ANNAPOLIS – From the poorest to the richest, parents who fail to pay child support are the target of a host of bills in the Maryland General Assembly this year.
To proponents, the measures are a critical aspect of welfare reform.
“The government shouldn’t be raising families, parents should be raising families,” Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Tuesday.
Ruben and other critics of the current system feel that the state should press parents to uphold their responsibilities, rather than ask taxpayers to pay for children’s needs through welfare.
One measure before the committee would suspend a parent’s driver’s license for falling behind in payments when the child is on welfare. The parent would still be allowed to drive to work or to medical facilities.
Another bill would revoke the professional license of any parent at least three months behind in child support payments, including plumbers, real estate brokers, accountants, physicians and lawyers.
“This bill would put real teeth into our laws,” said Sen. John A. Pica, D-Baltimore, its sponsor. “No incentive is better than taking away one’s livelihood to make them pay child support.”
The committee’s chairman, however, was less than enthusiastic.
“Those bills were a bunch of garbage. They put a band-aid on a bleeding artery,” Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, said in an interview after the hearing.
“The judge can already put these people in jail. What good is passing another law?” Baker asked.
In Baker’s view, the problem is two-fold: Judges are too lax and there is not enough personnel to handle the child support case load.
In fiscal year 1994, the Maryland Department of Human Resources handled 342,500 cases and collected $248 million in court-ordered child support payments — only about one third of the amount owed, said Helen Szablya, a department spokeswoman.
Baker said more money for enforcement “would be more effective than a dozen of these bills.” -30-