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Friday, January 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Otter calls Idaho lawmakers back to Boise for May 18 special session

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter calls a special session of the Legislature on Wednesday morning (AP / Otto Kitsinger)
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter calls a special session of the Legislature on Wednesday morning (AP / Otto Kitsinger)

BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter called a special session of the Legislature today, his first in his three terms as governor, ordering lawmakers back to Boise on May 18 to address a crisis in the state’s child support enforcement system.

“It’s the deadbeat parent that we’re after here, and it’s our responsibility to hold them responsible,” Otter declared.

A House committee voted 9-8 to table legislation on the last day of this year’s regular session to conform the state’s child support enforcement system with federal regulations, including acceding to a 2007 international treaty aimed at easing collections across state or international borders. Without the law, the U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement has informed Idaho it will lose $16 million in federal funds – two-thirds of its child support enforcement budget – and all access to the federal system it now uses to enforce $205 million a year in child support payments to Idaho children on June 12. An additional $30 million in federal assistance to needy Idaho families also is in jeopardy.

Otter said he’s spent the past 18 days working closely with lawmakers, including House Speaker Scott Bedke, to “come to some sort of resolution.” A new version of the bill is being crafted, and will be publicly released well before the special session, he said.

Lawmakers who halted the bill – including four from North Idaho – expressed concerns about international law, state sovereignty and federal pressure. Opponents of the measure, including Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, suggested the bill could force Idaho to enforce Sharia, or Islamic religious law, though state officials said that wasn’t true.

Otter declined to criticize the nine House committee members who killed the bill. “We need to move forward,” he said. “People that pursue these issues are sincere. And they feel they know what they know and they’re going to act on that knowledge. And I can never criticize a person for what their belief is. But what we’ve tried to stress on everybody is that each of those representatives, each of those senators, represent 47,000 people. And we can actually, (Health & Welfare Director) Dick (Armstrong) can by zip code, we can tell ‘em how many of these dependent folks, how many of these kids are in their district. We can tell ‘em right down to the number.”

Asked if he believes he has enough votes to pass a new version of the bill during a special session, Otter said, “Yes. I am confident.”

“We were in hopes that we could pass out a draft today, but we still have some fine-tuning to do on that,” the governor said.

Before Otter leaves for a trade mission to Peru and Mexico on May 9, he said, the proposed bill will be posted online, both on his website and on the Department of Health and Welfare’s website, “so the legislators themselves can take a look at the bill and digest it. If they need to ask questions, we’ll be ready to answer those questions.”

“It is very important to the state of Idaho and our continued effort on personal responsibility, and that’s really what it comes down to,” Otter said, “… to have folks that have children not be able to escape that personal responsibility by moving either to another state or another country.”

Otter said among Idaho’s 155,000 child support cases, just 97 right now involve foreign countries. Sixty of those involve Canada; a few others each are in England, Sweden, Germany and Australia.

The four North Idaho representatives who voted against the bill were Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard; Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene; Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls; and Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton.

Cheatham said Wednesday that he’s optimistic about changes to the bill being worked out by the governor and lawmakers, and is hopeful they address his concerns about due process for Idaho citizens, protecting private information in federal databases and giving lawmakers more time to study and analyze issues in the 31-page bill. “We wanted to fix it,” he said. “They told us there couldn’t be any amendments, we couldn’t change one word.”

Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, who also was among the nine “no” votes, said he and three others have signed off on the amendments after helping craft them. “They’re what we would have done if we’d have had time during the session,” he said. “It just had to be fixed. Now we have a good bill that protects Idaho.”

Kerby, who said he worked with Reps. Lynn Luker and Tom Dayley, both Boise Republicans, on the amendments, said, “You’re going to see some very good amendments. … They’re important to a lot of Idahoans.”

Otter read a formal proclamation calling the session for 8 a.m. on May 18 in the legislative chambers, finding that there’s a matter “requiring emergency attention.” He limited the session to just the child support enforcement bill; under the Idaho Constitution, only the governor can call a special session of the Legislature, and it has no power to legislate on any matters other than those he specifies in his proclamation.

“There is no alternative,” Otter said. “We’ve discussed executive orders, we’ve discussed every other opportunity or possibility. … A special session, and a successful special session, is the only way that we can hold people personally responsible.”

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