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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Imaginary crisis averted, Idaho’s real kids suffer

Shawn Vestal
Shawn Vestal

Give credit to the Idaho Nine. They were accidentally right about one thing: A group of extremists is threatening the state’s security and future.

It’s them.

Idaho’s far-right legislators keep diving deeper in the ponds of stupidity. Last week, nine members of the House Judiciary Committee did something breathtakingly irresponsible: refused to comply with updates in a federal child-support enforcement programs, because of concerns over … foreign tribunals and Sharia law.

Among those on this crazy train was Kathy Sims of Coeur d’Alene, who has also opposed a mental-health crisis center in her city. Along for the ride was Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood, whose fringiness is second-to-none even in this crowd; she once compared Obamacare to the Nazis loading Jews onto trains for the death camps. And then there was Lynn Luker, the Boise attorney who pushed for this, waffled and weaseled in his explanations after the Sharia talk became a national embarrassment, and eventually told one Boise TV station that the bill was held up because lawmakers were tired, it was late, and they wanted to go home.

It should be more embarrassing to be this irresponsible. The result of this paranoid, conspiracy-minded action was that the state faced the loss of $16 million in federal money, two-thirds of its child support enforcement budget. It could also lose access to the federal system to enforce the payment of $200 million a year in child support and lay off about 100 state employees. The action also would put the state’s welfare programs for needy families – the ones whose child support would be threatened – in question, as well.

These were the consequences the Idaho Nine engendered, eyes wide open. Gov. Butch Otter may pull the state’s fat out of the fire, announcing Thursday he’s laying the groundwork to call legislators back for a special session to fix the damage. But the issue put into ever-greater relief the problems for Idaho arising from the fact that many of its elected leaders have strayed so far from the humane and the factual and into the zone of conspiracy and extremism.

They are willing to hurt real people to fight imaginary dragons.

I’m not talking about conservatism. Most conservatives have had the good sense and basic decency to denounce the move. The Sharia paranoiacs are taking things to a new level of virtual reality, and it is awful for the kids of Idaho.

The state manages 155,000 child-support cases a year, affecting 400,000 parents and children, according to the Department of Health and Welfare. Someone ought to load the Idaho Nine up in a van and drive them around the state. Make ’em look all these kids in the eye.

A total of 97 of those 155,000 cases involve parents in other countries – where the Idaho Nine fear the creep of foreign sovereignty. That’s 0.06 percent. But the fear that Idaho will be stuck enforcing a foreign agreement – one with the shadowy hand of the United Nations behind it – was simply too great.

Rexburg’s Ronald Nate, one of the Nine, wrote an op-ed in the Idaho Statesman this week defending the vote. He portrayed himself and his fellows as nobly unwilling to bow to federal pressure. He insisted that the changes the state was being asked to approve would “subject Idaho to foreign laws” – a view that the state’s attorneys dismiss. He blamed the Sharia nonsense on the media, of course, noting, “It’s true that Sharia law was mentioned once or twice in committee, but it was a complete non-issue.”

He concluded saying he and his “right-minded” colleagues were defending Idaho: “We cannot afford to sell off our sovereignty at every threat.”

Here’s what he and his ilk were willing to sell off instead: Access to the system that allows state officials to use wage garnishment to enforce child support agreements. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, 61 percent of its cases rely on this system to make sure the money gets from the noncustodial parent to the custodial one.

It would also eliminate the state’s ability to collect federal tax offsets for unpaid child support, as well as several other tools the federal system provides to help enforce court-ordered child support payments. This is not just a question of money – it’s what will happen if Idaho cannot be a part of the federal system or use the system’s tools.

“Replacing the money will not help,” Kandee Yearsley, the state’s child support program manager, said in a post at the agency’s blog. “We could be given all the money in the world, but it would not allow us to collect and distribute child support payments if those federal tools are not available.”

The Idaho Nine say they’re defending the state. Who’s defending the state against the Idaho Nine?

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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