BOISE • A law that would codify parental rights in Idaho is going to be held until Friday so senators can make some changes.
State Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he backs its intent, but wants to take a few days to address the concerns about the current version.
“I really wrestled with this, because my mind takes me one way and my heart takes me another,” he said.
The legislation, which is being sponsored by Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, says parents have a “fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, education and control of their children.” It passed the House 37-31 late last month, with the Democrats and many Republicans — including a majority of the Magic Valley delegation — dissenting.
Some of the bill’s dissenters have said its wording is too vague and that it could conflict with other state laws requiring education and regulating guardianships.
Monday morning’s hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee resembled a smaller version of the House committee hearing, with several of the same people testifying in favor of and against the bill.
Linda Martin, who was raised in the Followers of Christ church, said there are no examples of parental rights being attacked in Idaho. But there are more than 200 examples — the graves of children in the Peaceful Valley Cemetery in Canyon County, many of whom died of treatable medical conditions — of what can happen when parents’ rights are given too much weight.
“It’s not a failure of faith that these children are dead,” said Ben Wilson, of Boise, a member of the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho. “It’s a failure of the state to promote their well-being and rights.”
Martin said the law could be read as saying parents don’t have to educate their children. Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, also worried it could conflict with existing constitutional requirements for the state to provide an education.
Parents who belong to faith-healing churches, such as the Followers of Christ, already have a broad exemption from criminal charges in Idaho if a child is injured or dies from a treatable illness. Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, has pushed legislation to narrow the exemption, but it didn’t go anywhere in either of the last two years.
Supporters of Trujillo’s bill said that, by codifying parental rights as “fundamental,” it would recognize what courts in Idaho have largely held already and not override existing laws on education or child abuse.
“It simply affirms and acknowledges our fundamental rights to make our decisions on how we’re going to raise, care for, and educate our children,” said Emily Murdock, of Blackfoot.
It would, said lawyer and head of the Idaho Coalition of Home Educators Barry Peters, require courts to apply a two-pronged test of whether there is a compelling state interest and whether the state is addressing its interest in the least intrusive manner, in cases where the rights of parents and government interests clash.