BOISE – In a tumultuous final day that ran long into the night, Idaho lawmakers on Friday brokered a transportation funding compromise that satisfied no one and killed critical child-support enforcement legislation out of concerns over Sharia law, despite warnings that they were gutting Idaho’s child support enforcement system.
“It was an extremely irresponsible vote in that committee today, and children with single mothers and fathers are going to pay the price,” said a tired Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, a little after 9 p.m. Friday, as he waited for the House to reconvene. Late-night efforts still were under way at press time to reconsider the bill, but the outcome was uncertain.
After Gov. Butch Otter’s Health and Welfare director, Dick Armstrong, warned lawmakers that the move would cost the state tens of millions of dollars immediately and cut off Idaho’s access to the federal system it uses to enforce child payments for 155,000 Idaho children, lawmakers began suggesting that Otter call them back for a special session.
Said Malek, “I hope it’s as soon as possible.”
It would be an ignoble epilogue to Idaho’s fifth-longest legislative session in state history, which dragged through weeks of little accomplishment before seeing historic teacher-pay legislation pass with widespread support. Otter signed the bill into law April 2. .
The child-support bill was killed on a 9-8 vote in a House committee on Friday afternoon, with four North Idaho representatives voting with the majority. It would bring the state into compliance with federal child-support collection rules.
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said the bill would make Idaho “bound to the laws of a foreign country.”
Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls, said, “We have $42 million coming to the state – it wasn’t worth risking our sovereignty to me.”
Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, told the committee she’d changed her mind on the bill after previously joining in the Senate’s unanimous approval of it in February. She said the legislation conforms with the 2007 Hague Convention Treaty on Recovery of International Child Support, which includes Bosnia and Albania, both “Muslim controlled countries…. and they are governed under Islamic law.”
Nuxoll, earlier in the session, angered an array of religious leaders when she called Hinduism “a false faith with false gods.”
Idaho Public TV reported that during the public hearing Thursday, committee members asked questions specifically concerning foreign tribunals and Sharia law. The other North Idaho members who voted to kill the bill were Reps. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton.
Regarding transportation funding, a conference committee was convened Thursday to hash out differences between the House and Senate, for only the eighth time in 30 years. The six-member panel negotiated for 16 hours over two days, before finally settling on a $95 million compromise package late Friday afternoon. Compiling and amending the complex bill kept lawmakers in session until well after 11 p.m.
The compromise transportation funding package includes a 7-cent increase in Idaho’s 25-cent per gallon gas tax and registration fee increases on cars and trucks, including new annual fees on hybrid and electric cars. There is also a legislative commitment to reforming Idaho’s commercial truck taxing system within three years and a plan to divvy up unexpected year-end budget surpluses.
Idaho hasn’t raised its gas tax since 1996, and more-efficient vehicles have meant it brings in less even with more drivers.
State studies show Idaho has a $262 million annual backlog in road and bridge maintenance as a result; it would take $500 million a year to also spend what’s needed to improve roads for safety and higher capacity.
Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, marveled late Friday evening over the troubled end to Idaho’s long legislative session.
He said, “This year, it’s turned into a bucket of worms.”