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December 21st, 2011 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Illinois State Representative Jack Franks wants the state to take vilification of parents owing child support to all new levels.  Read about it here (Northwest Herald, 12/20/11).  Predictably, he wants to foreclose still more employment opportunities to parents behind on their child support obligations.  What’s perhaps surprising though, is that he also wants to deprive Illinois voters of their choice of candidates.

By now you’ve probably guessed that Franks wants to prohibit child support debtors from running for any Illinois public office. 

House Bill 3932, filed Tuesday by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, would prevent anyone who owes more than $10,000 in back child support from filing to run for office in Illinois. It also would ban such people from being appointed to a government board, authority, commission or task force if they also are found in contempt of court for failing to pay.

We all know about state laws that suspend the right of child support debtors to operate a motor vehicle.  The quixotic result of those laws is to make it far harder for a parent behind on child support to ever catch up.  If the parent has lost his (84% of parents who are the subject of child support orders are men) job, the lack of a driver’s license makes obtaining employment all the harder because it makes simply getting to a job interview far more difficult than it otherwise would be.  It also drastically cuts down the number of available jobs.  Jobs like truck driver, cab driver, heavy machinery operator and the like all become immediately impossible to obtain.  And if he succeeds in finding work, simply getting to the jobsite becomes problematical.  That in turn means he’s more likely to lose his new job than he would be if he had a driver’s license.

Obviously, Dad isn’t the only one who suffers from laws like that; the children he’s trying to support do too.  If Dad can’t get a job, he can’t very well pay the support he owes and his child needs.  Making it harder for him to find employment makes it less likely that his child will get that support.

So Franks now wants to lop a few more jobs off the list of possibilities.  Now, admittedly, not many dads are going to be running for office.  Fewer still will succeed if they do.

What’s most important about Franks’s bill is its radically anti-democratic impact.  Explain to me again why the voters of Illinois shouldn’t be able to vote for whom they choose.  Why do they need Jack Franks to winnow the population of acceptable candidates?  Any adult citizen who hasn’t been convicted of a felony and is of sound mind should be able to ask the people of the state for their votes.  Why the exception for those owing child support?

The entire concept of the law strongly suggests that Franks doesn’t know the basic facts about child support and child support debtors.  Does he know, for example, that, according to the U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement, 63% of debtors report earning less than $10,000 a year?  And that report is from 2006, well before the current economic debacle threw millions out of work.

The same report states frankly that family judges often set child support payments higher than the obligor can pay.  It’s one of the report’s many remarkable recommendations that judges begin to issue support orders at levels the non-custodial parent can actually pay.  The uninitiated might think that would be an obvious part of the child support process, but the OCSE knows it’s not.  Franks apparently doesn’t.

Does Franks know how hard states make it to get downward modifications of child support orders?  Does he know that the most responsible, upstanding father can run up $10,000 in child support debt in the blink of an eye if he loses his job?  Does he know that, when a non-custodial parent loses his job, in order to get a downward modification, he has to hire a lawyer, pay filing fees and wait for months to get a hearing.  During all that time, child support debt plus interest pile up and up.  And how is a father supposed to afford an attorney when he’s just lost his job?

Speaking of interest, does Franks know that the great majority of the debt that’s called “child support debt” is actually interest?  In California it’s about 70% of the total.  In some states, monthly interest on a father’s debt actually exceeds the amount he’s required to pay meaning that, even though he pays in full every month, he falls further and further behind.  Does Franks know that?

My guess is that Franks neither knows nor cares.  Franks is a Democrat, so I’d say his bill is less about the reality of child support than it is about the nitty-gritty of politics in the Land of Lincoln.  Joe Walsh is the congressman from the state whose wife claimed earlier in the year that he owes her $117,000 in back child support.  So Franks’s bill is better seen as a reminder to Illinois voters of Laura Walsh’s claim in order to defeat the Tea Party incumbent.

Walsh, by the way, contends he’s not behind on his payments and the court has yet to rule on his ex-wife’s claims or hold Walsh in contempt.

I’m all for parents supporting their children; it’s an obligation that no one should shirk.  But the current system of ordering, paying and disbursing support is about as dysfunctional and anti-father as it can get. 

Come to think of it, Franks is a member of the Illinois Legislature.  That means he could help fix the many, many flaws in a child support system that daily turns decent fathers into criminals while denying support to their children.  But that would mean understanding those flaws and caring about making real changes for the better.  Given the choice, Franks chose grandstanding over meaningful legislation.

Until the flaws of the child support system are fixed, voters shouldn’t be deprived of their choice of candidates based on child support obligations.  The simple fact is that if a candidate is behind on his payments, the issue should be raised in the campaign and let voters decide.

Let the voters decide.  It’s not a radical concept, but it’s one Jack Franks doesn’t grasp.

Thanks to Michael for the heads-up.

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