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Committee kills subpoena powers bill

February 24, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Committee kills subpoena powers bill

ANNAPOLIS - A Maryland House of Delegates committee has killed a bill aimed at streamlining child support collection in Washington County.

"I'm disappointed. Frankly, I don't know why it wasn't given more consideration," Washington County Department of Social Services Director David A. Engle said Tuesday.

The legislation, which would have given Engle's agency the power to issue subpoenas for informal child support conferences, faced heavy criticism from some members of the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing last Thursday. The panel rejected the bill by a 19-0 vote on Friday.

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The speed with which the committee rejected the legislation caught Engle by surprise. Knowing the bill was in trouble, he had planned to travel to Annapolis this week to lobby for its passage.

"We were hoping that we would have a little more time to talk to people," he said.

The Department of Social Services wanted the subpoena authority to require parents involved in child support disputes to appear at so-called conciliation conferences to resolve their disputes. The conferences are a low-cost, time-saving alternative to settling child support differences in court, Engle said.

At the hearing, lawmakers raised several concerns with the bill. Some said granting the subpoena power could be a threat to a person's right to due process.

Others expressed concern that the authority would only be granted to Washington County, while other areas in the state would have to collect child support using existing laws.

Engle said that was exactly the reason why the county was designated a child support collection "demonstration site." Two years ago the state told the county agency to use innovative techniques to develop better, faster and cheaper ways to collect child support. Since then, it has instituted programs involving 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. It now boasts the highest collection rate in the state.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said that while the legislation would have helped the county, failure to gain legislative approval would not significantly hurt the ongoing streamlining efforts.

"I'm sure Dave Engle and our model site ... will be just fine," said Donoghue, who chairs the county's legislative delegation.

Engle agreed.

"We will continue to look for ways to get this job done better, faster and in a manner most helpful to the kids and the customers," he said.

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