Kenck resigning as Idaho Dems chairman; Jeanne Buell to take over

(UPDATED 11:44am to correct details of Jeanne Buell’s term)
Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck will resign on May 29.

In his resignation letter, Kenck cited his health as the reason he is stepping down. Kenck was re-elected for his second term as chairman in March.

Vice chair Jeanne Buell will serve until June 13, when the state central committee votes for a new chairman.

Here’s the full press release, with Kenck’s resignation letter:

For Immediate Release
Date:       May 26, 2015
Contact:    Dean A. Ferguson at 208-790-4530
IDP Chairman To Resign; Acting Chair Jeanne Buell
 
Boise, Idaho—Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck will resign as of May 29, 2015. IDP Vice Chair Jeanne Buell will be acting-Chair until June 13, when the state central committee votes for a new chair. The new chair will serve the remainder of Kenck’s term, which ends 2017.
Note: The State Central Committee is made of county chairs, legislative district chairs and a committee-man and -woman from each county.
Because of national Democratic rules, if the party has a male chair, then the party must have a female vice chair—or conversely, a female chair requires a male vice chair. So, the new chair will be a male. Buell will head the search for Kenck’s replacement.
Kenck, who never slowed after his retirement, has encountered medical issues that require him to focus on regaining his health.  In his resignation letter emailed to party members on May 23, Kenck wrote that the party needs a chairman who can focus his energy on being chairman:
“… Sadly, health issues have come up that I must deal with. The path we are on requires an active Chairman that is not dealing with these issues.  There is too much work and too many duties that need to be done, now. That is why I must resign my position as Party Chair. No regrets – and no sadness. What we have started is only the beginning and will continue on under the talented leaders within the Party. …”
Jeanne Buell supports Kenck’s decision but is disappointed to see him step down:
“Larry has been a true friend to Idaho Democrats and he has helped lead our party into a time of renewal, a time of growth, and a time of momentum. I know that our party has a lot of talent out there and that we will find a chairman who shares Larry’s vision of a better, balanced Idaho.”
 
IDP Chair Larry Kenck’s resignation letter:
 
Dear Democratic leaders and friends, 
 
Holding the position of Chairman of the Idaho State Democratic Party has been a great experience.  Meeting each of you, talking with you, traveling the state to reach out to new Idaho Democrats, enjoying your support and your enthusiasm has been a milestone in my life.  Nearly three years ago, you trusted me and stood with me to bring balance to Idaho.  I asked you to get off the sidelines and to get vocal, and you did all of that and more. Together, we started down this new road that is reshaping Idaho’s political landscape. Together, we have accomplished more than I thought possible.  You made me proud to be Chairman on this Party.
 
Sadly, health issues have come up that I must deal with. The path we are on requires an active Chairman that is not dealing with these issues.  There is too much work and too many duties that need to be done, now. That is why I must resign my position as Party Chair. No regrets – and no sadness. What we have started is only the beginning and will continue on under the talented leaders within the Party. I will remain involved, but not as Chairman. Our Vice Chair, Jeanne Buell, will be acting-Chair until the State Central Committee meeting June 13th, when a new Chairman will be elected to serve the last part of my term.
I am stepping down May 29, 2015, knowing that all the structures and programs are in place and we have the officers and the staff to continue to bring balance to Idaho.  I ask that you show them the respect and support that you have given me.  We must continue to grow, to train, and to stand together– speaking out for what is right and what is just.  That is the Idaho Democrat’s way.  
Thank you again and know that I respect each and every one of you.  Thank you for this amazing experience.
Respectfully and in solidarity,
Larry Kenck, Chairman Idaho Democratic Party
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Idaho Reports Special Session Coverage — Extended Cut

Much of our last month and a half has been consumed with following the developments in Idaho’s child support legislation controversy and covering the ins and outs of the fight surrounding the bill.

That fight came to an end this week. As you know, on Monday, the Idaho Legislature convened for eleven hours and eleven minutes to pass the amended bill with added due process and privacy protections. (Were those amendments were needed? It depends on who you ask.) The governor signed that bill on Tuesday. (And we at Idaho Reports can move on with our lives and find new topics over which obsess.)

When trying to put together a package that gave viewers an insight into Monday’s special session, we had to cut a lot of great footage. So if you’re a sucker for great legislative debate, here’s our extended segment.

As for us, we have one more show before this season wraps up and we begin to work on various Outdoor Idaho productions for the summer. But don’t worry — We’ll still be covering political news on this blog.

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A possible factor in the House’s distrust

Much of the frustration today has been directed at the Department of Health and Welfare by House Judiciary and Rules Committee members who voted to table the bill and those who supported their efforts to thoroughly vet the legislation.

Part of that might be the department’s lack of history with the House committee.

Child support legislation is often sponsored by the Department of Health and Welfare, which normally sees its bills ushered through the legislature’s Health and Welfare Committees.

But if the bill deals with child support enforcement — a judicial issue — it can go through either the Health and Welfare committees or the Judiciary and Rules committees, said House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley.

“Typically, just standard child support enforcement goes through Health and Welfare,” Wood said. But if it’s a product of the Uniform Law Commission, it usually goes through Judiciary and Rules, he said.

Also, consider this: Of the 17 members of the House Judiciary and Rules Committee, seven are freshmen and five are sophomores. Of the nine who voted to table the original bill in April, four — Heather Scott, Ron Nate, Don Cheatham, and Ryan Kerby — are freshman, and two — Tom Dayley and Janet Trujillo — are sophomores. None of the nine serve on the Health and Welfare Committee.

Rep. Christy Perry, who had doubts about the initial bill but said later she had her questions answered, is the only representative who serves on both the Judiciary and Rules Committee and Health and Welfare Committee.

That’s not to say inexperience is the reason why this group voted no. But consider the high-profile health and welfare issues that have come before the House as a whole over the last few years — namely, the hotly debated state insurance exchange, which passed, and the Medicaid expansion proposal, which has yet to have a full public hearing and has been a non-starter among many House Republicans.

That lack of history might explain miscommunications between the department and lawmakers. During the joint meeting during the special session on Monday, Health and Welfare Director Richard Armstrong said he thought he had communicated with key players, but took responsibility for any misunderstandings.

Compare that to the Senate, where the legislation passed unanimously in March. Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee Chairwoman Patti Anne Lodge chaired the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for years, and has worked with Armstrong on several capacities. Four senators — Patti Anne Lodge, Marv Hagedorn, John Tippets, and Maryanne Jordan — serve on both Judiciary and Rules and Health and Welfare. Just two senators on Judiciary and Rules — Jordan and Mary Souza — are freshmen.

Department of Health and Welfare public information officer Tom Shanahan said he couldn’t think of any other issues that straddle both health and welfare and the judicial system.

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Theme of the day: Who can we blame?

One theme of today: Who can we blame for this mess?

During the House Ways and Means meeting, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said he was against introducing the child support legislation, largely because he opposed the process and how members of his caucus who opposed the original bill were treated by the media and the Department of Health and Welfare. “I felt like they were lied to,” Moyle said, saying had people known earlier they could make amendments to the bill that affect other sections of code, the legislature could have avoided the mess. (Idaho Reports addressed the timeline on who knew what, and when, in a previous post.)

During the Joint Judiciary and Rules public hearing, Rep. Patrick McDonald put Department of Health and Welfare director Richard Armstrong on the spot, asking why not everyone knew about the ability to amend the legislation.

“We believed we were conveying the message,” Armstrong said. “However, as Rep. Dayley has pointed out, just because I say these words doesn’t mean you are receiving the words the same way I am saying them.”

Armstrong then took responsibility for any miscommunications.

Last week, in an interview with Idaho Reports, House Speaker Scott Bedke also took responsibility.

““I feel ultimately responsible for all the legislation that goes through,” he said. “Obviously this one I needed to be involved in a greater degree than I was.”

More than 30 people are signed up to testify on House Bill 1, the new child support bill. One interesting note: Most of the people who are testifying against the bill are representing themselves, while most testifying for the bill represent groups both big and small, such as AARP, Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger, Idaho Voices For Children, and Idaho AFL-CIO.

No representatives of the Idaho Freedom Foundation are signed up to testify, though the organization has been a prominent opponent of the proposed legislation. (Correction, 11:13 am: Brent Regan, IFF co-chair, is signed up to testify.)

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The child support bill: Who knew what, and when?

You know the story by now: In the final hours of the legislative session, nine lawmakers voted to table uniform child support legislation, challenging the federal government’s mandate and jeopardizing child support collection for the entire state. And while the state can’t change the language of the bill, we now know lawmakers can add amendments to different sections of code.

But what happened in the days leading up to that April committee meeting? Who knew what, and when? And what happened in Idaho that tanked a piece of uniform legislation that has passed many other states with little to no debate?

Idaho Reports reviewed hundreds of e-mails sent to and from lawmakers in the final days of the legislative session regarding Senate Bill 1067, and interviewed key players in the decision to table the bill.

What we learned: Hours before the April 10 committee meeting, the state Office of Child Support Enforcement received informal word from the federal government that it had no issue with amendments to different section of code, as long as UIFSA language wasn’t altered. Meanwhile, Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, had written a few pieces of draft legislation to address due process concerns before the vote to table the bill, though he never formally introduced them.

Here’s a rough timeline: In late March, House members began researching Senate Bill 1067, which unanimously passed the Senate on March 20 and was referred to the House Judiciary and Rules Committee on March 23. The committee didn’t hear the bill until April 9, and voted to table the bill on April 10, just before the legislature adjourned for the session. (Read our explainer of the legislation and the controversy here.)

In early April, days before the committee heard the bill, committee member Luker, a Boise lawyer, began meeting with officials, e-mailing colleagues, and drafting amendments to address concerns they had about due process.

“Chairman Wills allowed the committee time to study the bill when advised that there were some questions about it,” Luker wrote in an e-mail to Idaho Reports. “I was not the only one reviewing it, and when it became known that it had to be adopted verbatim and that it was tied to an international treaty, the scrutiny and study increased.”

Luker sent his first round of proposed changes to the Department of Health and Welfare a few days before the meeting. The first draft inserted language into the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, and Luker was told the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement wouldn’t sign off on the tweaked legislation.

Luker later found out that while the uniform child support legislation couldn’t be changed, lawmakers could add amendments in different sections of code, like the Washington state Legislature did in early May, and put together another draft.

According to an e-mail forwarded to Yearsley from the Office of Administration for Children and Families on the morning of April 10, Luker’s proposed legislation was in compliance with UIFSA.

“While the attached amendment is outside the scope of our review, it does not appear to conflict with UIFSA,” wrote Anne Miller of the Office of Administration for Children and Families.  (Read the e-mail, released by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, here.)  At the April 10 House Judiciary and Rules Committee meeting, Yearsley mentioned the ability to make amendments to separate sections of code.

Would earlier knowledge that lawmakers could add amendments have made a difference in the vote? Probably not. The motion to table a bill is non-debatable, meaning Luker never had a chance during the meeting to mention his amendments.

In addition, the day before, Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, forwarded a link to a Congressional Research Report to the committee that introduced new concerns about data security and privacy, Luker said. While his amendment had addressed due process, he told Idaho Reports he wanted time to study this new information.

Shanahan pointed out the amendments to the new child support bill, which will be considered during the Legislature’s special session next week, have been vetted by all major stakeholders and Health and Human Services.

“From our perspective, making last minute changes to code without thoroughly vetting the amendments could have unintended consequences to the child support program, the courts, or other state jurisdictional areas,” Shanahan said.

Luker wasn’t alone. Perry sent a number of e-mails to colleagues outlining privacy concerns she had with the bill. She also contacted U.S. Senator Mike Crapo’s office to see if Congress could legally compel the states to pass the legislation verbatim, if the federal government would really withhold funds if the state didn’t comply, and if Idaho could have an extension to research the treaty.

Rep. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, wrote an e-mail the morning of the first committee meeting saying the bill “presents significant legal issues.”

“I am not sure of the proper procedures for an amendment but strongly suggest strict protections,” wrote Nye, an attorney.

This week, both Perry and Nye said officials addressed their concerns in meetings before the vote.

Other lawmakers had separate concerns about the legislation. Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, sent fellow committee members a lengthy e-mail about family law in Islamic cultures. (Since the end of the session, Scott has tried to distance herself from Sharia law issue, which was brought up in committee meeting. She did not return Idaho Reports’ requests for comment.)

Meanwhile, in the week before the meeting, a small group of constituents began e-mailing members of the committee, asking that they vote no on the legislation. Of the messages sent from Idahoans to the House Judiciary and Rules committee members, not a single one supported the bill.

Where was leadership on the issue? Mostly focused on the transportation conference committee, and unaware of the controversy surrounding Senate Bill 1067, said House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane. He found out about the child support legislation the week of the House Judiciary and Rules committee meeting, while House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said he heard of concerns the week before.

“I knew there were issues,” Moyle said. “That’s why I asked the chairman to get everyone in a room and try to find a solution.” But he, like everyone else, had other bills to worry about. “(Senate Bill 1067) wasn’t really on my radar screen,” Moyle said.

Members of leadership said no one from the Department of Health and Welfare or the governor’s office contacted them about the child support bill until around the time of the committee meeting.

Crane and Moyle maintain the lawmakers who had concerns did the right thing.

Crane and House Speaker Scott Bedke also pointed out that while lawmakers have taken heat for the cost of the special session — estimated to be at least $36,000, according to the Associated Press — it would have been more expensive for them to stay the extra week required to research more options and vet the amendments with stakeholders.

“The list goes on and on and on of people they had to check with to tweak the bill,” Crane said. The time spent working on it in late April and early May wasn’t done on the taxpayer’s dime, Bedke said, and as each legislative day costs roughly $40,000, Bedke argued a special session will likely be cheaper than staying in April to sort out the amendments.

“I respect and I support the decision that those nine members made,” Crane said.

Are there any lessons to take away? Crane said this was a unique situation, but in the future, he thinks leadership should pay closer attention to uniform legislation.

Bedke agreed, saying he would personally pay more attention in the future.

“I feel ultimately responsible for all the legislation that goes through,” he said. “Obviously this one I needed to be involved in a greater degree than I was.”

As for the upcoming special session, Bedke said he’s confident the amended bill will pass.

“I don’t know that it will be a unanimous vote even still,” Bedke said. “But that’s kind of what makes the world go round.”

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Infographic: Snow pack levels across the state

We’ve read stories about Idaho’s water levels and drought conditions, but it’s not always easy to visualizethose conditions, especially if you live in one of the state’s urban areas (and have been dealing with rain all week, as we have in Boise).

With that in mind, we put together a graphic to show how current snow levels measure up to their yearly averages. You can look at the infographic at this link. 

We’re talking water levels with House Speaker Scott Bedke and Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman this week. We hope you tune in, 8 pm tonight on Idaho Public Television, or watch online at idahoptv.org.

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Idaho Freedom Foundation analyst posts link questioning gov’t role in keeping children alive

Days before a special legislative session to address Idaho’s child support law, Idaho Freedom Foundation policy analyst Parrish Miller posted a link on his personal Twitter timeline that said the law shouldn’t force parents to keep their children alive.

The post from libertarian site mises.org says the law can, and should, prevent parents from murdering their children. “But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die,” wrote author Murray N. Rothbard in the May 2007 think piece. “The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive.”

When asked on Twitter if courts should “enforce against breaches of familial obligations,” Miller wrote “Philosophically, I remain unconvinced that such obligations exist,” then posted a link to the blog.

The view isn’t necessarily shared by Miller’s Freedom Foundation coworkers.

“IFF (Idaho Freedom Foundation) encourages its team members to always seek greater knowledge. As such, team members occasionally share interesting, insightful or thought-provoking articles, research and philosophical content on Facebook and Twitter,” wrote IFF news director Dustin Hurst in a statement to Idaho Reports. “Social media posts by individuals may cover a wide range of topics and opinions and will not always reflect the views of the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s core mission, which is to promote economic liberty and opportunity in the Gem State.”

Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, said he hadn’t seen Miller’s post, but added “If it’s not on my website, it’s not something I’m endorsing.”

Hoffman said his concern with the child support legislation was the federal government compelling states to pass uniform legislation. “I’m interested in the state being able to maintain proper legislative oversight over a particular program. That’s it,” he said.

Hoffman said he didn’t question the state’s right to compel parents to pay child support.

“I pay child support. I have for five years. I don’t question the validity of states to compel parents to make child support payments,” he said. “That’s not what my organization is getting after here.”

The original child support legislation was low on the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s radar until after the session adjourned, Hoffman said. During the regular 2015 session, Miller did an analysis on Senate Bill 1067, the original child support bill that would incorporate the United Interstate Family Support Act amendments into Idaho Code. In his analysis, Miller wrote the bill “subverts the sovereignty of both the state and the nation, and subjects both Idahoans and Idaho courts to foreign courts and foreign support orders.” He gave the legislation a negative 2 on the Freedom Index — a relatively neutral score, compared to other pieces of legislation. (Compare that to Senate Bill 1080, legislation concerning licensure of genetic counselors, which earned a negative 6, and House Bill 312, the transportation funding bill, which earned a negative 15.)

No one from the Idaho Freedom Foundation testified against the bill or e-mailed lawmakers about the bill in the days leading up to the April 9 committee meeting, and no IFF employees did social media outreach concerning the legislation until April 10.

Since the session adjourned, Freedom Foundation board member and House Judiciary and Rules committee member Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, wrote an opinion piece explaining his opposition to Senate Bill 1067, and Hoffman has also written op-eds outlined his objections to the amended legislation that is supported by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

The legislature will consider the amended legislation during a special session beginning Monday at 8 am.

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