BOISE – In perhaps the biggest flop of Idaho’s legislative session so far, the 14 recommendations from the House Family Task Force – from encouraging more premarital counseling to drafting a “covenant marriage” law to make divorce more difficult – all were removed under pressure from legislative leaders before the panel presented its final report to lawmakers.
Instead, the task force presented the Legislature with only general statements about the importance of encouraging strong families.
The move averted what could have been a long series of debates about hot-button social issues in a year when every seat in the Idaho Legislature is up for election.
“I was disappointed,” said state Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, chairman of the task force. “Kind of by definition everything is political, but I’m sure they had their reasons.”
House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who set up the summer task force at Thayn’s request, said he and the House majority leadership thought Thayn “got out in front of his committee – those recommendations were not committee recommendations. … We just asked the chairman to include his committee in making those recommendations to us.”
Thayn maintained, however, that the 14 recommendations were “the consensus of the task force.”
The committee’s official charge was “To study the magnitude of the decline of the family since 1950, the effects the decline has had on state social policies, the reasons for the decline, and ways to strengthen the family.”
Boise State University political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby said the panel’s recommendations were “quite a ways out there.” He noted that after conservative lawmakers in 1990 took an extremely strong stand on another social issue, abortion, passing what would have been the nation’s most restrictive anti-abortion law – which then-Gov. Cecil Andrus vetoed – voters reacted by giving Idaho Democrats their biggest legislative gains in recent history. Those included a Senate that was split, 21-21, between Republicans and Democrats.
“There has been criticism that the Legislature is moving too far to the right, particularly on social issues,” Weatherby said. “I would say there’s reason to believe that this is one of the most conservative speakers we’ve had in recent times, but on the other hand, I think he’s stepped up here and shown pragmatic common sense in his approach to this issue, in averting what would have been a distraction for this session and for the campaign.”
The House last year killed day-care regulation legislation, with some members saying mothers should stay home with their children, and rejected early-childhood education legislation as intrusive to families.
The Family Task Force was unique in that it was formed so late that all available legislative staffers already were assigned to other interim committees and task forces. So Thayn’s group didn’t even have a secretary to officially record what the group did at its three meetings around the state.
“I think we all learn from our experiences,” Denney said. “I think to start with, Rep. Thayn was a freshman. He should’ve had a lot more guidance from us in what he needed to do, and how he needed to do it. So I claim responsibility for not actually informing him as to what we expected, what he needed to do.”
Denney added, “Rep. Thayn is very passionate about the subject matter. But he needed to include not just his thoughts but the entire committee’s thoughts.”
State Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, the committee’s lone Democrat, submitted a minority report, but it, too, was simply a broad statement of principles. “Families come in a variety of shapes and sizes and all deserve the best government we can give them,” Durst wrote.
Another member of the task force, state Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, said, “The main objective was to get people thinking about family and how important family is, and see what we’re doing as a state that may be hurting or helping. I think we got that. I’d like to see ‘em continue it.”
Harwood put forth a proposal for every Idaho legislative bill to have a “family impact statement,” an idea that made the list of 14 recommendations, but like the others, it was dropped from the final report.
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