandate expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This left a gap in coverage for people that are low income since Medicaid covers the poorest and disabled and the exchanges offer subsidies only to people that earn more than about $11,000 for individuals or $23,500 for a couple. If your income falls between Medicaid coverage and the minimum income allowed for subsidies on the exchange there’s currently no assistance available for you to purchase health insurance. You are trapped in the gap.

 Here’s the dilemma: Say you have a family of four. You have a small business affected by the downturn, or for some reason, between you and your spouse, you have a combined income of less than $23,550.  The healthcare insurance premium with a deep federal subsidy would be $40. If you earn one dollar LESS your cost is $670 solely because you do not qualify for their subsidy.

Why is this happening?

Under the intended plan for the Affordable Care Act, the gap never would have happened, because you would have qualified to be covered under a different but comparable program. You would have found dramatic assistance so you too could receive the affordable healthcare just like your neighbor.  The health exchange website would seamlessly have begun signing you up for a system that already exists in all 50 states.  In Idaho Medicaid would have been expanded from primarily a children’s program with some elderly or disabled adults, to the 21st century retool, to cover Idaho’s overwhelmingly hardworking, low wage-earning adults. Idaho Medicaid --already retooled on paper and essentially ready- to –go, would have been ready when the exchange went live just a few months ago.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of a bloody fight that took place in the Idaho Legislature last spring, the majority leadership is unwilling to shed a few more red blood cells and enact the necessary accompanying Medicaid Expansion Program that would prevent the totally unintended and unimagined situation happening now. Apparently, the fight over whether the state or the feds should run the Idaho health exchange website was too much for those who feared political reprisals back home.

How did we get here?

The original Affordable Care Act required all states to enroll people earning too little to qualify for the tax credits, into their state’s Medicaid programs. The US Supreme Court however, ruled that states did NOT have to do so. The leadership in the Idaho majority decided not to voluntarily expand the Medicaid program.

How does this impact Idahoans?

People earning above the poverty level get tax credits.

People who live below the poverty level get nothing.

*That means 77,000 Idaho adults have no insurance coverage options while they are still required by the Affordable Care Act to be insured or face a penalty. There is an option:

Allow passage for a free market approach that levels the playing field.

Well received in the House Health and Welfare Committee was a proposal by Director Dick Armstrong of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. He says for the 77,000 low-income adults who fall into the non-insured gap that many of our hard working neighbors fall into, we could purchase a health insurance plan for each of them. Then use the money allocated for Idaho from the Affordable Care Act. The state pays the insurer directly for premium costs. Premium costs would be 100% federally funded until 2017, at which time, the state begins to pay a 5% share. The state share of premium costs would increase in subsequent years until in 2020, it would cap at 10%.

By using this free market solution we can increase the number of marketplace enrollees and would thus encourage more private carriers to enter the program, resulting in more competitive pricing and expand the service areas and access. That allows the Idaho Medicaid program to stay as it is--restricted to its original intent—as a safety net for only the extremely vulnerable citizens –mostly children, and only rare adults—those with disabilities, income strapped pregnant women, and those devastatingly poor adults making only 20% of the poverty level who have children living with them.  

And it could happen now

The exchange is pre-existning. Nothing has to be built. With a nod in the next few weeks by the Legislature and sign off by the Governor, all could be in place quickly. If fear of election consequences exists why not convene a special session of the Legislature after the Primary Election is over. For $30, 000 (the cost of a pone day special legislative session) state taxpayers could get $40 plus million dollars for this half year and use it to free up money for the education, work force development and jobs.

Penny for your thoughts: Should we be leaving people in this ‘gap’ or should we try to privatize the Medicaid Expansion?

 
Opposed by Schools and Law Enforcement PDF Print E-mail

Opposed by Schools and Law Enforcement

A proposal to allow guns on public university and community college campuses is percolating in the legislature this year. SB-1254 seeks to eliminate local control from the local campus and use state law to allow guns on campus under certain circumstances and under certain conditions.

Current policies by the campuses are to forbid firearms on campus except by university security. SB-1254 however would allow concealed weapons everywhere on campus except dorms and at events with over 1,000 seats by holders of enhanced concealed carry permits and retired law enforcement. It would also release the universities and community colleges completely from ANY liability associated with firearms on their campuses – even if the administration is guilty of gross negligence (like knowing of a threat before a murder and failing to act, etc.).

How Do the Campuses and Law Enforcement Feel About the Proposal? 

Bob Kustra, President at BSU commented, “There is no current problem or crisis to address on our state’s campuses that would be solved by this legislation.”
 
According to Dave Goins of the Idaho Journal, ISU President Arthur C. Vailas also had some concerns,  “First of all there is no data to show that you improve safety by having this (proposed) law,”... As a matter of a fact, it’s the contrary, where it increases, the probability of decreasing safety."
 
University of Idaho President Don Burnett also worried that “many law enforcement experts are concerned that a proliferation of firearms will make response by law enforcement authorities in crisis situation more complicated and ultimately more dangerous.” 

Three years ago, student government officers all over Idaho activated and polled students, formed discussion groups, etc. The student groups activated, worked hard and stopped  legislation from the statehouse that would usurp the right for campuses to decide for themselves. That is why this year students are incredulous as they prepare to stop the current bill SB 1254, brought by non-campus people again.  Eight hours of training for an enhanced concealed carry permit is not enough. Not with guns.

The February 4th Spokesman Review reported that all eight Idaho public college and university presidents weighed in quickly and spoke out strongly against this year’s SB 1254. They were joined by the state Board of Education, who voted unanimously against the bill. 

Police Chiefs from around the state also came to voice their concerns. They were stunned as they were ignored and none had the opportunity to provide testimony.

Will the unanimous No vote by our universities and state board be ignored? 

Is what we are seeing a pattern--one where majority members of the Idaho Legislature are again failing to show the leadership needed to represent its constituents? We do not see that the authors sought the input of the people who would be directly affected—people who live and work and teach on college and university campuses.

Serving on the health and welfare committee I know that it is primarily guns that are used when young men choose to take things into their own hands. In the sad act of suicide, guns are the preferred and most lethal method. Immaturity, alcohol and violence are seldom a good combination. And on a campus it introduces the factors for chaos that are preventable.

AlI Idaho public colleges and universities state that passing this bill will raise insurance premiums, something that students will not like, in this trend toward higher and higher costs to attend. 

I think we can all agree that the proposed bill does not have enough safeguards in place for denying a weapon to someone of questionable mental health, and this is no real evidence that added guns will deter violent offenders.

I trust the professionals of the police department, and the staff, students and administrators of colleges and universities, and stand with them in opposition to this bill

In conclusion I agree with Gary Olsen of Idaho State University, when he stated to the Chronicle of Higher Education "I want to prevent a tragedy, not to be responsible for one.”  
Let’s not allow an accident waiting to happen. Violence will only bring about more violence. 

If you are interested, watch for when the bill will be debated on the Senate floor next week and (if it passes) for presentation in the House State Affairs Committee in a few weeks. 
 
 
Sue Chew's Newsletter 3.15.13 PDF Print E-mail

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) completed its budget as of Friday, March 8th, and will await any need for trailer bills to fund projects the Legislature may elect to pass. Departmental funding was actually below the governor's recommendations this year, and minority legislators on JFAC joined with majority members to preserve as much funding as possible against potentially damaging cuts. Funds outside of the general fund were used to allocate $12.5 million toward $750 million in building maintenance needed for severely neglected buildings at higher education institutions.

Rep. Shirley Ringo (D-Moscow), ranking minority member for the committee, addressed the entire House on behalf of highly skilled public employees who are now forced to seek employment elsewhere because their families are not able to make ends meet with such low wages. This in light of findings that February revenues were dramatically above the forecasted prediction! Legislators need to stay vigilant as things get wild toward the end of the legislative session.

For example, H219, a bill that would prevent Idaho's law enforcement officers from enforcing any new federal gun laws, was recently altered by its floor sponsor to meet Constitutional muster and ultimately resulted in a totally different bill. Fortunately, our vigilant members of leadership recognized the issue and were able to quickly fix the problem.

In the Health and Welfare committee, experts anxiously await the decision on whether Idaho will accept 100% funding to provide healthcare to Idahoans who are currently without insurance coverage. Healthcare providers across the state are working to ensure at least 90% of those with severe and persistent mental illness would be covered. Meanwhile, the fight concerning the Health Exchange has taken up much time this session.

Last Wednesday, after seven hours of debate, the House voted for a state-based insurance exchange 41-29. I supported a state-based exchange to ensure that Idaho jobs stay in Idaho.

Archived Recordings May Mean More Access

Idaho is inching toward a future in which government is more open and accessible for all Idahoans. In partnership with Idaho Public Television, the Idaho legislature broadcasts live meetings of floor proceedings, committee meetings, and events at the statehouse on the internet. Until recently, legislators opted not to store these recordings. Because the official minutes of committees aren’t often taken verbatim, the public record has suffered and public understanding has been curtailed. Recently, legislative leadership has begun to evaluate steps that would pave the way for an archive of legislative proceedings. Archives like these aren’t new – they’ve been available in some states since as early as 1953.  With creation of this archive, Idaho will join 27 other states that archive audio or video recordings of committees and open the doors of government to greater numbers of Idahoans now and in the future.

 
Team 17 Update - New Legislative Session PDF Print E-mail

One of the most important aspects of our job is to find solutions for the problems you share with us. The conversations we have – from door to door, in homes and in businesses across District 17 – have shown the three of us that the best policies happen when we work together. Click here to see what our thoughts are to create better jobs, better educate our kids, and rev up our economy.

As we start the 2014 legislative session, a startling fact from the December 2013 Jobs Gaps Report weighs heavily on our minds:

“Idaho has the highest percentage of minimum wage workers in the nation, so more workers rely on the lowest wages in Idaho than in other states.”

And here are some more facts about minimum wage jobs:

  • At $7.25 per hour ($14,790 a year), full time wages are at poverty level.
  • Full-time minimum wage workers only meet half the calculated wage needed for a single adult to meet the most basic needs for food, clothing and housing.
  • For the worker supporting a child, they make less than the federal poverty level.
  • And for a single adult with two children, they make only 30% of the poverty level, meaning they come up 70% short of what they need to make ends meet.

This is neither good for the workers nor those that depend on them, and it’s not good for our state. Hardworking Idahoans and their families deserve better.

Low wages have a compounding effect on our communities: Meager pay combined with excessive corporate tax loopholes unfairly impacts our public schools and college systems. An inadequate educational system creates a workforce that is neither prepared nor competitive. As a result, many companies are forced to seek skilled labor outside our state.

A case in point is Micron’s situation. They tell us they struggle to find the skilled workers needed to fill their jobs, and the type of education their employees need is not readily available here. Micron is often forced to recruit workers outside of Idaho.

We need to solve the low wage trap that has stifled Idaho for the last two decades as a result of failed economic policies. We must increase the minimum wage so workers can support a family, our children can receive the education they deserve, and our economy can grow.

To solve the education gap, let’s start filling the chasm in education investment that drastic cuts have created during these last five years. To support our local economy, let’s create a skilled workforce for Idaho businesses. And finally, to solve the low wage trap, let’s empower workers and their families with the income they deserve.

A minimum wage increase is a big step in the right direction.

We encourage you to join in on the conversation and share your ideas. Beginning January 21st, we meet every Tuesday office in the Borah High Career Center from 7:00 - 8:30 pm. Or, you can attend one of our four public forums held in the four corners of our district.

 
Health Problems Facing Idaho's Youth PDF Print E-mail
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What's Happening this Session?

Weekly Office Hours

Tuesdays, 7:00-8:30pm (from January 21 until end of the legislative session).
Borah High School Career Center
NOTE: There are no weekly office hours on the evenings of public forums.

Public Forums

March 18, 7-9pm

Monroe Elementary School Library

April 8, 7-9pm
Whitney Elementary School Library