Opinion

West Views: Child support bill grounded during lawmakers’ black helicopter ride

TIMES-NEWS (TWIN FALLS)

Child support bill grounded during lawmakers’ ‘black helicopter’ ride

It’s no secret the Republican Party in Idaho is a fractured mess, but if you needed any more evidence, the middle-of-the-night fiasco over a child support bill that capped the legislative session last week is perfect proof.

And it’s a prime example of how a paranoid fringe minority is derailing this state — and now, maybe even an international compact to protect children.

After a marathon 18-hour day and weeks of in-party fighting, lawmakers closed the session April 11 by approving a $95 million compromise on a badly needed transportation bill, despite the fact the state really needs something closer to $262 million just to cover deferred maintenance of our crumbling roads.

Just as the details were being ironed out, the black helicopters began to swirl, the tin-foil hats were donned and the far-right started whispering about two of their favorite topics: Muslims and federal government overreach.

The whispers reached a roar that now threatens to sink the state’s entire child support system and the 400,000 Idahoans who depend on it.

Congress passed a law last year requiring every state to become compliant with a federal compact made with mostly European nations. Essentially, it keeps parents from neglecting to pay child support by moving out of state or overseas.

Approving the compact should have been a slam dunk. But inspired by the fear-mongering John Birch Society, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood raised alarms that the compact would subject Idaho to Sharia law — a hard-liner, religious-based rule system sometimes used in predominately Muslim countries to settle divorce and child-custody disputes.

Idaho child support program director Kandace Yearsley was flabbergasted by Nuxoll’s interpretation. The Attorney General’s Office assured lawmakers that none of the countries in the compact is under Sharia law.

Let us pause for a moment to note that Nuxoll is the same senator who in 2013 tactlessly compared the Affordable Care Act to the Holocaust. This year, she boycotted a Hindu prayer in the Capitol, saying the United States is a Christian nation and the Hindu religion honors false gods.

By now, lawmakers should know to stop listening when Nuxoll and her cohorts open their mouths, but a House panel was swayed by the paranoia and killed the child-support bill on a 9-8 vote. The votes to table the bill were Thomas Dayley, Lynn Luker, Shannon McMillan, Kathleen Sims, Janet Trujillo, Don Cheatham, Ryan Kerby, Ronald Nate and Heather Scott.

The move could disqualify the United States from the pact because it required all the states to be in compliance for the U.S. to participate. The governor may call lawmakers back to Boise for a special session to resolve the issue. If the matter isn’t fixed in 60 days, Idaho will immediately lose $16 million and won’t be able to process $200 million in child support payments. The state also stands to lose $30 million in temporary assistance for needy families.

Things took an even more bizarre turn just hours after the vote when Cindy Agidius, a former Republican representative now serving as the communications director for the House Majority Caucus, sent an email to reporters and lawmakers on behalf of Rep. Luker, a Boise Republican who earlier this session helped kill a bill that would have strengthened the state’s no-contact laws to protect victims of domestic violence.

“Holding the (child support) bill was about protecting the due process and privacy rights of our citizens, and protecting the integrity of our state’s ability to study and analyze issues independent of the coercive threats of the federal government,” Luker said.

Not all of Luker’s fellow Republicans agreed, and they let it be known with a flurry of emails first reported by Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell.

“I do not support the erratic behavior that will lead to the dismantling of our child support system, nor the implication that (Luker’s) mockery of a legal analysis in any way represents our Republican caucus,” wrote Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene.

Replied Rep. Fred Wood of Burley: “I certainly hope this was not represented as a Majority Caucus response. If it was, it should be immediately withdrawn. Rep. Luker is entitled to his opinion, legal and personal. It is not my opinion, and I do not want to be associated in any way with it.”

A fractured mess to be sure.

Rep. Steve Hartgen of Twin Falls downplayed the hubbub early this week, saying last-minute dust-ups are common in the Capitol. “I don’t think this will amount to anything in the long run,” he told the Times-News. “Nor will Idaho pull out of child support standards.”

That remains to be seen. But this much is clear: Our own lawmakers — not the federal government — pose the biggest threat to Idaho. We don’t have enough money to fix our roads. We stand to lose millions of dollars in federal funding as Idaho’s children go unsupported. Lawmakers may be called back to Boise. And the black helicopters continue to circle.

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