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Program may be good, but let the states choose.

Nineteen states say it's working, but state legislators are telling Congress to back off - they will decide for themselves if a program that pressures deadbeat parents to pay child support is right for their states.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told Congress in March that the federal government could increase child support payments and cut welfare spending by following the states' lead of revoking the drivers' licenses of deadbeat parents. It's an idea Congress is seriously considering.

That spurred state Representative Norma Anderson to remind Colorado congressmen that "they had just passed a bill saying there would be no more federal mandates. Then, on this issue, they want to pass another mandate. Isn't there a dichotomy there?"

She also cited the potential cost to states of implementing another federal program as well as stressing that such programs should be state, not national, decisions. "I still don't think Congress knows best about what works in individual states," she says.

In this case, Anderson says, "There are some states that prefer to let individuals continue to drive to work so that their wages can be garnished for child support payments."

Alabama Representative Michael Box says his state revokes licenses for drug convictions, but prefers "other means for enforcing child support payments." He also points out that Illinois laws that revoke drivers' licenses for offenses unrelated to driving have been struck down by the courts.

When adopted by individual states, however, the driver's license revocation does seem to work. Child support payments increased by $35 million in the nine states that kept data on such programs, HHS reported.

Maine was one of the most recent states to adopt a law to revoke professional as well as drivers' licenses. The state has collected $24 million since August 1993 that is directly attributable to the program, according to Gerald Lindsay, assistant director of the Division of Support Enforcement and Recovery in the state human services department.

Lindsay said the division tracked about 21,000 people subject to the license revocation law and tallied the support they finally paid under threat of losing their licenses.

And the threat - an option that would be unavailable to states under the blanket of a federal law - seemed to be sufficient. As of March, he added, only 41 licenses had to be revoked: 39 drivers', one master electrician's and one motor vehicle inspection license. He said 20 people responded by paying their child support and getting their licenses back.

But that's not all. The state also wants to make public the names of deadbeats by publishing them along with the amount they owe in local newspapers. Lindsay said that letters were sent to people who owed child support and whose names would be published. By April, he said about half of them had responded. The division is still in the process of refining a list that will go to local newspapers, he said.
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Title Annotation:revoking the driver's license of deadbeat parents
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jun 1, 1995
Previous Article:No, no, two hundred times no.
Next Article:When fairness produces paralysis.

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