Reporter's Notebook: Idaho Legislative Special Session 

Members of the public waiting to testify for or against HB1 - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Members of the public waiting to testify for or against HB1
Weeks after the Idaho Legislature declared sine die, the Garden Level of the Idaho Statehouse looked like any other day of the regular legislative session on Monday, May 18: Lobbyists and lawmakers and constituents greeted each other warmly, and Capitol security guards directed members of the public to tables where they could sign their names to testify for or against legislation.

What made Monday different was that the Idaho Legislature wasn't conducting regular business: It was the beginning of a special legislative session designed with the express purpose of bringing resolution, pass or fail, to HB1—a bill of significant consequence to Idaho children whose parents or guardians receive child support payments.

The lure of HB1 brought out spirited testimony on both sides of the issue. Those in favor included some of the most influential family support groups in the state, from the Idaho Voices for Children to Head Start. Opposed to HB1 were many private citizens worried that passing the bill would place Idahoans under the jurisdiction of foreign law.

"This is not about Sharia [law]" said Russ Smerz, representative of the Leadership Council, which itself represents numerous Tea Party and Oath Keepers groups across the state. "It's about Overreach by the federal government."

HB1 was designed to bring Idaho into compliance with federal law that would allow the Gem State's Department of Health and Welfare to continue to use the federal child support tracking system. The new benchmarks outlined in HB1 came about with changes to a Hague Convention treaty signed by the United States. If the Idaho Legislature does not agree to the new benchmarks, Idaho could lose up to $46 million in federal funds and access to the federal child support tracking database. That has many groups, including Darcy James of the Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger, worried.

"Child support within the family is an essential defense against hunger," James said.

Other groups rallied to defend the bill for similar reasons, describing it as necessary for ancillary commitments such as combating domestic violence.

"If you do not pass this legislation, you will put power back in the hands of abusers," said Michelle Vos of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. She told lawmakers that child support payments support an abused parent's financial independence.

While many of those who opposed the bill agreed with the sentiment behind supporting children with support payments, they said that binding Idaho to an international treaty was more than they could stomach. 

Citizen Vicky Davis told lawmakers that "the offending language is still in the bill," and that it remains a "data-exchange" treaty that puts Idahoans' personal information in the hands of foreign governments and courts—and that the federal government is "extorting" the Idaho Legislature by "threatening" to withhold funds by using Idaho children as "hostages."

Others said that the treaty was flat-out unconstitutional, like Bob Neugebauer of the Gem State Patriot newsletter

"This bill abrogates sections of our state and federal constitutions," he said. 

Supporters like Lauren Necochea of Idaho Voices for Children told lawmakers that lawmakers need to make the process easier—not harder—to get child support money to people who need it.

"Our system should make sure that money arrives rather than create roadblocks," said Idaho Voices for Children Executive Director Lauren Necochea.
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