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UPDATE: Lawmakers vote to hold marriage license bill in committee

Posted at 9:42 PM, Feb 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-26 01:10:16-05

BOISE, Idaho — UPDATE:
On Tuesday the House Judiciary Committee voted 11-6 to hold House Bill 434, which would eliminate marriage licenses, in committee.
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ORIGINAL STORY:
It's a bill that, at first, may seem inconsequential, but as 6 On Your Side's Madeline White has now exclusively learned, it's one that advocates are saying will lead to devastating consequences for the fight against domestic violence in the Gem State.

A bill to eliminate marriage licenses in the state of Idaho has, in many ways, flown under the radar; only one person testified at its public hearing on Friday. But domestic violence stakeholders say there's a consequence to this bill that could mean a total loss of resources for victims in rural areas.

"It would be a very harmful cut," said Annie Hightower, Director of Law and Policy for the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

It's a cut that Republican Representative Christy Zito feels is worth considering. It started on Friday at the hearing for House Bill 434 with Rep. Zito defining the term license.

"A license is to beg permission to do something, and so I'm thinking in the state of Idaho -- maybe we're a little bit past that -- and we don't need to beg permission to do anything anymore," Zito.

She wants to eliminate the need for a couple to get a marriage license.

"The point here, is that our bill would take the state of Idaho out of the marriage license business and it would turn it over to the counties," said Zito.

Under her proposal, a marriage certificate would instead serve as legal proof of marriage. But here's the catch: "The removal of marriage license fees from this dedicated fund severely impacts the council’s ability to meet its mission," said Nicole Fitzgerald, executive director of the Idaho Council on Domestic Violence and Victim Assistance (ICDVVA), in a letter she shared with the House Judiciary committee and also exclusively with 6 On Your Side.

ICDVVA runs almost entirely off the collection of $15 fees you pay for your marriage license. 

"Right now, Idaho is one of the few states that does not have any designated state funding that goes to domestic violence programming," said Hightower.

The council is a response to that, overseeing programs like the Women's and Children's Alliance, for example, across the state. The council pools the fees and redistributes money on a regional basis to domestic violence programs.

"And those services are currently being provided in every area of the state," said Hightower.

But if Zito's bill is passed, that estimated $205,000 would go to county officials instead.

"I think that those monies need to stay as close to the people they serve as absolutely possible," said Zito.

"And the county recorders are then responsible for giving it to a domestic violence project. What that means is undefined in the statute so we don't know really where that funding will go. The other challenge is not every county has a domestic violence program in it," said Hightower.

Domestic violence advocates say more rural areas would get a much smaller pool of funds. For example, as Hightower descibes, "Right now, Elmore County has access to a bigger pool of potential funds because it resides in the same region as Ada County."

Ada County, based on population, has significantly more marriage licenses than in Elmore County. Therefore:

"If this law were to go into effect, where the funds were only available county by county, it would reduce the pool of funds available to Elmore County significantly," said Hightower.

The child marriage bill aims to amend the same section of Idaho code as this bill does, so if this bill passes, it’s unclear how the child marriage bill could be enforced -- considering it hinges on one’s ability to get a license. 6 On Your Side will continue investigating and will keep you updated.