Idaho is at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal child support funding after conservatives in the Legislature killed a measure that would have brought the state into compliance with federal rules.
The opponents were concerned that passing the legislation could have forced the state to uphold child support rulings made in other countries under Islamic law — a contention others said was baseless.
Health officials said Monday that without a revision 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.
The vote came after state Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, a Cottonwood Republican, testified that federal regulations incorporated an international agreement regarding child support payments that would subject the state to Sharia law.
None of the nearly 80 countries involved in the treaty — the Hague Convention on International Recovery of Child Support and Family Maintenance, which the U.S. entered in 2007 — is under Sharia law. But Nuxoll and other skeptics said some involved nations informally recognize Sharia courts. They added that Idaho wouldn't have the authority to challenge another nation's judgment.
The state's Attorney General's Office told the committee, however, that the bill allowed judges to reject cases that don't meet the state's standards.
Rep. Luke Malek, a Coeur d'Alene Republican, meanwhile, called the debate an example of "heavy-handed opportunistic theatrics at the expense of single-parents and children." He and others said the opponents don't represent Idaho's GOP caucus.
Still, in a vote that highlighted the conservative streak in Idaho's Republican-controlled Statehouse, where lawmakers frequently balk at federal mandates, the Rules Committee voted 9-8 to nix the compliance bill, and the legislative session adjourned hours later, throwing the funding and programs into question.
Since the issue affects the state budget, legislators 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."
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 find a solution 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 child support payments.
About 80 percent of payments are taken from paychecks, but noncompliance would prevent Idaho from making such collections.