For those who attended the special session of the Idaho legislature, this report will be a painful reminder of the proceedings. For others who are barely familiar with the event, it may serve as a point of information, lost in the near distant past and a precursor of the future if nothing is done to remedy the results.
Initially entitled HB 1067 when first voted on by the Idaho Senate with a unanimous approval, it then moved to the Idaho House committee where the bill was heard and many testified pro and con. It would be of interest to note that all those who testified against bill 1067 were individuals representing a cross section of the people who had become aware of the details in the bill. It is also worthy of note that all those who testified for the bill were employees of the State of Idaho.
On its face, these facts do not demonize the individuals as enemies of the State of Idaho for testifying against the bill nor can those employees of the State who testified for the bill be labeled as anti-people. What, can be deducted by this rare show of intensity on both sides which caused the committee to vote to not send the bill on to the floor for a vote by the full Idaho House of Representatives- effectively killing the bill? What motivated Governor Otter to call a special session of the legislature to hear the bill again after which it passed by a wide margin?
This report does not analyze the details of the legislation but it instead acts as a tool to measure the fairness of the proceedings held at the behest of the governor.
The key argument for passage of the bill before the House Committee was the insistence by the state director in charge of the child support division that the bill had to be accepted as written (and as presented) with no changes or the State of Idaho would fail to qualify for the federal funds; in this case amounting to 46 million dollars. A second key argument presented by supporters of the bill was outlined in a document formulated by the Hague Conference and approved by Congress. The stipulation by the U.S. Congress was the bill was subject to ratification by all fifty states. Supporters were convinced that some state court jurisdiction must be sacrificed to the International Court to make it possible to collect child support payments from wayward parents who may have taken up residency in foreign countries.
The key argument against passage of the bill was a perceived threat that Idaho would surrender significant sovereignty by accepting the jurisdiction of international courts superseding the jurisdiction of state courts. It was also a significant factor that if this bill was not approved, it would pronounce a death sentence on the entire treaty.
The house committee was more convinced by the arguments against the bill than those in favor of the bill, some even displaying resentment that the federal government would hold hostage the funding for child support unless the bill were passed.
The non-passage of this bill sent two unmistakable messages to the governor, each with a built in dilemma:
- Failure to pass this bill sent a message to the U.S. Congress that Idaho had failed to ratify the treaty of The Hague which effectively killed the treaty for all of the states.
- By reading the bill and studying its content, the house committee evoked the principal that state sovereignty was more important than federal subsidies.
The Idaho State Senate, on the other hand; by virtue of its unanimous vote earlier, signaled that it had voted on the bill without due diligence or that any opposition to the bill was trumped by the need to obtain and receive federal subsidies.
This presented the governor with an unmistakable dilemma; either he must face the ire of the establishment political structure for allowing his State to disqualify a treaty passed by the U.S. Congress or he must bring its errant legislators into compliance with the will of the majority. The political pressure would be enormous on the face of this embarrassment, that the governor had not sufficient influence to overcome the opposition to the bill. It is entirely likely that he failed to anticipate opposition in the house based on the unanimous support of the senate.
The second part of his dilemma was the purported loss of federal subsidies to support the State child support system and food stamp subsidies as well. To take another stance would require him to challenge the federal government in court for threatening to withhold fed subsidies by exercising bureaucratic overreach. To be fair, that would require walking down a road of messy legal process and unwanted fanfare. To be true, that challenge must be taken up by the governor and the legislature if the march to dependency is ever ended. Apparently the governor was not up to the challenge or the consequences of either choice.
The Extraordinary Session (special session)
Governor Otter is known to be an astute politician. It would be foolish to call a special session of the legislature if there were any chance that the vote thereof would end with the same results as the regular session. It was time for phone calls and special meetings. It was time to exercise that political prowess for which he is famous: twist the arms, cajole and argue, promise rewards for compliance, threaten retaliation for non-conformity and all the other weapons of a bully-politician. Having obtained the promised votes from his not- so-faithful followers, he was ready to make the public announcement of his public will.
It may require a specialist in political science to point out what happened in the process of the special session. This report is to give you those perspectives and allow everyone to form his or her own judgement as to their accuracy.
The Semblance of Fairness
Those who attended the special session witnessed one of the most cleverly manipulated political processes in the history of legislative strategy. The director of Idaho Health and Welfare was enlisted to present a power point presentation on the virtues of the bill.
The power point presentation was well done and consumed about 25 minutes. A question and answer period followed which appeared fair and balanced with equal questions from those in support and from those in opposition. What was absent at the session was a power point presentation giving the opposite point of view.
We are left to surmise that either the governor or the chairman of the hearing had invited the director of H&W to give the presentation and had given him two weeks to prepare his mandate to enhance support for the bill rejected earlier.
The chairman of the hearing insisted that it would be a fair hearing with equal time given to proponents of each side. Such was not the case.
If the hearing were to be balanced ensuring a fair outcome for all, either the governor or the chairman would have invited someone or some group to give a power point presentation outlining the dangers or disadvantages of the bill in question. Such was not the case.
This was a special session organized and manipulated to have only one outcome. Those testifying for and against were each given three minutes to make their point. To overcome the advantage of a 25 minute power point presentation which portrayed the suffering of children and single parents trying to survive without the powerful mechanism of state was well orchestrated. Individuals giving 3 minute fractionated testimony would have little effect on the overall psyche of the legislators, especially given the behind-the-scenes efforts of very powerful people.
What is painfully evident to this reporter who attended the session, and who testified as well, is the missed opportunity I and others had to point out the unfairness of the session.
The question that should have been posed to the chairman of the hearing-but was not- should have gone something like this: “Madam Chairman, we have witnessed a very well-done power point presentation by the director of H&W addressing the virtues of this bill. What time is the power point presentation by the opposition for an equal duration of 25 minutes?”
The answer to this provocative question would have revealed at least two possible responses, both important and revealing.
- There was no clear mandate required of the legislature to provide opposition to the bill when the State had an interest in the passage of the bill.
- No one from the opposition requested to give a power point presentation against the bill or that opportunity may have been provided.
One can only speculate as to which answer would have been proffered by the chairman but any answer could have been analyzed in the light of what was manifested in the hearing. The governor could not afford to have the same results as the earlier rejection of the bill and had enlisted all the important players to ensure the outcome.
This flew in the face of the claim of the testimony of the director of child support who gave the legislature no options; either accept the language as presented or lose federal funding.
Anyone examining the final bill could detect the parts altered to address the concerns of those who had testified against the bill. So yes, the bill was altered. Was it altered in such a way that the governor could claim that the alterations were self-canceling and therefore had the same intent as the original bill and therefore really did not amount to alteration?
Anything and everything necessary to preserve the federal subsidies was done. Is anyone concerned that we in Idaho are marching in lock step with those who would lead us back down the road to dependency from which we fought a revolution to end?
The Semblance of Truth
This reporter visited the office of Legislative Services in the capitol building a week before the special session started. I obtained my own personal copy of the amended bill from the director of that department. In discussing the bill and the need for the governor to call a special session of the legislature, the director provided me with some important information. I was told by the director that his office had called Washington, D.C. to ask why the federal government was threatening to withhold money for the purpose of aiding the State of Idaho if the bill was not passed. He revealed to me that he was informed by the office in D.C. that they never threatened to withhold anything from the State. Their only concern was to make sure their computers were put into synch with those of the State of Idaho.
With that piece of key information, one could safely conclude that the director of Child Support Services was either grossly misinformed or that someone had purposely lied about the necessity to pass this bill.
This placed the legislature in the unenviable position of acting on a bill in special session that was necessitated by misinformation, or worse- an outright lie. Either the governor and/or the chairman of the session were informed about the information from D.C. or they were not informed. If they were informed of the matter, it can easily be concluded that the special session was fraudulently called and fraudulently conducted. If they were not informed of this key piece of information, the special session was called because the agencies in the Statehouse cannot communicate openly or they may fear to so do.
In either case, it is the opinion of this reporter that a semblance of fairness does not translate to fairness and the semblance of truth does not constitute the truth.