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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Otter signs child support bill, state leaders say claims it’s unconstitutional are ‘bogus’

Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, left, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, center, and Gov. Butch Otter on Tuesday (Idaho Public TV/Aaron Kunz)
BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed newly passed child support enforcement legislation into law on Tuesday, and praised lawmakers who overwhelmingly passed the bill in an 11-hour, one-day special session he called them back to Boise for on Monday. “It’s fine to speculate and important to question issues surrounding the relationship between the state and federal governments,” Otter said. “But the bottom line is this legislation will keep many thousands of Idaho’s single parents and children from potentially losing the court-ordered support of non-custodial parents. In the end, I’m grateful that everyone got to voice their concerns and the process worked.” He and top legislative leaders decried those who have been loudly claiming the child support bill is unconstitutional, despite denials from the state Attorney General’s office and state and federal officials; 28 other states, including Washington, already have passed the measure to conform their child support rules to the latest federal regulations, including provisions of a 2007 international treaty. Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, putting his arms around the shoulders of Otter and House Speaker Scott Bedke, said, “If there’s anyone who doesn’t know it yet, these are great leaders.” He praised their “great work in taking an awkward situation and making the best of it in a special session.” Hill shared the last line of an email he received that morning: “It says, ‘You shall be spurned and scorned all your days for your undermining and disloyalty to the Constitution.’” Pausing, he said, “My thanks also has to go to the Legislature – legislators who overwhelmingly saw that the accusations that were being made, and are still being made, are bogus. We did not compromise our state sovereignty. We did not neglect due process. We did not breach confidentiality. We did not abandon our beloved Constitution, either at the state level or at the federal level.” “We did a good thing yesterday,” he said. “We did a good thing. There are a lot of people to be thanked. But I want to thank the citizens of this state for their support, and I want to thank those that they elected, those 105 legislators, who came and did good work yesterday.” An Idaho House committee killed the original version of the bill on a 9-8 vote on the final day of this year’s regular legislative session, prompting Otter to call lawmakers back for this week’s do-over. Without passage of the measure, federal authorities informed Idaho it would lose $16 million in federal child support enforcement funds on June 12, plus access to all the federal tools, including wage garnishing and other programs, that it uses to enforce $205 million in Idaho child support payments each year. Plus, the feds warned Idaho it’d likely also lose $30 million in federal aid to needy Idaho families, from Head Start to welfare, because that funding is contingent on compliance with child support enforcement. Four of the nine lawmakers who originally voted against the bill helped craft amendments and backed the revised version. But most of North Idaho’s lawmakers continued to oppose the bill, citing concerns about the Constitution and sovereignty. Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong said his message to Idahoans after the special session was that the state’s child support enforcement system will continue to function without interruption now, and no payments will be endangered. The bill contained an emergency clause; it took effect as soon as the governor signed it. House Speaker Scott Bedke said, “To the members of the House, there was obviously a difference of opinion on the issue, but … the central point was that this was about collecting child support for the kids in a way that holds the parents responsible, and with that responsibility, that keeps them off of the welfare rolls. And there were strong opinions on both sides of this issue and we had a good process. Certainly we encourage all to vote their conscience and that’s what they did yesterday, and I think it was a good outcome. … I’m very pleased that we were able to finish the way we did yesterday.” Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, who sponsored the bill on the floor of the Senate, said, “I think congratulations are in order to the governor and his team, Director Armstrong and the leadership in the House and the Senate. This was never a partisan issue at all. Both parties worked extraordinarily well together, I think, on this issue, and people who had differing view on the legislation certainly had every opportunity in yesterday’s joint hearing and on the floor to express them, and democracy works. From my perspective, the best possible decision was made, after it was all said and done. Everybody had their say, and I commend the governor for calling this special session and getting this important work done.” Asked about concerns raised about information distributed on the issue by the Department of Health and Welfare, Otter said, “It is our responsibility in formulating that public policy to be as open and to be as descriptive and as informative as we possibly can. I disagree with many of those questions or accusations that were made about the information that was given out.” He noted that at one point, opponents had gotten hold of an earlier version of congressional legislation that never passed, and thought that was the issue in question. “In some cases, they were working with the wrong information. Once we got the right information to ‘em, they were still hung up on the old information. … There’s nothing we can do about that.” Otter said, “The discourse in establishing public policy is not always pretty, and it has a tendency to raise the anger and the passions. But it doesn’t help when we don’t always refer to those … debates in a gentlemanly and a ladylike way. Where it broke down a time or two yesterday, I would be the first to apologize for those people, because we’re better than that here in Idaho. We can disagree. But that doesn’t excuse our responsibility to do that in a constructive way.”