Rep. urges veto of bill to jail `Deadbeat Parents'
July 6, 2004
Representative Shirley D. Bowler
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A state lawmaker has joined groups representing noncustodial parents in asking Gov. Kathleen Blanco to veto legislation making it a crime for a parent to intentionally withhold child support payments.
Rep. Shirley Bowler, R-Harahan, said the bill — called the "Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act of Louisiana" — wouldn't help in the collection of overdue child support payments. Instead, she said putting a parent in jail could force the loss of a job and make it harder for that parent to get employment when released.
"No child's better off with a parent with a criminal record," Bowler said Tuesday at a news conference.
Currently, not paying child support is a civil crime, and supporters of the measure by Sen. Robert Kostelka, a Republican former judge from Monroe, said collection is slow and that many manage to avoid payment.
Supporters of the legislation said making intentional nonpayment a crime will get the state's district attorneys more involved. More than $800 million in child support is owed in Louisiana.
Kostelka's bill would apply to parents who haven't paid child support for more than a year or who owe more than $5,000. A first offense would carry a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $500 fine. If a person was convicted of the crime again, it would carry a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $2,500 fine. And the person convicted would have to pay all the unpaid child support.
Opponents of the bill, which overwhelmingly passed both the House and Senate, said it has no provision for special circumstances, like people who are disabled or people who have lost their jobs and are unable to pay.
They said it creates a "debtor's prison for a civil crime" and could be challenged on constitutional grounds if the governor signs it.
Bowler, who said she traditionally sides with custodial parents on child support issues, said the measure also could cost the state millions of dollars if the nearly 57,000 people who fit the criteria in the bill were imprisoned.
"All this law does is make a bad situation worse," she said.
Robin Shreve, who showed up at the news conference to support the bill, said her ex-husband owes her $4,500 in child support and started paying because he doesn't want to go to jail.
Louisiana already can suspend professional and recreational licenses and garnish wages to collect overdue child support, said Jim Mitchell, with Louisiana Children and Families, a group that deals with the rights of parents who don't have custody of their children and are required to pay child support.
Louisiana House of Representatives Personal Pages
The bill is filed as Senate Bill 633 and can be found at www.legis.state.la.us