Bill aims to bolster state child support collections

Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 24, 2005 at 10:45 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - With nearly 800,000 children in the state lacking a legally designated father, Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature hope to coerce men to accept responsibility earlier and make it easier for mothers to obtain child support.
Among the items lawmakers will consider this year: Free DNA paternity tests for mothers seeking to prove responsibility, financial incentives for hospitals that obtain signatures from fathers acknowledging their responsibilities and a quicker path to using the court system to get unpaid support.
"It shouldn't be that hard to get help for your children," said Bush, who announced the proposed changes Monday.
Bush and the sponsor of a House bill that would enact the changes, Bradenton Republican Rep. Bill Galvano, said the measures aren't extending government's reach.
"We are not creating new obligations," Galvano said. "We are ensuring the obligations that currently exist will be met."
The state has dramatically increased the amount collected in child support from $582 million in 1998-99 to nearly $1.1 billion last year. That moves the state from 48th nationally to 28th among the states in collecting support in the most recent federal survey.
Galvano, a family law attorney, said the bill will also make it easier to obtain support by lowering the threshold for pursuing criminal charges for nonpayment. The bill would upgrade computers to track payments and would relieve strict paperwork requirements to pursue nonpayment.
And the bill would eliminate the $25 fee to obtain the help of the Department of Revenue in garnishing pay, federal tax returns and other sources to obtain nonpayment.
"A lot of this (bill) is just to get the red tape out," he said.
There is already bipartisan support for the bill. Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, will sponsor the measure in the Senate.
Bush said hospitals and birthing centers would receive money from the state in exchange for having both parents acknowledge their responsibilities to newborn babies. Department of Revenue executive director Jim Zingale said that of the nearly 86,000 out-of-wedlock births in the state last year, just a little over half resulted with birth certificates signed by both parents.
Bush said he was spurred to change the system, in part, by an e-mail from Tina Callaway. The Jacksonville mother appeared at a Tallahassee news conference with Bush and Galvano. Her pursuit of nonsupport eventually netted nearly $50,000.
She said that like many mothers, she was reluctant to pursue any support since she felt independent enough to survive without it. "I finally realized it wasn't for me, it was for my child," she said.

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