Child support measures advance

House and Senate defy the governor over privatization

March 09, 2002|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Defying Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the House of Delegates and Senate passed differing versions of legislation yesterday that would continue the use of a private company to run Baltimore's child support enforcement program.

Both chambers passed the measures by large margins, indicating the governor would have a hard time staving off a veto override.

The measures passed after intensive lobbying by Maximus Inc., the Reston, Va.-based company that has run the child support programs in Baltimore and Queen Anne's County since 1999.

The House voted 85-43 to pass its bill after a sharp debate. The Senate voted 34-8 to pass a welfare reform bill to which it attached the child support measure.

Glendening came out against extending privatization last month, saying public employees had shown they could do the job better. Press secretary Michelle Byrnie, noting that the House and Senate must reconcile differing bills, said "the governor will use the full resources of his office" to get a bill he can accept.

It takes 29 Senate votes and 85 House votes to override a veto.

Del. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat who decided to oppose the bill after being kept waiting an hour during an anonymous visit to the company's Howard Street office, said custodial mothers who hadn't been getting their checks called in the dozens after publicity about her visit.

"Ask yourself who really wants this bill," she said. "Nobody wants this bill except some very well-positioned people in Annapolis."

Del. Talmadge Branch, sponsor of the bill, replied that he and his 45th District colleagues have received few complaints since Maximus took over the contract.

"Ask us if you want to know how it's working," said the Baltimore Democrat, noting that his district has one of the highest concentrations of single mothers in the state.

The Senate measure extends the sunset of privatization in Baltimore and Queen Anne's for three years, effectively continuing a pilot project in which the private company competes against four publicly run "demonstration site" counties. The demonstration sites used innovative management techniques and economic incentives to bolster state employee performance.

The House bill goes much further, giving the successful bidder on the three-year pact the possibility of two one-year extensions. It abandons the idea of a pilot program, making privatization permanent in the city and Queen Anne's.

A Johns Hopkins-Towson University study had found that the demonstration site counties far outperformed Maximus, but House proponents of the bill rejected its conclusions - at least as far as Baltimore is concerned.

While scorning the report's conclusions about Baltimore and Queen Anne's, the bill's House managers adopted its logic for the rest of the state. Another provision of the bill phases in the demonstration site model in the other 22 Maryland counties.

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