Opinions / Op-eds

Forced to Die of Loneliness, Real Impacts for Families

Four years ago, I began service as a state representative in an environment where too many, even in Idaho, are turning their backs on the conservative values of many Idaho families and buying into liberal ideology and big-government solutions. My experience has been exhilarating, challenging, and sobering. Through it all, one thing is crystal clear: without the right leadership, the freedoms and rights of Idaho families will be neglected by an establishment more motivated to protect powerful interests and industries than to protect individuals and families.

Over a year ago I got a call from a residential care center owner in Boise. Elderly individuals in her care were literally dying from isolation, loneliness, and restricted mobility. She was beyond frustrated with edicts from Idaho’s Dept. of Health and Welfare which threatened loss of licensure for allowing families to visit their loved ones. At a local constituent meeting I raised the issue and immediately heard three heart-wrenching stories. People were dying of loneliness– and dying alone. It was inhumane and unacceptable.

I went to work, only to find that I could not get a hearing for legislation addressing visitation. However, during the 2022 session, due to the fortunate absence of a chairman, I successfully introduced, and then passed in the Idaho House, legislation (House Bill 601) guaranteeing “in-person” visitation in residential care settings for ALL immediate family. This, in spite of efforts by a House committee member who was grasping at straws to stop the legislation. In addition to protecting “in-person” visitation, H601 stipulated that visitation precautions must be consistent with those required of staff. The only exception: bureaucrats couldn’t deny family visitation based on vaccine status. No longer would janitorial staff come and go, while spouses and children were shut out. The precautions that worked for staff would work for families.

Sadly, the Senate Health and Welfare committee subsequently killed H601 and pushed forward Senate Bill 1336 (S1336) allowing individuals to designate an essential care-giver who would have visitation. Unlike H601, which preemptively protects visitation rights, S1336 placed the burden on the patient to meet legal requirements, effectively leaving our most vulnerable without protected visitation rights. S1336 also failed to define appropriate restrictions on visitation. The same legislator who, as a House committee member, previously, unsuccessfully, tried to stop H601 in the House committee then carried and passed S1336 on the House floor.

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Legislative actions in regard to H601 were inexcusable. Residential care center owners and others provided compelling testimony pleading for support of H601. There was NO opposing testimony. H601 was both legally and pragmatically sound. What’s more, S1336 did not conflict with H601. The Senate could have passed both bills. Yet, Senate committee members chose to protect the bureaucratic control that has caused so much suffering over the last two years by killing H601. Now, some of these same legislators, from both the House and Senate, are campaigning as pro-family candidates! This is a dishonest cop-out.

Unfortunately, this experience isn’t unique. The conservative majority in the House has repeatedly taken strong positions, protecting individual rights and families, only to find that the Senate will not act. The issues we grapple with on the state level are real, relevant, and directly impactful– and in today’s political environment, it is not sufficient to vote for a candidate just because they are nice or because you’ve known them for a long time.

Will our newly-seated 2023 legislature continue to perpetuate the establishment-pleasing-power-centered political protectionism which has been the cause of so much suffering; or will they prioritize and defend Idaho freedoms and families? The primary election vote on May 17th will decide.

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