Q&A: Will the Idaho Legislature meet in special session on the child support bill?

On April 10, the last full day of the Idaho legislative session, a House committee voted 9-8 to reject amendments to state code that would bring Idaho into compliance with a 2008 rewrite of federal law on child support. The federal Uniform Interstate Family Support Act itself incorporates provisions of a 2007 international treaty on cross-border child support issues.

By a 2014 act of Congress, each state legislature, during its 2015 session, must approve uniform bill language accepting the changes. Without approval, a state’s child support operation is deemed out of compliance with federal statute and the state faces loss of aid. The Idaho Legislature adjourned early on April 11 without taking additional action on the issue.

Idaho received an out-of-compliance notice April 14. Without corrective action within 60 days, it faces the loss of $16 million to its office of child support services, which administers $205 million in child support payments annually. Also at risk is $30 million in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funding, which is withheld if no approved child support service program is in place.

The most likely route to fix this is for Gov. Butch Otter to call a special legislative session. Here’s how that might work:

How does a special session happen? Article VI, Section 9, of the Idaho Constitution empowers the governor, and only the governor, to convene a special session of the Legislature “on extraordinary occasions.” The governor must state the purpose of the session in his proclamation and the Legislature “shall have no power to legislate on any subjects other than those specified in the proclamation.”

When was the last special session? Gov. (now Sen.) Jim Risch convened the last special session on Aug. 25, 2006. It lasted one day. The Legislature considered a broad tax bill that took the public schools maintenance and operation levy off the property rolls and moved it to the general fund, reducing property taxes by $260 million.

The bill, which easily passed both houses, also raised the sales tax by one penny, to 6 percent, to raise $210 million; set aside $100 million in a rainy-day fund for education; and put an advisory question on the changes before voters in November. Voters supported the measure by a 3-1 margin.

Are special sessions rare? Idaho has seen six since 1980, including the 2006 session. The others:

1980: Created a legislative study committee on the Medicaid reimbursement process; appropriated money for legislative staff and expenses (appropriation vetoed during regular session).

1981: Petitioned Congress regarding Mexican temporary worker visas; provided for congressional district lines; revised qualifications for state legislators; defined legislative districts (vetoed). District reapportionment subsequently passed during the 1982 regular session.

1983: Further regulated driving under the influence; provided for adoption of emergency administrative rules; increased and provided for distribution of gas tax; appropriated money for education (line item veto applied); appropriated surplus general accounts (vetoed); allowed state auditor to recover Social Security overpayments.

1992: Prohibited certain gambling; charged Legislative Council with preparing pro and con arguments for proposed constitutional amendments; regulated bingo games and raffles; provided for temporary emergency water provisions.

2000: Amended state code regarding regulation of public utilities.

What does a special session cost? The Legislative Services Office calculated the cost of a special session last year in response to a lawmaker’s request. The one-day cost is $36,000, which includes $18,500 for round trip travel, $12,000 for lodging (two days); and $5,500 for per diem expenses for the 105 legislators. A second day would add $6,000 in per diem costs. Legislators receive no extra pay.

When will we know about a special session? The governor’s office and relevant departments are still gathering all the facts, but it has to happen before mid-June. That’s the deadline for the state to take corrective action on the child support bill.