The Legislature, hot topics and our hospital

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Serving in the Legislature and voting on proposed laws which affect us all requires gathering and understanding information across a broad array of topics. The most helpful and trusted resources I have found are the people of District 1.

In my first month in the Idaho Legislature, I have had conversations with most all our local elected officials, loggers, physicians, surveyors, school staff, Medicaid expansion supporters, contractors, and a number of other individuals in Bonner and Boundary counties with concerns that fall within the purview of the Legislature. There are people taking the time to read proposed legislation as it shows up on the legislative website, summarize it, and provide their thoughts. Weíve also held two town hall meetings in Bonners Ferry, Priest River, and Sandpoint in the past month. If you havenít attended one of the meetings, please join us in the future. I subscribe to the philosophy that the decision made closest to home is the best decision, so I certainly appreciate the efforts of everyone in providing local input.

The school funding formula and Medicaid expansion are still the large topics of the legislative session. School funding for the upcoming year will still run based on the current funding formula. If there is a new funding formula, it will not go into effect until the summer of 2020 for the 20-21 school year. Medicaid expansion will affect the upcoming budget year, so we are spending considerable time trying to forecast costs. We have one more week of budget presentations in the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee. The budget setting process will begin on Feb. 15.

Another issue Iíve heard about from constituents, on all sides of the discussion, concerns the financial arrangement between Bonner General Health and the Pend Oreille Hospital District. The hospital taxing district provides taxpayer money to the hospital.

Here is what Iíve learned about the arrangement. It is my understanding that the issue first came to light because of a hospital purchase in southern Idaho. St. Lukeís is a large, Idaho-based, non-profit healthcare provider with many hospitals. St. Lukeís acquired a small community hospital in southern Idaho funded by a hospital taxing district.

Because St. Lukeís is a private, non-profit, the money from the taxing district, which is public money, cannot transfer into the private company. Our Idaho Attorney Generalís office weighed in on the situation to verify that the transfer of public money to a private entity was not legal under Idaho code. It is, however, legal for a taxing district to fund the operation of a community hospital if the funds from the taxing district are applied to a portion of the hospital that is controlled by the taxing district.

We have a similar situation at Bonner General Health, also a private, non-profit, where funds from the Pend Oreille Hospital District are going toward the hospital operations. When the taxing district was formed in 1969, the intent was to contribute financially to our local hospital that we all rely on and have an interest in. Apparently, there was an oversight at the time, or somewhere along the line, about ownership requirement.

However, there has never been malfeasance and Bonner General is working with the Idaho Attorney General to remedy the problem. All are working to ensure the taxpayersí dollars are used legally and appropriately to provide our community a hospital in line with the original intent. The hospital has decades of clean, state-required financial audits and is in good standing with the Internal Revenue Service as a non-profit corporation organized under Idaho law.

Bonner General Health is working for the good of the community. My daughter was born there. My grandfather passed away there. I support the hospital, its staff, and leadership organization. Who knows, I may need them someday myself.

Sen. Jim Woodward represents District 1, Bonner and Boundary counties, in the Idaho Senate. He can be reached at jwoodward@senate.idaho.gov.

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