OLYMPIA – Obeying federal requirements to make state law conform to an international treaty on child support is forcing a special session in Idaho. But on Friday, legislation that allows Washington to meet those requirements was signed into law with little fanfare.
The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously after Spokane Valley Republicans proposed amendments to ease concerns that Washington residents could somehow be subjected to Sharia law – the Islamic legal system based partly on the Quran – in conflict with the state and federal constitutions.
“We sure don’t want to have somebody bound by Sharia law or some other foreign law that would conflict with our constitution,” said state Sen. Mike Padden, who proposed one of the amendments.
Similar concerns among Idaho legislators led to a bill dying on the final day of that state’s legislative session. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has called a special session for May 18 in hopes of passing a revised bill and avoiding the loss of some $16 million in federal payments contingent on the state agreeing to conform to the treaty.
Padden, during hearings on the bill, said he knew of no case in Washington involving an international custody dispute and Sharia law. But people were concerned about that possibility, he said, and “I don’t think it hurts to have those protections.”
A lawyer and a former district court judge, Padden proposed an amendment to the bill that says any order from a foreign court that violates a Washington resident’s constitutional rights would require the state Department of Social and Health Services to request a waiver of those provisions from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But the federal agency can deny the waiver. Rep. Matt Shea, his seatmate who is also a lawyer, added an amendment that a Washington court can refuse to enforce an order from a foreign court that “would result in a violation of any right guaranteed by the state or federal constitutions.”
With those amendments, the bill passed the House and Senate.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said the issue is complicated because it involves an international treaty, which the Legislature can’t change. There is also a congressional order that a state must update its child support laws to conform to that treaty by this July or risk losing some federal funding for Temporary Aid to Needy Families.
That threat to cut federal TANF money was a significant problem for Senate Republicans, Padden said: “I think the federal government’s approach in this area was the greatest overreach I’ve ever seen.”
One key to the compromise, Pedersen said, is the amendments in the bill weren’t put into state statutes that involve the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, so that law contains the unaltered language of the international agreement. Instead, the amendments are put into a separate section of state law that lays out special rights and immunities for court actions.
Whether those provisions ever will be used is hard to predict, Pedersen said. The law mostly deals with cases involving child support or custody orders from another state, and “there’s not a huge number of international orders.”
Padden, who is chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said he’s instructed staff to watch how the federal government handles any requests for waivers. “We’ve got rights as individual states.”
After signing the bill Friday, Inslee was asked if he had any concerns about Washington residents being subjected to Sharia law as a result of it becoming law. His answer was simple: “No.”
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