Fear was evident on both sides of the Child Support bill we were called back to consider last Monday for the Special Session. The House and Senate Judiciary & Rules Joint Committee, of which I am a member, heard nearly 5 hours of testimony, and much of it was based in fear. Those supporting the bill were afraid Idaho’s child support collection system would dissolve without passage of the bill, leaving children and families in dire straits. Those opposed to the bill were worried about loss of constitutional due process and opening our laws to foreign influence. Are any of these people crazy or worthy of ridicule or reprisal? Of course not. Concerns and questions must always be respected.
This was a tricky and complicated piece of legislation. Lack of communication from the Administration left important questions unanswered, which fanned the flames of fear on all sides and caused the need for the special session.
In my position as the new Senator from Coeur d’Alene, I talked with and heard from a great number of constituents before the special session. Many were in favor, many opposed, but all were very worried. I studied the bill, in depth, on my own and conferred with others. Then I asked questions of a number of attorneys and, as you might guess, heard differing overall views. There were some consistent answers, however, and several of the most important areas of agreement were:
1. The international treaty on child support collection, which is the root of the federal push for this legislation, cannot become more powerful than our US Constitution. No treaty can.
2. Due process is protected for Idahoans involved in child support through foreign countries, and the Idaho court has the right to dismiss a support request if the other country’s laws are “manifestly incompatible” with our public policies.
3. Since 1996, Idaho has had reciprocal child support relationships with 16 foreign countries without significant problems.
4. Child support collection would continue in Idaho, if the bill did not pass, but it there would be a period of uncertainty and possible disruption, until alternate plans could be put in place.
I voted to approve the bill because of the potential disruption. It passed the House 49-21 and the Senate 33-2. But I remain unhappy, as do most legislators, with the coercive methods used by the Federal government to force states’ approval of this bill. The Feds fueled fear by threatening to withdraw the entire $43 million dollar grant Idaho uses to collect child support payments if the bill was not approved exactly as written and within their dictated timeframe. They also threatened to close our access to the federal database portal used to track the parents responsible to pay for their children.
This just underscores my overall frustration that, too often in Boise, we legislate out of fear… fear of losing Federal money. A significant and growing portion of Idaho’s state budget, nearly 35%, comes from Washington DC. We receive large sums of money for transportation, health and welfare, education and more. And we all know those who give the money hold the strings.
There is legal precedence, however, for states to challenge the hammer of the Federal government when they threaten to remove funding for an existing program as coercion to entice additional action. US Supreme Court Justice Roberts wrote a clear opinion on a recent case about state Medicaid funds. “The States…object that Congress has ‘crossed the line distinguishing encouragement from coercion’…The State’s claim that this threat serves no purpose other than to force unwilling States to sign up for the dramatic expansion of health care coverage affected by the act. Given the nature and the threat and the programs at issue here we must agree.”
There’s more to his legal opinion, of course, but Idaho continues to allow Federal dollars to dictate many of our decisions. To push back would require a show of will and coordination from the Administration, which is not in evidence right now.
Our Founding Fathers were concerned about the power of the then newly formed central government, and feared its future growth could alter the balance of power in our country. Thomas Jefferson expressed this key belief when he reminded, “The federal government is our servant, not our master!”
States have become dependent on Federal money, corporations that are mostly concerned with feeding themselves. The views of this senator don’t begin to address the reality of the system, for all Americans.
This poor senator. She doesn’t realize that she had already undercut the U.S. Constitution by going along with the Feds. She wrote this in an effort to try to absolve her conscience before her constituents. Poor. Pathetic. Stupid. – Rathbone