ANNAPOLIS – Legislators proposed more than a dozen bills this session to enforce child support laws in the state, but only one would give parents the boot.
Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, introduced a bill this week to put an immobilizing clamp, called a boot, on the cars of child support violators who haven’t paid up in more than two months. It would take a minimum of $500, or 5 percent of the amount owed, plus the cost of booting, to get the clamps removed.
Right now, the bill would only affect Anne Arundel and Baltimore county residents, where child support agencies have agreed to enforce the legislation if it passes.
“They pay up, it comes off,” said Ilene Heaney, spokeswoman for Bromwell.
Heaney says the bill didn’t pass last year because “a lot of sheriff’s departments didn’t want to put in the money or the man power to enforce it.”
Despite last year’s problems, Bromwell touts the program as the perfect way to get deadbeat parents to pay up: “These people are in violation of a court order and their responsibility to their children,” Bromwell said. “Any and every measure must be taken to make them live up to their responsibility.”
Bromwell said he hopes the program eventually will become statewide, targeting more than 180,000 Marylanders who owe more than $1.3 billion.
The program might help, said Michael Helms, director of the Baltimore County Child Support Enforcement Program, but he said he’s not in dire need of another tool to get child support money.
Both Anne Arundel and Baltimore County collect more than 60 percent of child support money due, and Helms said punishments like income withholding, driver’s license suspension, and credit bureau reporting are working fine.
“It may be successful in those instances where all else failed,” Helms said.
But some organizations say increasing enforcement won’t help at all.
“It might make politicians feel good but it won’t work. You’ll have a few high-profile cases but by and large nothing will change,” said Lowell Jaks, director of the Alliance for Non-Custodial Parents Rights, a national web-based nonprofit with about 150 members in Maryland. “The overwhelming reason one doesn’t pay it is because he or she is unable to pay.”
Yet, legislators on the federal as well as the state level, who continue to introduce these bills year after year, obviously feel differently. Bromwell’s program, for example, mimics one in Virginia, which not only booted cars, but color-coded them blue for parents who didn’t pay for their son and pink ones for daughters.
Although Maryland’s bills aren’t as shame-inducing as Virginia’s, the chase for deadbeat parents has definitely caught on.
Delegate Paul Carlson, D-Montgomery, for instance, proposed a bill to allow children to receive child support throughout their high school education – even if they are over the age of 18.
“We’re talking about getting a child through high school, not college,” Carlson said after saying he doesn’t understand why the bill has yet to pass.
Delegate Sharon M. Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, introduced a bill to make it a misdemeanor for individuals to fail to pay child support under court orders.
If child support bills were passed this session, violators wouldn’t be able to boat, fish or recreate in any way that requires a license. Three-year violators wouldn’t be able to inherit money. Low-income violators wouldn’t receive money from the state. And every violator would be listed on a registry.
Still, Jaks said these bills don’t get to the root of the problem.
“The whole concept of child support is wrong. Fathers are turned into a paycheck,” Jaks said. “Children need parental involvement. Ask children what they want and money isn’t even on the list. What they need is time.”