No one has to lecture Congressman Raul Labrador about the hardships faced by single-parent families, because he lived through those times as a child raised by a single mom.
The last thing he wants is for an enforcement system for child support to be shut down, or for Idaho to be a haven for deadbeat parents.
So, while Labrador is no fan of the federal government imposing its will on states, he has less regard for deadbeat parents walking away from child-support payments.
Assumptions have been made about Labrador’s role in the recent controversy surrounding Idaho’s failure to comply with a federal mandate, and jeopardy placed on the state’s child-support program. It’s been speculated that he was siding with conservatives who killed the bill in the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee; that he was offering coaching to one of the conservative committee members, Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise; that he was working behind the scenes to put up more barriers to a positive resolution; and that he was trying to balance the federal budget on the backs of single parents and children who depend on support payments.
Luker said his contact with Labrador, a friend and former colleague in the Idaho House of Representatives, was not dramatic.
“That has been taken out of context,” Luker said. “After the committee vote, he heard about the news and called to ask me what was going on. I sent him an op-ed that I wrote and he told me I should shorten up on it and keep it simple. He did not provide editing, or guidance.”
Labrador did some behind-the-scenes work, but in a more positive direction. His office worked to bring a positive resolution to this mess. The congressman is not the hero in this story. He knew nothing about the committee vote as it was happening. He had nothing to do with the crafting of amendments, or negotiations on the legislation that will be presented to the Legislature in a special session on May 18. What he did, or rather what his staff did, was to work congressional networks and help pave the way for a peaceful resolution.
Labrador’s staff met with Luker and Rep. Tom Dayley, R-Boise, to discuss amendments they were drafting for the new bill. The staff member then took those amendments to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Congressional Research Service. In both cases, Labrador’s office was informed that the amendments likely would not jeopardize the enforcement program in Idaho, or child-support payments – giving the Idaho lawmakers a reasonable degree of confidence with their amendments.
Luker said the amendments addressed several of his concerns, including security of Idaho’s personal data and a clause stating that Idaho courts should not be forced to comply with international rules that are incompatible with Idaho code.
Political rumblings will continue long after the special session. Luker already has drawn opposition next year from perennial Democratic candidate Steve Berch, who received more than 48 percent of the vote in his 2014 challenge to Luker. Berch says the amendments are unnecessary and the special session is a $40,000 waste of taxpayer money.
“He had to come up with meaningless amendments to create the perception that something was being fixed,” Berch said. “I don’t think he’s fixing anything other than his reputation.”
Luker defends his vote in the judiciary committee and says he was doing due diligence as a legislator. The committee had “more questions than answers” before the legislative session adjourned, and much has been learned since. But Luker said he and others felt more time was needed.
“Nancy Pelosi might say, ‘read it and figure out what’s in it later,’” Luker said. “I don’t work that way.”
The need for the amendments is debatable. Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public Television, who has done excellent reporting on this issue, said most of the language in the new bill is identical to the one that the judiciary panel rejected. She reported that Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill told Idaho Reports that he didn’t think the amendments were necessary.
Labrador hasn’t offered opinions on the necessity of the amendments. But what’s more significant at this point is they probably will not do any harm – which was a key element that came from the congressman’s office.