By John Celock
A group of Republican lawmakers in Idaho are pushing back from claims that a fear of Sharia law led the state Legislature to kill a routine child support bill, a move that now puts the state’s entire child support enforcement system – and $46 million in federal funds – in jeopardy.
The state Legislature adjourned last week after the state House of Representatives tabled routine legislation that would have updated the state’s child support code to match new federal guidelines related to international child support enforcement and decisions rendered by other countries that are part of a child support treaty. The legislation had unanimously passed the state Senate and was requested by the federal government. The decision came after a group of lawmakers met with the state attorney general’s office to discuss if the bill would require the state to accept child support decisions made according to Sharia – or religious – law.
“It is a routine bill. That is the part that is really frustrating,” Assistant House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding (D-Boise) told The Celock Report. “All it is, is an update of a national standard for pursuing and enforcing child support orders. The challenge is because we have stifled that now we are stuck in a place of limbo.”
Erpelding said that he and Democrats believe the bill was killed by nine tea party Republicans who believed the bill would threaten the state’s sovereignty by placing it under the rules of another country. The bill will allow the updating of the state’s code to address the federal Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, which allows states to utilize federal tools to pursue child support across state and international borders. Erpelding said that the state attorney general’s office and the U.S. attorney’s office told lawmakers that the bill would not impact the sovereignty of either Idaho or the United States or put the state under the accountability of foreign laws.
Idaho officials have been told that they have 60 days to pass the bill or put at risk $16 million in federal aid to run the state’s child support enforcement division, an amount equal to two-thirds of the division’s budget. The federal government has also said that the state would lose access to federal tools to pursue delinquent parents across international borders if the bill was not passed. The lack of the child support provision would also place the state at risk of losing $30 million in federal welfare funds. The state enforces $200 million a year in child support payments.
“This does significant damage,” Erpelding said. “This puts Idaho in the light that we’re out of touch with international expectations and protecting our kids across state lines.”
Erpelding said that he and other lawmakers expect Gov. Butch Otter (R) to call a special session in May to head off a potential loss of federal aid. Otter has expressed concern over the bill’s defeat.
“I am concerned that some members of the House Judiciary and Rules Committee put Idaho’s child support system at serious risk by killing Senate Bill 1067 in the waning hours of the 2015 legislative session,” Otter said in a statement posted by Statesman.com last week. “We are analyzing the impacts of the committee’s actions and what they mean for the 400,000 people who depend on Idaho’s system.”
Rep. Lynn Luker (R-Boise) who helped orchestrate the tabling of the bill in committee wrote an op-ed to the Idaho Press this week pushing back at notions that Sharia law fears were at play in the child support decision. Luker did not return messages left by The Celock Report at his home and office.
“A few citizens who testified at the hearing raised concerns about SB 1067 leading to enforcement of Sharia law in Idaho, which ended up as the major focus in news articles,” Luker wrote. “That was not the reason for holding the bill. The bill and treaty have serious risks and flaws.”
Luker wrote that he and other lawmakers were concerned about due process and potentially allowing foreign governments to look at U.S. databases in order to collect child support.
“Courts in Idaho are required to accept foreign orders with only a few exceptions. Those exceptions include minimal requirements for notice and hearing; however, those rights are undefined and vary drastically from country to country. Our courts would be curtailed from looking behind those orders,” Luker wrote. “One provision even bypasses court review and allows agency enforcement without court review. Implementation of the treaty would open federal databases to foreign countries. An important child support enforcement tool is the Federal Parent Locator Service which includes the National Directory of New Hires, as well as access to information from the IRS, the Social Security Administration, VA, the Department of Defense, NSA and FBI.”
The bill had been held up in the Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee when House Democrats moved to have it taken out of the committee and moved to the floor for a vote. Erpelding said that the House vote that saw a unified GOP vote to kill the bill baffle him due to the vote spanning ideological lines.
“For me the difference between a Republican and a tea party Republican now is nonexistent,” he said. “The moderate Republicans are now trying to extract themselves from it but they voted to kill the bill and keep it in committee. This is one of the most irresponsible decisions I’ve seen in the Legislature in my short time here.”
Erpelding told The Celock Report that he and other Democrats remain upbeat that Otter calls the special session and the votes change to head off any loss of federal funds or assistance in child support. He said that he believes the bill would not have the effects that Luker claims.
“I am a staunch believer that the U.S. system of government and our Constitution preserves our sovereignty,” Erpelding said. “The United States government enters into agreements that would not ever endanger our national sovereignty. If it doesn’t endanger national sovereignty it would not endanger state sovereignty. Our U.S. Constitution is designed to ensure that our national sovereignty remains supreme.”