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Shock and incentive

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

A recent e-mailed press release from an Idaho state agency took my breath away with shock when I read it. It still stuns me – and, too, other people I’ve discussed it with, who have a history of working in state agencies and writing press releases.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare press release of April 10 (a copy is posted at www.ridenbaugh.com/dhw150410.html) belongs in some kind of hall of fame for useful press releases, with citation for bravery. It does something I’ve never seen a state agency (as opposed to some elected officials) do before: It explicitly calls out the state legislature for doing harm to people in Idaho.

State agencies hardly ever take on state legislators, especially in public, even in cautious weasel words. It’s dangerous: Legislators have endless ways to take revenge.

And in this release, DHW Director Richard Armstrong could not have been plainer or blunter, with his quote saying “this vote will make it nearly impossible for us to enforce child support like we should, so Idaho’s children are taken care of. The bottom line is that Idaho families may not receive their support money because we will not have the tools we need to make sure those payments are made.”

The reference, of course, was to the House Judiciary Committee vote rejecting a bill to let the state cooperate with national and international entities in collecting child support payments. The winner of that vote was the deadbeat, non-paying parents, and the losers children now at risk of going hungry.

The release went out in the few hours between the committee vote and the legislature’s middle-of-the-night adjournment, and it seemed aimed at convincing legislators to revive the bill (its last line was the unusual exhortation, “All families who rely on child support payments are encouraged to contact their legislators”). The bill died anyway. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter was left to consider whether to call a special session.

Did Otter know in advance about the release? He seems to have been in support of the bill, and has indicated something needs to be done in light of its rejection, but his response so far is vague and unclear. (That could change.)

I have a specific reason for focusing here on the press release, one worth considering by anyone unsure whether the key issue is hungry children or a loss of “Idaho sovereignty” to the federal government or Sharia law.

The bill was passed unanimously in the Idaho Senate after discussion of what it did. It failed in House Judiciary after warnings surfaced about governmental roles and subjugation came up – just the sort of thing smeared around in campaign season, or even year-round. It’s not hard to image a legislator gulping; in the face of it, the “safe” vote in today’s environment might have been one against the bill.

The press release from Health and Welfare, however, was highly impolitic in the sense that it’s just the kind of thing that can cost people their jobs – people like Armstrong, for one, for making look foolish elected officials who hold the purse strings of their agencies. (Agency executives do in fact lose their jobs under such conditions.) The people at DHW have no personal incentive at all for doing what they did other than in mounting a last-ditch attempt to protect the lives of Idaho children.

Who would you believe?

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