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Opinion: Lawmakers acted appropriately on child support bill

Opinion: Lawmakers acted appropriately on child support bill

Dustin Hurst
April 17, 2015

Several years ago, Idaho decided to spend nearly $120 million renovating and expanding the Statehouse. The state Capitol is our seat of government, a symbol of our ability to self-govern and a testament to the republican form of government our Constitution guarantees. Everyone continues to celebrate our investment in self-governance—that is, except for when we exercise it.

There is excessive hyperventilating over the Legislature’s decision to reject the incorporation of international child support laws into our state statutes. We’re now being told that the Legislature had no choice but to approve Senate Bill 1067 assenting to the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support.

Indeed, the bill was presented to the Legislature for a yes or a no vote. But lawmakers aren’t really supposed to or allowed to vote no, much as North Koreans are presented with an election, but they aren’t really allowed to vote for anyone but Kim Jong Un.

Having voted to table the bill in the waning hours of the last legislative session, lawmakers have now received a letter from the Obama administration threatening to withhold millions of federal dollars and cut off our access to national child support payment resources if the state doesn’t acquiesce to the federal government’s demands by the middle of June.

The Otter administration, too, is piling on, sending a letter to 155,000 Idaho households that their child support checks could be jeopardized because stubborn state lawmakers wouldn’t accept unilateral allegiance to enforce child support orders issued by foreign courts. The letters are intended to work people into such a tizzy, so lawmakers won’t dare revolt again.

The Otter administration deserves a lot of the criticism here, owed to a disastrous performance this year by the state Department of Health and Welfare’s child support division. Officials from the agency were overconfident, offering vague answers to specific questions about the 31-page bill.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, said he was frustrated that state Department of Health and Welfare officials couldn’t answer basic questions about the treaty Idaho was being asked to enforce. “Many of the answers were unsatisfactory and incomplete,” Nate wrote recently. Answers came with qualifiers like “I believe …”

State child support enforcers should have anticipated a skeptical Legislature. The child support division had already lost another bill this session; a Senate committee rejected a proposal calling for the state to interject itself whenever the recipient of child support is on welfare.

All of this posturing, fretting and fist pounding—the Obama administration even contends that Idaho’s decision will subvert ALL child support enforcement throughout the U.S.—is intended to tee up the Legislature to meet again in special session, which is very likely to happen before June.

Meanwhile, real questions persist about the very nature of what lawmakers are being asked to do, about whether data regarding Idahoans will be secure, about whether due process will be afforded. These are serious questions that deserve real, solid answers not whimsical responses and best guesses.

Lawmakers did exactly what their oaths of office obligated them to do. They defended the constitutions of the United States and the state of Idaho. If our state is to merely be a carbon copy of all other states, or a rubber stamp for the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., we may as well have saved our money and rented serviceable but nondescript office space more befitting of government pencil pushers than elected representatives of the people of a sovereign state.

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