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Eye on Boise: Lawmaker’s anti-Sharia bill draws fire

North Idaho Rep. Eric Redman’s anti-Sharia law bill drew lots of negative comments at a public hearing last week. It’s now awaiting amendments and its fate is uncertain.

“It’s a bill that I’m very much in favor of,” Redman said Friday.

The measure seeks to ban Idaho courts from considering foreign laws in making any decisions, unless the laws come from countries with identical constitutional freedoms to those in the United States. Although not mentioned specifically in the bill, the aim is to prevent Islamic religious law, or Sharia, from playing a role in Idaho court decisions.

“We’re talking about foreign laws, but Sharia is just one of ’em that we have to protect our Constitution from,” Redman told a House committee.

Opponents, including tearful Idaho parents of children adopted from foreign countries, said it could endanger the legality in Idaho of their children’s adoptions, pose problems for couples married overseas who are seeking divorces, and prevent observant Jewish couples from basing their civil divorces on the rulings of a rabbinical court in the United States or Israel. An Idaho attorney general’s opinion raised questions about interference with contracts.

Redman and other lawmakers who support the bill were adamant that the measure, which follows model legislation developed by the Louisiana-based American Public Policy Alliance, wouldn’t have any such impacts. But the House State Affairs Committee voted to send the bill to the House’s amending order for a series of technical amendments to make sure.

Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, and Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, cast the only “no” votes, favoring passing the bill as-is instead.

“I’ve just got to point out that Sharia may be the focus of this bill, but Sharia is not religious law, it is civil law, it is applied whether or not the individual is taking part in the religion, if the religion itself is dominated by government,” Barbieri said. “I believe that it’s essential that we get this on the floor and we have a debate with respect to its central thrust, which is that the U.S. courts, Idaho courts specifically, have no room to apply foreign civil law in Idaho courts. And these other fixes, with respect to adoptions, etc., can certainly be addressed next year. But it is most important that this bill be passed.”

The bill may not be going anywhere in the end, as when similar legislation has been proposed on the Senate side, it’s failed to get a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee. To become law, it would have to pass both houses and receive the governor’s signature.

New health care, tax bills in works

There were major developments on two big unresolved issues of this year’s legislative session late last week, taxes and health care.

A House-passed tax-cut bill came up for a brief hearing in a Senate committee, where it was quickly killed. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, had vowed to splice the provisions of that bill, which would lower top individual income tax rates and corporate income tax rates while raising the grocery tax credit for low-income Idahoans, into another measure awaiting amendments in the House. But on Friday, Moyle asked to send that bill back to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. A new bill, he said, will emerge on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, the House Health and Welfare Committee was poised to consider two measures Thursday on health coverage for the “gap” population – people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid in Idaho but not enough to qualify for subsidized health insurance through the state insurance exchange. But committee members voted to hold off on both and instead work on a new, more sweeping plan to be unveiled Monday.

The bills passed over on Thursday included one to launch a study committee and another for a “health care data collection grant program,” an idea House Republicans have been kicking around to provide a block grant of say, $5 million, to Idaho’s community health centers next year to enhance services to people in the gap population and collect data on how many are out there. That would be a severely scaled back piece of Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed $30 million Primary Care Access Program for the gap population.

Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, urged the committee, “Let’s quit throwing money at non-solutions, let’s quit studying this … (and) hopefully do the right thing on Monday.”

Other committee members echoed that.

“I don’t want to leave here without getting something accomplished,” said Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol. “We might not have the same ideas or opinions, but I think we all want to get something accomplished.”

The new bill reportedly could involve seeking waivers to allow federal Medicaid expansion funds to be used to provide managed care to at least a portion of the gap population in Idaho.

Bible bill moves

A divided House Education Committee has backed Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll’s Bible-in-schools bill despite concerns that it violates the Idaho Constitution, as detailed in an Idaho attorney general’s analysis.

“This will be legally challenged and it will be thrown out, and we will pay the legal fees for the people that challenge it,” said Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, an attorney.

The bill seeks to “expressly permit” use of “religious texts, including the Bible,” in Idaho public schools. It now heads to the full House. It earlier passed the Senate.