Child support bill could be doomed

February 19, 1998


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Legislation aimed at streamlining child support collection in Washington County is facing a hurdle its supporters fear could doom its chances of passage in the Maryland General Assembly.

A private contractor says Washington County's request to use subpoena power for informal child support conferences should be applied throughout Maryland.

County officials said that would disrupt their mission of finding new methods for collecting support as part of a specific test program in the county.


"If it goes statewide, the purpose is defeated," Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said Thursday.

Donoghue said he doubts a statewide bill granting such unusual authority would be approved by the General Assembly.

The issue centers on the county Department of Social Services' request that it be given subpoena authority to require parents involved in child support cases to appear at conciliation conferences to resolve their disputes

The conferences are a low-cost, time-saving alternative to settling the matters in court, county Social Services Director David A. Engle said. But there is no legal requirement that people appear.

"Conciliation conferences are only successful when both parties appear," Engle told the House Judiciary Committee.

Two years ago, the county was designated a "demonstration site" to develop better, faster and cheaper ways to collect child support. Since then, it has instituted programs like flexible hiring practices and monetary rewards.

As a result, the agency's collections increased from $8.3 million in 1996 to $9.4 million last year and it has the highest collection rate in the state.

The county program started the same time the state hired Lockheed Martin IMS to operate private child support collection in Baltimore and Queen Anne's County. The company has fallen short of its original goals, but has vowed to make improvement.

Lockheed Martin lobbyist John R. Stierhoff said the company would like to see the county's request applied statewide so there can be a "fair and accurate comparison" between the two organizations.

"What we would like is the same tools they have," Stierhoff told the committee.

"Isn't the purpose of the demonstration site is to learn from them?" asked Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., D-Baltimore.

Del. Michael W. Burns, R-Anne Arundel, said the county request of subpoena power could have constitutional implications as a threat to due process.

"This is not (only) tweaking the system or a minor thing," Burns said.

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