TANF: Helping parents have the talk

(Note: This story is part of an Idaho Reports series on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.) 

By Nishant Mohan, Idaho Reports

When it came time to give her 14-year-old children “the talk,” Juanita Aguilar found it difficult.

“I tried to have the conversation with them before,” said Aguilar, a parent of four. “But it’s even harder to talk about sex and protection when you’re not talking with them about other things.”

Aguilar attended Southwest District Health’s Bridging the Gap Dinner, which seeks to help parents overcome barriers to talking with their children about sex, for the second time in early April. Other health districts host similar dinner throughout Idaho, paid for largely by federal welfare dollars appropriated to prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Aguilar, who works as a registered dietitian for Southwest District Health, has 14-year-old twins, a boy and girl. She said high school student volunteers at the dinners helped her understand the need to start a conversation and how to make it less awkward.

“They were brutally honest,” Aguilar said. “I think we needed to hear that.”

She said since the first dinner she attended, she has successfully talked with her 14-year-olds about sex.

Training parents to have “the talk” with their children and training teenagers to turn down sexual advances or use contraceptives is a far cry from the cash handouts many may imagine welfare to be.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant is what most people know as Clinton-era welfare reform. In Idaho, fewer than 100 people in Idaho receive basic assistance through this grant, and the checks, which are limited to $309 per month for a maximum of 24 months per lifetime, come with a requirement of employment or job training participation.

Idaho spends the rest of the TANF grant on a variety of other programs from childcare to workforce training. (Learn more about TANF by watching the April 7 episode of Idaho Reports.)

The Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (APP) program, which is paid for in part by $167,000 of TANF money, uses a combination of events, a curriculum, and a youth group to help teenagers avoid getting pregnant. One of the four goals outlined in TANF is to “prevent and reduce the incidence of out of wedlock pregnancies.”

Aguilar said she and the other parents saw the student volunteers there as such a valuable resource, they stayed for another half hour past the set end of the dinner. She said she learned that she needs to talk with her children more about what they’re doing in general, so when it comes time to ask about sex, it’s less awkward.

“I’m working on the next one who’s eleven years old.” Aguilar said. “We’re working on just having regular conversations with him – things that interest us both.”

Another part of the districts’ adolescent pregnancy prevention programs is the Reducing the Risk Curriculum. The curriculum is a set of 16 sessions added to high school lesson plans, usually health or home economics, that give teens advice on how to avoid having sex and how to have safe sex.

Ana Vidales, health educator at Southwest District Health, said the nature of the curriculum requires a letter to be sent home with students in the modified classes for their parents to approve their children’s participation.

This program is not at as many schools as Vidales would like. A lack of funding and inconvenience in modifying existing schedules are factors, she said, but another barrier is that not all schools want the program in the first place.

“If the principals or board members, or someone involved in approving the program has a different point of view, it can be difficult,” Vidales said. “I understand not everyone’s going to like what I have to say, but there’s cold hard facts. Sex is happening and it’s not just something deviant people do.”

Currently, at least 460 high school students around the state receive the curriculum. Vidales said students take a pre-survey and post-survey before and after going through the curriculum to test their knowledge on contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections.

Vidales said some graduates of the curriculum are able to take a leadership position by working with parents and educators to reach out to their fellow students in the Youth-Adult Partnership, also part of the program. Vidales said students have even held their own informational nights for parents.

Heather Gagliano, project manager at Central District Health said the students in the pregnancy prevention programs quickly learn the importance of being able to ask questions safely.

“I was observing one of the nurses and a student asked a question and a couple students started giggling. Immediately a couple other kids said, ‘Hey, any question is safe here,’” Gagliano said. “It was really neat to see that. The students supported each other.”


Zollinger, Nate, Smith challenging grocery tax veto

As we learned in 2015, a governor’s veto isn’t always the end of a bill.

On Wednesday morning, Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, Rep. Ron  Nate, R-Rexburg, and former congressional candidate Bryan Smith announced they are asking Secretary of State Lawerence Denney not to recognize Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Tuesday veto of House Bill 67, the grocery tax repeal.

Nate, Smith and Zollinger said they are prepared to sue over the matter, hoping to overturn not only the veto, but a 1978 court decision on how long a governor has to consider legislation.

The jist of the argument is this: Zollinger and Nate say the Idaho Constitution says the governor must act on all remaining bills within 10 days of the legislature adjourning for the session. As Otter said in his press conference last week, he’s going from 10 days of the bill being delivered to his office.

The grocery tax repeal bill was delivered to Otter on Friday, March 31 — two days after the legislature adjourned.

So what does the Idaho Constitution say?

Article IV, Section 10, addresses the governor’s veto power.  Note the last part: “(u)nless the legislature shall, by adjournment, prevent its return, in which case it shall be filed, with his objections, in the office of the secretary of state within ten (10) days after such adjournment (Sundays excepted) or become a law.”

In short, if the clock started ticking on March 29, when the legislature adjourned, and not March 31, when the bill was delivered to Otter, then the grocery tax repeal would have become law without signature on Monday, said Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, during the Wednesday press conference.

While the Constitution seems clear, there is case law on this. In a 1978 Idaho Supreme Court case, Cenarrusa v Andrus, a split court ruling, that said the governor has ten days from the time the bill is delivered.

“The governor’s consideration of a bill is an essential element of the legislative process,” the opinion says. “Presentment provides an opportunity for the governor to give full consideration to a bill as finally passed by the legislature. The wise exercise of the executive right of veto necessarily requires thoughtful deliberation, which in turn requires time commensurate with the responsibility.”

Zollinger and Nate told Bryan Clark of the Idaho Falls Post-Register that Cenarrusa v. Andrus was decided based on judicial activism, not a textualist reading of the Constitution. They hope this court will side with them, should the challenge get that far. (Read Clark’s story here.)

High courts can and do overturn themselves, but it’s rare.

Otter’s office announced the veto on Tuesday evening, citing concerns over general fund stability. “In summary, I understand that House Bill 67 has captured the popular imagination. It purports to provide tax relief for the working poor — a worthy ambition but one that is already accomplished through the grocery tax credit,” Otter wrote in his veto letter.

“In our view and in the Secretary of State’s view, it’s a valid veto,” said Jon Hanian, press secretary for Otter, on Wednesday. Tim Hurst, chief deputy in the Secretary of State’s office, confirmed the office had accepted it, and cited Cenarrusa v Andrus as the guidance the office follows.

We’ll have more on this story as it develops. Watch Idaho Reports on Friday at 8 pm for analysis.


Thursday vetoes: Invasive species position, cosmetology, asset forfeiture

On Thursday, Gov. Butch Otter vetoed four bills, all of which had bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Read the veto letters here.

According to veto letters provided to Idaho Reports, Otter vetoed a bill to establish an administrator for invasive species policy, as well as a bill to provide funding for that position; civil asset forfeiture reform; and a bill on cosmetology licensing.

House Speaker Scott Bedke confirmed the four vetoes in a phone interview with Idaho Reports.

In his veto letter, Otter called civil asset forfeiture “a classic case of a solution in search of a problem.”

“There have been no allegations that Idaho law enforcement officers or agencies are illegally or inappropriately seizing property from alleged drug traffickers,” Otter wrote. “Its sponsors contend that the measure is aimed at preventing improper forfeiture of assets in the future, but there is no evidence to suggest that such a problem is imminent.”

Critics of civil asset forfeiture disagree. A June 2016 story by Times-News reporter Alex Riggins  cites an example of a couple who lost more than $9,000 in cash through civil asset forfeiture after police found two small bags of marijuana in their home. Neither person was charged with a crime, and there was no evidence that either person was involved in large-scale drug trafficking.

Bedke, who voted against the bill on the House floor, said he was OK with the veto after hearing from Idaho State Police.

“When these guys dedicate their careers to law enforcement, and they have concerns, I take them seriously,” Bedke said.

Bedke said he’s optimistic the veto of the invasive species policy administrator won’t hurt efforts to keep quagga mussels and other invasive species out of Idaho waterways, pointing to bills that provided more funding for check stations and extended the station hours. 

In his veto letter, Otter said he’s also concerned about protecting Idaho waters from invasive species, but said the new administrative position “does little to improve our defenses and preparedness for the potentially devastating impact of a mussel infestation.”

With the veto, Otter issued an executive order to formally continue the work of Idaho’s Invasive Species Counsel, which is overseen by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

Sen. Mark Harris, who co-sponsored the invasive species bill with Rep. Terry Gestrin, said he was disappointed. “We worked hard on that bill,” he said, adding he’d received news of the vetoes via phone call on Thursday.

Jesse Taylor, pro bono lobbyist for Bear Lake Watch, had also heard about the vetoes.

I’m very disappointed that the governor has decided to allow politics to direct policy for Idaho’s most important natural resource, which is our water,” Taylor said. 

Both civil asset forfeiture reform and the cosmetology bill had strong support from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and passed both chambers of the Legislature with both Republican and Democratic votes.

We’ll update this post with more information as we get it, and we’ll have more on the April 7 episode of Idaho Reports.


Ron Nate on the differences in Dist. 34 representation

Earlier this week, we sat down with Rep. Ron Nate to discuss his role in the session.

After our conversation, we started talking about the differences between his approach and the approach of his District 34 seatmates, Rep. Dell Raybould and Sen. Brent Hill, with whom he’s had conflicts in the past. Here’s his response.

For more with our conversation with Nate, watch the March 31st episode of Idaho Reports. Idaho Reports airs Fridays at 8 pm on Idaho Public Television, and is also available online at idahoptv.org/idreports.



Faith, the constitution, and dead children

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

We’ve looked at Idaho’s faith healing exemption in both civil and criminal laws since 2014. We’ve done hours of interviews, and we waited for the right time to put out a story. And frankly, we don’t know if this is the right time. There probably isn’t a right time. Meanwhile, other media outlets have done a great job of exploring the controversy. Much of the coverage and discussion has been emotional, and understandably so; We’re discussing children’s deaths and people’s religious beliefs.

But there’s some important legal analysis that’s been left out of the conversation, even with the extensive media coverage, that we wanted to bring up.

Proponents of getting rid of the exemption have asked why it’s so difficult to address this issue, but in a 2014 interview, Monica Hopkins, then-ACLU of Idaho executive director, explained the tension.

“In many cases we have looked at religious liberty and protecting religious liberty and there is a natural tension that comes into play when we’re talking about policy and protecting religious liberty,” she said. “I think that tension is something that our forefathers thought about when they authored the constitution and the bill of rights.”

Finding those boundaries between a parent’s religious liberty, the child’s right to life, and the public good has always been intimidating. And it’s a fascinating philosophical discussion.

But beyond philosophy, there are the medical realities of faith healing.

Loving families, painful deaths

Wood River Valley pediatrician Dr. Barton Adrian, who looked into faith-healing related deaths in Idaho, puts one of many instances into stark terms.

“The kids who die of pneumonia basically suffocate,” he said. “You can see it from across the room. As your lungs get stiffer and full of more junk, you compensate by breathing faster so the kid would have been (gasping).”

But it’s more than just pneumonia. We’ve reviewed dozens of autopsy reports that paint a disturbing picture of children’s final moments of life. Children who died of untreated diabetes, who were severely dehydrated and hyperventilating in their last conscious moments. Children who had bed sores and pus draining from infections. Children who had unimaginable bone pain from untreated leukemia.

These weren’t easy or peaceful deaths. Those children suffered.

We’ve talked with members of the Followers of Christ multiple times, and while they didn’t want to be on camera or on the records, I can say they do genuinely love their children, they genuinely love God, they genuinely believe in their religion. But none of this love or faith will change the fact that children have died painful, preventable, 18th century deaths.

And now here’s the legal side.

Intervention and punishment

First, the distinction between criminal and civil law. The legislature this year debated a change to the civil side of the law; Specifically, when and how judges in Idaho can intervene and order medical treatment while a sick child is still alive, even if the parents use faith healing as a treatment. That bill failed on the Senate floor on an 11-24 vote, largely because many Republicans felt the proposal went too far and allowed the government to infringe on a parent’s rights and religious liberties.

Here’s the thing about that: Judges already have the ability to intervene. And they often do, when they know about a sick child, even when those families don’t believe in medical intervention.

Most of the public debate around faith healing exemptions has focused on the criminal side of the law — rather, whether prosecutors should be able to charge parents who decline to seek medical treatment for religious reasons, resulting in serious injury or death to their child.

In other words, the debate is whether those parents can be punished if or when the child dies.

On the criminal side, the law already prohibits actions, like physical abuse, in the name of religion.

One difference here, said Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor in a 2015 interview with Idaho Reports, is that faith healing involves inaction.

“If a parent is causing and doing the act that places the child into this particular situation, then more likely than not, it’s at least reviewable and the faith healing exemption may not apply,” Taylor said. “The inaction would be really more focused around not providing the medical treatment for whatever reason.”

A constitutional question

The US constitution raises some questions about the statute.

While you’ve heard about freedom of religion, the First Amendment is more complex than that. Freedom of religion means that while you have the freedom to believe whatever you want, the government cannot establish a state religion, and government cannot investigate your religious views.

And the government also can’t prefer one religion over another — something University of Idaho law professor Shaakirrah Sanders says may be happening with this law.

There aren’t many religions that decline to accept any form of medical treatment, she said. This is a law that arguably benefits a very small group of people.

On the flip side, the legislature is perfectly OK with limiting other aspects of religious practices, regardless of how sincere those practitioners are. Polygamy and bigamy come to mind.

When it comes to exemptions like this, there is no other equivalent in Idaho law. There is no other religious practice in Idaho that gets an automatic, built-in defense for something that could trigger an investigation in any other case.

Then there are the courts.

While there isn’t Idaho criminal case law on religious freedom as it pertains to medical treatment and neglect, there are cases from other states. One civil case in particular made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, in which a deceased boy’s father sued his ex-wife, the boy’s mother, after she declined to seek treatment for the child and instead prayed for his untreated diabetes. The Supreme Court upheld a state appeals court decision that awarded the father $1.5 million in damages.

Notably, the court said “Although one is free to believe what one will, religious freedom ends when one’s conduct offends the law by, for example, endangering a child’s life.”

Remember, that was a civil law decision.

So how about criminal case law? First, let’s look at Employment Division v Smith, a 1990 decision by the late Justice Antonin Scalia about faith in general, in which a man made the claim that he should be exempted from laws against smoking peyote because of his religion. The court disagreed.

“So from that case comes the rule that when it comes to laws and criminal laws that apply to everybody else, the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause does not demand any type of religious exemption,” Sanders said.

In other words, the Supreme Court ruled those First Amendment religious protections don’t apply to criminal law.

There’s also the Idaho Constitution, Article I, Section 4, which guarantees religious liberty. “The exercise and enjoyment of religious faith and worship shall forever be guaranteed.” We know that part. But then there’s the next few lines. While they mostly deal with polygamy, there’s this key part: “But the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be construed to dispense with oaths or affirmations… inconsistent with morality or the peace or safety of the state, not to permit any person, organization or association to directly or indirectly aid or abet, counsel or advise any person to commit the crime of bigamy or polygamy, or any other crime.”

In any other circumstance, not seeking medical care for your injured or deathly ill child could be considered a crime.

In 1993 Attorney General Larry EchoHawk’s office issued an opinion on this very question, saying “The drafters of the Idaho Constitution recognized the importance of assuring that although there should be no limit to an individual’s rights to a religious belief, there were boundaries on an individual’s right to religious practices.”

The opinion also cited Prince vs Massachusetts, a 1944 Supreme Court case which says, quote, “The family itself is not beyond regulation, in the public interest, as against a claim of religious liberty. And neither the rights of religion not the rights of parenthood are beyond limitation; the right to practice religion freely does not include the right to expose the community or the child to communicable diseases or the latter to ill health or death.”

A possible alternative

That brings us all the way back to faith healing, and whether the First Amendment or the Idaho Constitution protects the actions the Followers of Christ are performing, or not performing, in accordance with their religion.

Taylor said he’s uncomfortable with the current exemption; As he and other prosecutors read the statute, it puts the immediate kibosh on investigations.

“I think it needs to be revisited, reexamined,” he said. “Is it truly striking the balance? Is it truly giving us the ability to protect the kids in our community? And right now, I don’t think it does.”

This legislature has made it clear they’re not touching the criminal side of this law, that they don’t want parents to be prosecuted for inactions stemming from their faith, regardless of how many children have died.

The judicial branch can’t infringe on anyone’s beliefs. But it does have the ability to interpret the law differently and change the way it’s applied. And it has a different set of obligations.

“I could see some type of litigation brought on behalf of a child who may or may not have been neglected or abused where a parent was successfully able to raise this exemption now,” Sanders said. “That’s a little bit more difficult scenario because the exemption generally applies after there’s been a death. But I could also see organizations who see this law as wrong sort of bringing a court claim on behalf of the children of Idaho saying hey these kids have a right to life and this law is essentially negates this right to life or improperly places these parents’ religious beliefs or their right to be a parent over their child’s right to life.”

But finding the right organization to sue might be difficult, as the plaintiffs must prove harm. An organization that sues on the behalf of a deceased child would probably have difficult time showing how the death directly harmed them. A dead child can’t sue. The parents, who had custody of the child, likely wouldn’t sue, as they’re the ones who declined seek treatment in the first place. A child that is seriously injured but survives to adulthood would likely have a hard time suing if those injuries resulted in debilitating developmental injuries. There are people who have left the faith healing community, claim harm to themselves, and want to see the law changed, but for whatever reason, have not yet pursued litigation. Instead, the former church members we’ve spoken to have chosen to pursue legislative changes, or no public action at all.

And there’s the question of whether suing would affect the criminal side of the law in the first place.

The state, however, has a compelling interest in keeping a child alive, and could easily show harm. And that’s a potential avenue for answering the question of where that line between free exercise of religion ends and the individual liberties of a child begin.

In other words, if the legislature doesn’t change this, the right plaintiff might. For example, a county prosecutor could attempt to prosecute the presumably unprosecutable, thereby challenging the statute. That could give us the answer the legislature would not.



Seth Ogilvie contributed to this report.


Idaho Reports web extras: Extended education interviews

There’s a whole lot of news this week, and we ran out of time on the show.

But our interviewees Rep. Sally Toone, Sen. Dean Mortimer, and Rep. Julie VanOrden all had interesting things to say. If you’re interested, here are the extended interviews.

Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, on her teacher’s perspective in the legislature:


Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, on science standards, school funding, and teacher insurance:


Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, on science standards, rural schools, and more:


Preview of an insurrection

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports


It’s 2013 all over again.

In a Thursday interview with Idaho Reports, Senate Education Committee chairman Dean Mortimer said at this time, he won’t rule out voting against the public education budget over an insurance funding dispute.

“If I were voting today on that specific portion of the K-12 budget, I would be voting against it,” Mortimer said.

Mortimer is also a member of the legislature’s joint budget committee. On Monday, the committee voted against a $15.2 million line item to address rising health care premiums, opting instead to put nearly $16 million in discretionary funding. That appropriation is coupled with intent language directing school districts to spend the money on health care costs. (Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News has a run-down of the details and debate.)

Does this debate sound familiar? In 2013, Mortimer helped lead an insurrection on the Senate floor that ultimately killed the public education budget. The issue: Intent language directing how money should be spent.

Mortimer said on Thursday he’s not sure if he has the backing of the majority of the Senate, as he did in 2013. But if Monday’s debate offers any clues, it might be close: Of the six JFAC members who supported Mortimer’s plan, all were senators. (Read more at Betsy Russell’s Eye on Boise blog.)

We’ll have much more with Sen. Mortimer on our Friday show. In the meantime, here’s a brief clip of the conversation.