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.


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.)


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.”


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.


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.


What are other states doing with the child support legislation?

We’ve got one week until Idaho lawmakers return to Boise to address an amended child support bill that would bring the state’s code into compliance with federal child support regulations. But what about the other states?

As we initially reported in April, nearly half of the states passed the legislation in the first four months of the year with almost no fanfare, according to the Uniform Law Commission.

Alaska passed theirs in late April with little dissent. According to the Associated Press, the state risked losing $19 million in federal funds for their child support program.

Late last week, Washington state also passed their child support bill unanimously, but not without amendments, according to the Spokesman-Review. One amendment says Washington will not enforce any orders that conflict with state code, with one state senator citing Sharia law as one of his concerns. Another says any foreign court order 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. Read the full story at the Spokesman-Review here. 

Kansas unanimously passed its bill late last week in one of its final actions of the year. Colorado passed theirs, too, with some dissent. The Texas Legislature is taking its time on the legislation; It was first introduced in February, but the public hearing in the House was just last week. Iowa also took its time, introducing the bill for the first time last week and passing it through a subcommittee today. 


A breakdown of the new child support proposal

The long-awaited child support draft legislation is finally posted, and according to the governor’s office, Sen. Bart Davis, Rep. Lynn Luker, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, House Speaker Scott Bedke, and others have signed off.  Are the changes substantial? Judge for yourself.

Most of the language is identical to Senate Bill 1067, though there are a few amendments tacked on the end that will add new language to totally different sections of Idaho Code. Here’s a breakdown:

-An amendment that says no Idaho court or agency will enforce or recognize an order issued from another country that is incompatible with Idaho code. This new section of code specifically addresses due process concerns.

-A section addressing the registration of foreign support orders.

-A new section directing the director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to develop safeguards to ensure the security of Idahoans’ personal data, as well as put together a process to authenticate requests for information made as a result of the Hague treaty. There is also language directing the state not to provide information on an Idaho resident’s location if there is a protective or no-contact order in place. “The State shall take all necessary steps to ensure the security of data and prevent disclosure to unauthorized persons, entities or jurisdictions,” the draft legislation says.

-Language directing the governor or a designee to monitor proceedings affecting Idaho residents and report to the Legislature. “If at any time it appears that such proceedings are imperiling Idaho residents of affecting Idaho residents in an unjust manner, it is the intent of the Legislature that request be made to the federal government to file a denunciation under Article 64 of the Convention on behalf of the State of Idaho,” the bill says.

One section lawmakers initially discussed — a mental health exception to paying alimony — is not in the final draft.Davis, who told Idaho Reports last week he didn’t support the amendments, said he’s now on board. “I think that the bill is something that I can and will support,” he said.

Last week, Hill told Idaho Reports he didn’t think the changes were necessary, but Hill added he didn’t think they did any harm, either.”I think those things are already addressed elsewhere in Idaho statute, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to reiterate some of those things and tie it in with this particular statute,” Hill said.

You can read Gov. Otter’s press release below:

C.L. “Butch” Otter
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                                           CONTACT:  Jon Hanian
May 4, 2015                                                                                                                                        (208) 334-2100
(BOISE) – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter posted draft child support legislation on his Web site today that will be the focus of deliberations when the Idaho Legislature convenes May 18 for its first special session since 2006.
The proposed language can be found here.  Governor Otter announced last week that he was calling the special session after Senate Bill 1067 was tabled by a House committee as the Legislature prepared to adjourn its 2015 regular session last month.
The special session will deal solely with the issue of Idaho’s child support system, which impacts more than 400,000 Idaho children and parents – or about one in four Idaho citizens. The Governor said last week that he hopes the Legislature’s work can be concluded “in hours, not days.”
“I want every parent and family relying on court-ordered child support payments to have the chance to review this bill. I want every member of the Legislature to have a better understanding of what it does and does not do, and a fuller appreciation of what happens if we fail to act affirmatively,” Governor Otter said. “The more everyone knows – not ‘thinks’ but knows – about this measure, the better chance we have for success.”
The proposed legislation would achieve the same goals with much of the same language as Senate Bill 1067. But Health and Welfare experts, House Speaker Scott Bedke, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, the Governor’s Office and some of the lawmakers who opposed its passage last month – including Reps. Lynn Luker and Tom Dayley – worked together to fine-tune some subtleties and reach agreement on the language in recent days. Those changes have been approved by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials responsible for monitoring state compliance with federal child support laws and regulations.
The State of Idaho stands to lose $16 million in child support system operating funds, access to the federal government’s tools and databases for locating and tracking parents whose child support payments are in arears, as well as the authority to garnish wages or work with other states on child support cases, unless the Legislature acts by June 12. The State also could lose more than $30 million in federal support for services under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, including child care for low-income working families, employment training and Head Start