BOISE – Gov. Butch Otter declared Idaho’s just-concluded legislative session “incomplete” on Thursday and indicated he’s laying the groundwork to call lawmakers back for a special session to address a crisis they created in Idaho’s child-support enforcement system.
“I’m not prepared to stand up here today and tell you I’m going to call a special session, because I think there’s a lot of homework to do, in that if we were to have a special session, that we have a successful one,” Otter said.
The first step is sending out letters to the 155,000 Idaho families now receiving child support payments from a noncustodial parent, warning them that within 60 days all involuntary payments could end. That’s $174 million of the $205 million in child support payments Idaho Health and Welfare processes each year.
Idaho Health and Welfare officials said the state still would be able to process payments from people making voluntary payments.
In cases where a parent is being forced to pay child support, however, the recipients “will need to make significant adjustments in their daily lives if we are unable to transfer this money to their households,” Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong said.
On the final day of this year’s legislative session last Friday, a House committee voted 9-8 to table legislation conforming Idaho’s child support enforcement laws to federal requirements, including a 2007 international treaty. Opponents cited concerns about state sovereignty and the potential of Idaho having to comply with foreign orders issued under Sharia, or Islamic religious law, though state officials assured them those concerns were unfounded.
Late Tuesday, federal officials informed Idaho it will lose $16 million in child support enforcement funds – two-thirds of the state’s child support enforcement budget – and lose access to the federal system it uses to enforce child support orders if the legislative decision isn’t reversed. The only way for that to happen is for Otter to call lawmakers back for a special session.
“This is law,” Otter said. “This is not something you can do with an executive order.”
Federal officials also informed Idaho it stands to lose up to $30 million in federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds, which pay for programs including cash assistance to poor families and child care assistance.
Otter said he’s unwilling to do nothing.
“That’s not even entered the discussion,” he said. “We are going to be engaged and we are going to do something.”
Armstrong said the state has 60 days to fix the problem.
“We are greatly concerned at the unintended consequences of this action and certainly look to the governor and the Legislature to help us find an answer, find a cure, so we can then go back to doing the business of supporting families in Idaho,” he said.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, called the issue “grave in nature.”
“I’m assuming that the members of that committee voted in good faith, and I’m assuming that when they are able to weigh all of the issues around it, that they will act accordingly,” Bedke said.
The nine House members who voted to “table” the bill – cutting off debate and preventing it from being taken up again without a two-thirds vote – were Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard; Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls; Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; Lynn Luker, R-Boise; Thomas Dayley, R-Boise; Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls; Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth; and Ron Nate, R-Rexburg.
Hours after the vote, Cheatham told The Spokesman-Review, “We didn’t want to give up our sovereignty. We have $42 million coming to the state – it wasn’t worth risking our sovereignty to me.”
Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, who was in the minority in the 9-8 vote, said in a statement Thursday, “This erratic vote was a slap in the face to Idaho’s children and was an extremely irresponsible example of governance.”
Scott said the federal government is trampling on Idaho’s rights.
“They’re trying to strong-arm the Idaho Legislature into adopting this code, this law,” Scott said. “Basically, they’re threatening us.”
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