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Idaho Legislature Resumes For Second Week Of Discussion

The Idaho state legislature is getting started on its second week of the 2012 session.

During week one, Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, says there was a lot of lively debate over a lot of the most pressing issues to Idahoans.

He also said that’s a good sign. Our lawmakers know what issues they have to tackle this year and how to go about it.

Before delving into the issues, Thompson made one thing clear: Idaho is making an economic comeback.

“Everything that’s driving that — things that are going in Idaho — is our sound fiscal policy and the fact that we balanced our budget,” Thompson said. “And through that, that has resulted in our bond rate increasing and actually being much better than the federal government.”

That being said, Thompson said it’s time to invest. He said a big focus of the legislature, and Gov. “Butch” Otter, will be education.

“An educated workforce would therefore bring about economic development and more jobs in the state of Idaho,” Thompson said.

The plan is to dedicate more funding to last year’s Students Come First Act.

Another goal is to invest in technology being developed in Idaho’s public universities, which can be used to meet the needs of private businesses through the iGem initiative.

Then there’s the issue of health care reform.

“The federal government has come out with a health care bill,” Thompson explained. “We have joined several other states in a lawsuit that will be heard in front of the federal — the Supreme Court this coming summer.”

Many state lawmakers feel that the health care bill puts them in a position in which they must create a health insurance exchange. It’s something the legislature isn’t thrilled about, but work on an exchange is coming along.

“There will be some interesting debate on that issue, and we’ll determine and decide where the state needs to go in that direction,” Thompson said of creating an insurance exchange. “A lot of different strong opinions on that bill so we’ll see how that develops.”

The philosophy behind a health insurance exchange would allow insurance companies compete with each other, and therefore lower their rates. But that costs money, which drives this whole process in the first place.

“We need to make sure the sovereignty of Idaho is taken care of in this process,” Thompson said.

Idaho’s Democratic lawmakers, including Roy Lacey and Elaine Smith from Pocatello, are pleased with Gov. Otter’s iGem plan and commitment to invest in education. As for the health insurance exchange, that’s still up for debate.

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