House vote on HB 340

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The House has voted 44-24 in favor of HB 340A, the amended bill to allow Pastor Tim Remington’s residential drug and alcohol treatment program for teens in North Idaho to operate without a state child care license. Remington, now a state representative from Coeur d’Alene, declared a conflict of interest and asked to be excused from voting on the bill; the House unanimously agreed to his request. The bill is highly controversial, largely because of implications for other youth treatment programs in Idaho; versions of it have been proposed for several years. This year’s original bill included conditions such as requiring criminal background checks on employees, compliance with health and sanitation rules, and a prescription from a doctor for children enrolled in the program, but all those restrictions were removed when the bill was amended in the House.

“This would name a specific program, actually. It would exempt them from licensing,” said Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s lead sponsor. As for the requirements that were removed, he said, “Once we named a specific program, it was no longer necessary, because this program does all the things that were listed.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, arguing in favor of the bill, said, “State standards, all these things that have to be measured and monitored raise the cost of these facilities. This may speak to why there are so few of these programs.” He said, “What this is saying is that the licensing program itself is not necessary for a faith-based system with this kind of success. It’s the state licensing that’s creating a cost.”

Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, told the House, “If I want to send my kids somewhere, I should have that right no matter what.”

Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, asked Mendive, “Are there issues with this particular program to comply with existing law?”

Mendive said, “They would not be able to function in the way they function. … This facility is able to function, at the price they function, because they are not licensed. … They just don’t want to be licensed.”

Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, said she’s received emails from all over the state raising concerns about the bill. “The best practice for treating youth with substance abuse disorders is non-residential treatment,” she said. “I feel this bill presents an unnecessary risk to our youth.” If a facility wants to provide those services, she said, “it can go through the proper process that protects our youth.”

Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, said a particular concern with such programs is commingling of adults and juveniles. The existing program also treats men with sex and pornography addictions, she noted. “There is commingling, and that’s where the problem is,” she told the House.

Rep. Linda Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said it was exactly that issue that led to the long-running Jeff D lawsuit that forced Idaho to increase its standards for children’s mental health care. “The state of Idaho has worked long and hard to bring our standards and our best practices up,” she said, but the bill “says we no longer have to look at the standards. … We don’t want another 35-year-long case that’s spent in and out of court forever.”

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, said, “This is not something about which we need to be so concerned. … Don’t shut it down, give it a try. It is one pilot program. Give North Idaho an opportunity to help their children.”

Chew said it’s a “pilot study in name only,” with no standards and nothing that would allow it to be replicated if successful.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, chairman of the House Health & Welfare Committee, said, “The original bill at least had a significant number of what most everybody that I talked to thought were pretty good parameters, that should happen in any program.” But in the amended bill, he said, “There’s nothing there.”

The bill now moves to the Senate; to become law, it still would need to clear a Senate committee, pass the full Senate, and receive the governor's signature.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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