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Legislators pass bill that had been nixed over Islamic law

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Legislature approved federally mandated child support rules Monday, undoing a rejection that had jeopardized U.S. involvement in an international treaty and threatened to collapse the state’s payment system.

The bill now goes to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who has said he will sign it into law.

Idaho’s rejection last month — by one vote on the last day of the legislative session over fears it could subject the U.S. courts to rulings made elsewhere under Islamic law — threatened an international effort intended to make it easier for parents to receive funds. There are about 150,000 active international cases involving about $600 million annually.

The refusal also would have cut the state’s access to $46 million in federal funds and payment-processing systems that include payroll deductions, both of which were tied to the legislation.

The Republican governor called a special session to address the issue and drafted a compromise measure nearly two weeks before lawmakers were due back in Boise.

Dozens of nations have ratified the treaty since negotiations concluded in 2007. In the U.S., that process involves state-by-state approval, and 28 have passed their compliance legislation, so far. Several others have advanced proposals to the governor.

Experts had declined to speculate on whether the U.S. could have found an alternate way to approve the deal if Idaho had refused to reconsider.

Critics focused Monday on the federal funding connected to the bill. Katherine Frazier told lawmakers such a setup amounts to bribery and cited the Bible in her opposition, saying “fire shall devour the houses of bribes.”

Bob Neugebauer said the bill “is not about child support. It’s about extortion by our federal government.”

Health and Human Services officials have said federal child-support funding has always been linked to mandated legislation. They also have said concerns over Shariah law were baseless because language in the treaty allows states to reject rulings that don’t uphold American-style standards of legal fairness.

The amended legislation doesn’t change the wording surrounding the child support compliance section. Instead, it adds a new section that says the state can’t enforce any orders incompatible with Idaho law.

Four out of the nine lawmakers who originally opposed the bill changed their vote once the amendments had been added. The remaining five remained firm in their disapproval.

Rep. Kathleen Sims, a Coeur d’Alene Republican, said the bill would allow foreign tribunals and quasi-courts to trump U.S. law and that she was proud to be one of the nine lawmakers who originally voted the legislation down.

Supporters said that if Idaho hadn’t reversed the rejection last month, it would have left families across the nation with a burdensome system that makes it difficult — sometimes impossible — for parents to collect money owed to them.

“I pray that they’re right. I hope history proves they’re right because once you do this, you can’t undo this,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, who voted against the legislation.

Back in April, opponents –both legislators and the public– raised concerns that the bill would allow Shariah courts to trump U.S. laws. But on Monday, the same passion for the bill’s failure remained but focused mainly on the federal government’s overreach.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Grant Burgoyne said the lack of anti-Islam rhetoric during testimony and from lawmakers showed that it wasn’t a real threat to Idaho or to the bill.

“It’s extremely important that regular Idahoans stay connected with their government,” he said. “When they don’t, people who fill the vacuum can be extreme.”

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