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2005 Testimony

Testimony Before The House Human Services Committee

Clara Sue Price, Chairman

HB 1162: Restitution for nonpayment of child support

January 11, 2005

Chairman Price, members of the House Human Services Committee, I am James Fleming, Deputy Director and General Counsel of the State Child Support Enforcement Division of the Department of Human Services. I am here to ask for your favorable consideration of House Bill 1162.

We are succeeding in our effort to program our computer system within our appropriation for the 2005-07 biennium to implement the license suspension law that was enacted last legislative session. The pilot project and other initial efforts we have made in the last biennium have proven that license suspension is a meaningful incentive for many obligors to regularly pay their current child support obligation and work towards payment of the outstanding arrearage. Due to the possibility of license suspension (or at times, the actual suspension), more obligors are making payments and their arrears balances are being paid off at a faster rate. When the programming project is complete, we will be able to implement license suspension on a broader scale and further improve collections.

Our efforts in the last two years have also taught us some lessons in how to improve the law and make it more effective.

Section One

Hunting, driving, or engaging in certain occupations without a current license is a crime. When a license has been suspended or withheld because the obligor has failed to pay child support, the family is the victim of this crime. When a child support obligor is convicted of engaging in activity that is prohibited without a license, we suggest it is appropriate to compensate the family as the victim of the crime with restitution of 250 dollars or a higher amount set by the court. This is not a “new” debt owed by the obligor; the amount paid will be credited to the obligor's existing arrears balance.

Section Two

One of the goals of license suspension has been to increase the monthly payments on arrears beyond what is received through income withholding. Generally, income withholding is issued for the current monthly child support obligation plus an additional twenty percent to reduce the outstanding arrearage. However, in most payment plans, the obligor has agreed to make a larger payment each month on arrears. It is simplest for both the obligor and the employer to change the income withholding order to withhold this additional amount. Otherwise, the obligor needs to supplement the employer's payment with his or her own payment or send a separate withholding authorization to the employer. Section two of the bill would allow obligors to choose to increase the amount due under an income withholding order to include the additional arrears payment that is due under a payment plan. This will help obligors comply with their payment plans and reduce the paperwork burden on employers by avoiding the additional withholding authorization.

Section Three

This section of the bill makes a number of improvements to the current administrative license suspension law.

  • We will be able to suspend all recreational licenses, and not just those issued by lottery or tag. This will not stop obligors from illegally obtaining a paper license, but as licenses become more available over the Internet, this will allow us to work with the Game and Fish Department and other licensing authorities to withhold those licenses as well.
  • The amount of arrears that must be owed before we can pursue administrative license suspension would be reduced from three months or $5,000, whichever is less, to two months or $2,000. This is actually in the obligor's long-term interests, as we can see that once an obligor gets more than $2,500 behind, it gets progressively harder for the obligor to pay the arrearage and the accrued interest or to afford a payment plan.
  • A suspension would take effect immediately upon notice to the obligor if a prior payment plan is violated.
  • In a protest hearing, a court would be asked to review our action rather than order the suspension itself. This is significant because for older cases in which the statute of limitations has run, a court cannot order the suspension if the obligor raises the issue at the hearing. In a similar context, the North Dakota Supreme Court held that our program could continue intercepting an income tax refund that was payable to the obligor because it was an administrative enforcement action rather than a judicial action that was barred by the statute of limitations.

This concludes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions the committee may have.

 

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