Stepping up their efforts to collect overdue child support, Maryland officials said yesterday that they will begin suspending the driving privileges of delinquent parents later this year.
Under a law that takes effect Oct. 1, state Motor Vehicle TC Administration officials will be able to suspend the licenses of drivers who are 60 days or more behind in their court-ordered child support payments.
The state doesn't want those suspensions to cost people their jobs, so affected drivers may obtain a restricted license that allows them to drive to and from work only.
The goal is to "try to help force parents to become responsible for their responsibilities," said Maryland Secretary of Human Resources Alvin C. Collins. "The last thing we want to do is to suspend drivers' licenses."
Mr. Collins, Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead and three legislators publicized the new law at a news conference at the MVA office in Glen Burnie yesterday.
They said they hope the warning will spur so-called deadbeat parents to begin making arrangements now to pay their debts.
As budgets shrink and voters demand welfare reform, many states are looking for creative ways to force parents to pay up. Parents who refuse to pay child support end up costing taxpayers money if their children go on welfare, officials say.
Maryland is one of 31 states that have linked child support payments to some type of permit, such as driver's, professional, business, fishing and even (in Maine) worm digging licenses.
The Maine license law, which applies to drivers as well, prompted 15,000 delinquent parents to pay $41 million between August 1993 and February 1996, said Del. Mark K. Shriver, the Montgomery County Democrat who introduced the Maryland legislation.
In Maryland, child support enforcement officials also have some more traditional tools in their arsenal. They can withhold money from paychecks and intercept income tax refunds and lottery winnings.
About 369,000 Marylanders are behind in their child support payments. About half of them are at least 60 days late.
Possible $25 million
State officials estimated they could collect $25 million in overdue child support during the next year as a result of the new law. About $6 million to $7 million would be returned to the state to reimburse it for welfare payments to some families.
The state Child Support Enforcement Administration will first notify delinquent parents that their regular or commercial driver's licenses could be suspended. The drivers will then have 20 days to contact their local child support agency to make payment arrangements or contest the information. Both actions will prevent a suspension.
To obtain a work-restricted license, a parent will have to provide the name of his or her employer. With that information, the state can begin the process of garnishing his or her wages if the parent still refuses to make payments.
The new law drew mixed responses from people visiting the MVA yesterday.
George Zielezinski, 40, of Baltimore County, supported license suspension. "It's better than throwing them in jail, where the state pays their room and board," said the divorced father of a 10-year-old. "It's their kid and they should pay for them. I pay mine every month."
Another man, however, said the state's efforts would be better spent improving service at child support agencies. The 40-year-old Severna Park resident, who declined to give his name, said he sometimes falls behind in his child support and has a hard time reaching agency officials by telephone.
"The threat of going to jail worries me more than losing my driver's license," he said.
One mother who is owed child support said the law will help force some parents to pay. "But what about the ones who don't have a driver's license?" asked Rebecca Arenz, 22, of Glen Burnie, who was contacted by phone. "I'm not sure my daughter's father even has one."
Pub Date: 5/01/96