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Magic Valley Legislators Host Town Hall Meeting [The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho]

By Julie Wootton, The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 24--TWIN FALLS -- Topics of conversation ranged from gun rights to the health insurance exchange during a community town hall meeting and listening session hosted by Twin Falls-area state legislators.

More than 10 people attended the meeting Saturday, Feb. 23, at Perkins Restaurant & Bakery in Twin Falls.

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, Sen. Jim Patrick, Sen. Lee Heider and Rep. Lance Clow talked with community members and answered questions.

Here are some of the topics that came up:

Gun Rights

Hartgen said bills are being worked on that would focus on preventing "federal intrusion into the Second Amendment" in Idaho.

The state already has good laws on the books, he said.

"There's no danger here, folks, that Idaho is going to weaken in any way," Hartgen said.

If anything, proposed bills are aiming to toughen laws that protect Second Amendment rights, he said.

The real danger isn't that firearms will be confiscated, he said. But at the national level, concerns center more around registration and controls on gun shows.

That "just won't happen in Idaho," Hartgen said, but noted it's something that needs to be watched carefully.

Health Insurance Exchange

Jerome County Commissioner Cathy Roemer asked for more information about the health insurance exchange trailer bill.

The trailer bill -- House Bill 179 -- is intended to give a proposed state health insurance exchange more legislative oversight.

Looking at the bigger picture, Heider said there are two options on the table when it comes to the health insurance exchange: Set up a state-run exchange or let the federal government set one up.

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With a state-run exchange, "we have some say in our destiny," he said.

Clow said some people don't understand what's being decided.

"There will be an exchange," he said. "Who manages it is the question."

The Idaho Senate voted 23-12 Thursday, Feb. 21, to pass a bill that would set up a state-based health insurance exchange.

The legislation now moves across the Capitol to the House. All five of the Magic Valley's senators voted for the bill.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandates each state have an online insurance exchange where small businesses and individuals can buy and compare insurance policies.

About 26 U.S. states plan to let the federal government run their health insurance exchange.

Clow said some of those states have large, national health insurance companies and there isn't a concern about whether they'll be included. But here in Idaho, the dominant health insurance companies are based in the Gem State, he said.

Schools

Concerns were raised from a couple of meeting attendees about the increasing tax burden on property owners as a result of school district supplemental levies.

Also, the topic came up about Heider's bill that would have prevented students convicted of certain crimes from attending public schools.

He pulled the legislation earlier this month.

The bill would have forced school boards to deny enrollment to students convicted of crimes of violence or any felony or misdemeanor that put the student in prison for a year or more.

Heider said during Saturday's town hall meeting that he's reworking the bill now, but doesn't know if it will return during this year's legislative session.

Payday Loans

Joe Russell, who owns Rocket Express Car Wash, commended Heider for his work on a payday loan bill. Several other attendees agreed that current interest rates are too high.

Although a bill hasn't been introduced, Heider announced plans in January for proposed legislation that would cap loan interest rates at 36 percent and force full transparency on terms of the loan.

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___

(c)2013 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)

Visit The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho) at magicvalley.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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