The Idaho Family Forum will go after teachers unions and abortion this year, saying both are part of “the broader picture of understanding the impact on the family.”
The conservative Christian group was host to lawmakers at a dessert reception Monday, encouraging legislators to mingle with its board members as a harpist played quietly in the background.
Dennis Mansfield, director of the group, said, “If you’re going to make a major social change, it’s got to be on a basis that’s other than just a simple, publicly perceived conservative agenda - what people would call a knee-jerk conservative reaction.”
Thus, the Family Forum’s top legislative priority is identified as campaign finance reform. The group’s version of reform focuses on banning campaigning by groups that directly or indirectly receive public funds, such as the Idaho Association of Counties and university groups funded by student fees.
Rep. Jeff Alltus, R-Coeur d’Alene, a Family Forum member, said he plans to sponsor such a bill. Alltus said he endorses the Family Forum’s entire legislative agenda. “I think it’s great. I think it’s all pro-family, would help the family.”
The Family Forum’s other legislative priorities include:
Tax credits for families that don’t send their children to public schools. This bill died in a House committee last year, but Mansfield is optimistic it will pass this year - especially since its sponsor, Rep. Fred Tilman, R-Boise, is chairman of the House Education Committee.
Ending or reducing the scope of teacher tenure and doing away with continuing contracts for teachers to allow administrators more flexibility in reviewing or disciplining teachers.
Two measures aimed at weakening teacher unions: one making union dues optional, and the other declaring that competing unions can take over part of a group of unionized teachers. The second measure also would change the law that says districts “shall” negotiate with teacher unions to say they “may” do so.
A broad ban on all abortions after the point of “viability,” except when the pregnancy could kill the mother or cause her “serious physical injury.” The measure also would ban “partial-birth abortion” procedures such as dilation and extraction.
Mansfield said several other bills on abortion are in the works.
A legislative committee to study reforming Idaho’s “no-fault” divorce laws and develop legislation for next year’s session. Last year, former Rep. Tom Dorr, R-Post Falls, proposed two laws designed to make divorces harder to obtain. Both drew outcries from advocates for victims of domestic violence, who said they would force abused spouses to stay longer with their abusers.
Lowering the blood-alcohol limit for driving from .10 to .08. That bill passed the House last year, but died in a Senate committee.
Reviving last year’s unsuccessful state constitutional amendment to declare the traditional family to be Idaho’s “paramount institution.” Some changes to the proposal are planned to deal with concerns raised last year, Mansfield said. Opponents suggested the bill would interfere with child-abuse investigations.
Nearly 70 legislators from both parties stopped by the Family Forum’s reception Monday afternoon, with about a dozen arriving early enough to hear the featured speaker, Tom Minnery, vice president of the national group Focus on the Family.
“We think that we are seeing the unraveling of the social fabric of our country,” Minnery told the group.
Moral stands from the Bible will save America, he said. “They work because they emanate from the heart of God.”
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, thanked Mansfield for a Focus on the Family book he passed on to her, “Reclaiming the Culture.”
She said of the Family Forum, “I don’t agree with them on every issue.” But Keough said she wanted to hear the group’s perspective. “I do think we need to strengthen the family, and that we’ve lost sight of that in society.”
Sen. Jack Riggs, R-Coeur d’Alene, looked through the group’s proposed abortion legislation and said, “That seems vague.”
The few late-term abortions performed in Idaho now are done only when the mother’s life is threatened or there is severe fetal abnormality, said Riggs, a physician.
“That’s typically why you do it,” he said.
Mansfield, pausing every few moments to heartily greet a lawmaker or two, said he feels like his group is reaching out to a broader constituency than before, and he’s optimistic about its legislative chances. Last year, none of the group’s bills passed.
“We’re just thankful that we have friends in the House and Senate who agree with us,” he said.
Many of the legislators went directly from the Family Forum event to a much larger affair just a few doors down the hall: A reception and dinner for all legislators sponsored by the Idaho Beer & Wine Distributors.