An impressive vote of 30- 5 today provided the supermajority needed for the Idaho Senate to override a gubernatorial veto of a bill providing funding for drug rehabilitation.
Gov. Butch Otter vetoed line-items in two Senate bills last week which provide $16.8 million in funding for substance abuse treatment programs in the state. The override applies to SB1458.
“There is no question that we need an effective, community-based substance abuse treatment system in Idaho,” Otter wrote in his veto letters covering SB 1458, which provides $2.4 million and HB 608, which provides $14.4 million. “There also should be no question that I support providing adequate public resources for treatment. However, the item vetoed in this bill goes far beyond the scope of what state policy makers had in mind when our treatment program was created or what Idaho taxpayers should be expected to accept.”
In debate on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Coiner, R-Twin Falls, said, “I don’t believe there is a family represented in this body who has not been affected by drugs or alcohol or mental health problems at some point.”
Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, told the story of a family member who was “almost ruined” by meth addiction. “Her teeth rotted right out of her head,” he said, before voicing his support for the override.
But Sen. Lee Heinrich, R-Cascade, after telling of his son who spent two and a half years in prison for drug-related charges, saying, “he could have benefited from this program…I know what these drug-related things can do to families….” nevertheless debated against the bill. He said he wasn’t sure “we’ve looked at all alternatives.”
Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, talked about the businesses who provide the drug treatment.
“It’s difficult to support these businesses if we have a rapidly fluctuating source of funding,” he said. “They have employees who may move to a different state or community, and then when we get funding back, we have to find new people and new businesses to provide services. We need to have some stability of funding to provide stability to that equation.”
I do not believe we can simply wait around for more data, because we have ample evidence of the impact to our communities… I urge your support of this vote.”
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, spoke of a “paradigm shift” in the thinking of conservative legislators, as they move toward a model of preventing problems instead of waiting to address them when it’s often too late.
Cameron said, “Doesn’t it seem smart to get on the front end of these decisions? Doesn’t it seem smart to try to affect them before them become incarcerated, so they don’t offend in the first place?”
“Cells alone are not the answer.”
Aye votes from three of the Senate’s arch-conservatives: Denton Darrington, R-Declo, and Shirley McKague and Russ Fulcher, both R-Meridian, may illustrate that paradigm shift.
The five nays were Republican Sens. Heinrich of Cascade, Jorgensen of Hayden Lake, Little of Emmett, McGee of Caldwell and Pearce of New Plymouth.
UPDATE, 4:00 p.m. The Governor’s press office has issued this statement: “We are disappointed by the Senate’s action. The Governor has consistently indicated that he was willing to discuss this issue and reach a compromise as he has on other important issues. He expressed a willingness to increase funding form his original recommendation by almost 460% and was willing to consider going up from there. However he felt strongly that an 828% increase – - some lawmakers were advocating – - could not be justified in a year when we are asking so many others agencies, not to mention state workers, to do with less.
The Senate today indicated by its vote that compromise was not something it was willing to discuss. The Governor’s primary concern was to ensure fiscal responsibility to taxpayers. It is not his intention to stop progress or to diminish the efforts already under taken in the area of drug treatment, but only to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used carefully, responsibly and to the best possible advantage. It is not a matter of “whether” we proceed with an effective and comprehensive treatment program or even “what” we need to achieve that goal, but rather “how” we proceed to provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of individuals and communities.
The legislative process continues. We are in discussions with members of House and the Governor is actively engaged in those efforts.”