BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho officials face a looming deadline to maintain tens of millions of dollars in funding after a bill that would have brought the state into compliance with federal rules was killed when conservative legislators said it would have subjected the state to fundamentalist Islamic law.
The state Health Department said Monday that without a revision in the next two months they stand to lose access to programs that process child support payments and track down scofflaws in addition to $46 million in federal payouts.
The conflict started last week after a House committee narrowly rejected a bill that had sailed through the Senate after some lawmakers said it would have required Idaho to uphold Sharia law — a contention others said was baseless.
State Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, a Republican from the small northern community of Cottonwood, raised the objection during the House Judiciary and Rules Committee hearing. She testified that the federal law Idaho was adjusting to incorporated provisions of an international agreement regarding cross-border recovery of child-support payments, the Hague Convention on International Recovery of Child Support and Family Maintenance.
None of the nearly 80 countries involved in the treaty — which the U.S. entered in 2007 — are under Sharia law. But Nuxoll and other skeptics said their concerns were valid because some nations in treaty informally recognize such courts. They added that the provisions of the deal wouldn’t leave Idaho with the authority to challenge another nation’s judgment, particularly if it were under hard-line Islamic law.
The criticisms tapped into the conservative, and often isolationist, sentiment that can pop up in Idaho’s Republican-controlled Statehouse, where lawmakers frequently balk at federal mandates.
Rep. Luke Malek, a Coeur d’Alene Republican, however, called the debate an example of “heavy-handed opportunistic theatrics at the expense of single-parents and children.” He and others said the bill’s opponents don’t represent Idaho’s GOP caucus.
The Rules Committee voted 9-8 to nix the compliance bill and the legislative session adjourned hours later, throwing the funding into question.
Since the issue affects the state budget, lawmakers could be called into a special session to revisit the matter.
The governor’s office released a statement Monday, saying officials were “analyzing the impacts of the committee’s actions and what they mean for the 400,000 people who depend on Idaho’s system.”
The state Attorney General’s Office has said compliance wouldn’t interfere with Idaho’s rights as a state.
Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden both are Republicans.
Idaho Health and Welfare Department officials plan to meet with U.S. Health and Human Services representatives this week. They expect to have 60 days to address the matter from that point.
“This is a new experience for Idaho,” the department said in a statement Monday. “We have been told the federal support for Idaho’s Child Support Program will end if Idaho is not in compliance.”
Without federal tools, parents who are owed child-support payments will have no means to receive them. Idaho uses federal programs to process in-state and out-of-state child support payments.
About 80 percent of payments are garnisheed from paychecks, but noncompliance would prevent Idaho from making such collections.
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