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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