Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Plan Targets Deadbeat Parents $5,000 Owed over Year Could Bring Felony Count

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Plan Targets Deadbeat Parents $5,000 Owed over Year Could Bring Felony Count

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Saunders, Times-Union staff writer

TALLAHASSEE -- To Sen. Jim Horne, the phone calls are wrenching.

Women, often desperate for money, call Horne's office and seek help in collecting child support from deadbeat dads.

"The people I'm talking to are not doctors' wives," said Horne, an Orange Park Republican. "They are people experiencing the worst life can give them."

Those calls helped spur Horne to push a bill through the Senate yesterday that would crack down on Florida's most-egregious child support cases. Under the bill, deadbeat parents could face felony charges if they owe $5,000 or more in child support for longer than a year or if they have already been convicted of four misdemeanor charges.

The bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate, also passed a House committee yesterday, moving it a step closer to going for a vote before the full House.

Horne said he hopes the threat of third-degree felony charges, which can carry sentences of up to five years in prison, will cause parents to pay the money they owe. The state Department of Revenue estimates that at least 13,000 people could be prosecuted if the law were now in effect.

"I'm not trying to be draconian," Horne said. "I don't revel in the idea of locking a lot of people up."

But some critics yesterday said the state already can force deadbeat parents to pay child support and questioned the idea of putting them in prison. Rep. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, said parents won't be able to pay support if they are locked up.

"Why should a kid see their dad or mom in jail for a felony, and when they get out, they can't get a job?" Siplin asked during a meeting of the House Fiscal Policy and Resources Committee, which voted 9-3 to approve the bill.

The plan would target people who have the financial wherewithal to pay child support but have repeatedly avoided it. For example, only people who have been cited in earlier civil contempt proceedings could be charged with the felonies.

The state already can file misdemeanor charges in some cases of child support evasion, though current legal restrictions make such charges rare. …

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