Legislature passes child support bill during special session

The Idaho Legislature passed a revised child support bill Monday after Gov. Butch Otter hauled lawmakers back to the Statehouse for a one-day special legislative session to address compliance issues.

The 37-page bill cleared the House 49-21 late Monday afternoon. It cleared the Senate 33-2 just after 7 p.m.

The Senate adjourned the special session moments after their final vote; the House shut it down shortly before 6:30 p.m.

Lawmakers devoted 11 straight hours to the special session without breaking for lunch or dinner.

On Tuesday, Otter praised lawmakers for passing the bill.

“Today is, I might say, one of comfort, comfort that we can go ahead with assurances to protect the most vulnerable in our society, to promote personal responsibility and securing information and the privacy of the citizens of Idaho,” Otter told reporters during a 25-minute news conference.

As expected, Otter signed the bill into law Tuesday afternoon.

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GOP Rep. Ryan Kerby, top right, listens to debate of the child support bill Monday at the Statehouse. Photo by Andrew Reed / Idaho Education News.

New Plymouth Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby, the superintendent of his local school district, supported the bill Monday after he was one of nine House Republicans who voted to table it April 10 during the final hours of the regular legislative session. Three other GOP House members did likewise — Rep. Janet Trujillo, of Idaho Falls and Reps. Thomas Dayley and Lynn Luker of Boise.

In the Senate, only Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, changed her vote. She voted for it in March, but voted against it Monday.

Kerby said he voted to table the bill last month in hopes lawmakers could change the legislation or receive a variance from the federal government.

Kerby said he held concerns about due process rights and data collection, but these were addressed in changes made to the bill approved Monday.

Almost immediately after the first bill failed on April 10, its supporters and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong said the move could jeopardize the state’s ability to collect about $200 million a year in child support payments and approximately $46 million in federal funding.

Kerby took issue with how Health and Welfare and the media handled the issue.

“In no way, shape or form was I ever voting against child support,” Kerby said. “I would never make the poor, defenseless kids lose their money for food and clothing. I’m a superintendent of schools. I’ve been in education 42 years, I’m not going to do that to kids.

“I think I’ve been consistent the whole time,” he continued. “I wanted some amendments to address our issues and I would be happily voting for it. Now, here we are, and we have our amendments and I happily voted for it.”

On March 20, the Senate voted 34-0 to pass the first version of the bill.

A House-Senate committee devoted nearly five hours to public testimony and questions Monday, before handing the bill over to the House Judiciary and Rules Committee. The bill cleared the committee after voting down several procedural moves seeking to amend it.

Public testimony was split among the 36 people who testified, with Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, calling speakers forward on an alternating pro-con basis.

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Gov. Butch Otter, foreground, praises lawmakers Tuesday for their work during Monday’s one-day special legislative session. Photo by Andrew Reed / Idaho Education News.

On April 29, Otter called a special session of the Legislature (or extraordinary session, in legislative lingo), essentially seeking a do-over on the child support bill. He said this was the only way to rectify the issue.

“I wasn’t going to call a special session if we weren’t going to get anything done,” Otter said at the time. “There is no alternative.”

Otter was the only one with the authority to call a special session, and his proclamation called for the child support system to be the only item on the agenda.

Otter released a draft of the new bill on May 4.

Members of Republican leadership issued early statements through Otter’s office signaling they believed they had the necessary votes to pass the new bill.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, Lodge, Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glens Ferry and Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, joined Otter during his press conference.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, did not attend the briefing after debating passionately against the bill Monday.

Hill said lawmakers did the right thing by vetting their concerns and then, ultimately, passing the bill.

“We did not compromise our state sovereignty, we did not neglect due process… we did not breach confidentiality, we did not abandon our beloved Constitution, at either the state level or the federal level,” Hill said.

Burgoyne also praised lawmakers and Otter, saying that preserving compliance with a child support treaty was not a partisan issue.

“Democracy works from my perspective,” Burgoyne said. “I commend the governor for calling the special session and getting this important work done.”