GOVERNOR BUSH SIGNS LANDMARK LEGISLATION STRENGTHENING FLORIDA'S CHILD SUPPORT SYSTEM
~~ ~Reforms will impact almost 1 million children across the state~ ~~
TALLAHASSEE- Governor Jeb Bush today signed legislation that will strengthen Florida's families by enhancing the state's child support enforcement system, helping establish legal paternity for thousands more children and improving child support collections. HB1283 increases coordination between state and local agencies to establish orders for paternity and child support, enforce the parent's responsibility to pay support, and ensure that monies collected get to children and their families.
"With this legislation, Florida is poised to take yet another giant step forward on behalf of almost a million of its children," said Governor Bush. "Together, with active involvement from parents, state agencies, our judicial system and community groups, we will be able to establish paternity for more children, and encourage parents to provide the support their children need and deserve."
While child support collections have more than doubled since 1998-1999, increasing from $582 million to more than $1 billion last year, the legislation signed today is part of a concerted effort to make the state's child support enforcement program among the nation's best.
"With this legislation we are smoothing the edges of a jagged system to make it more effective and efficient for the Floridians it will benefit," said the bills co-sponsor State Representative Bill Galvano.
The new Child Support Enforcement law, which was sponsored by Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell of Tamarac and Rep. Bill Galvano of Bradenton will do the following:
Ø Launch a public awareness campaign to help parents better understand how to protect their rights.
Ø Create a streamlined administrative process to establish paternity once proven by genetic testing. This will reduce the amount of time needed to establish support orders, so families can receive support sooner.
Ø Provides easier access to services offered by state agencies and improves the existing process.
Ø Establish pilot projects to test new ways to establish child support orders more quickly and at lower cost. This includes creating a process to establish these orders by mediation.
Ø Require the state child-support program to accept and distribute child support payments electronically. Currently, almost all parents receive child support payments by check. By electronically disbursing payments, parents will receive payments faster and at less cost. During the 2004 hurricanes, such a system would have ensured that families would have received the support they deserved despite disruptions in surface mail service.
Ø Authorize the Department of Revenue (DOR) to seek a federal waiver to provide child support services in all cases where child support has become delinquent. Custodial parents could "opt out" of DOR assistance if they wish. Currently, the Department only becomes involved in child support cases if children are receiving public assistance or if a parent has applied for DOR help.
Ø Allow the Department of Revenue to waive the former fee of $25 in cases where a custodial parent asks DOR to administer a child support case.
Ø Require an extra 20 percent be added to required child support payments in cases where support is past due and payments are made through automatic income deductions.
Ø Improve communication and increase cooperation among significant stakeholders by providing employers and other payers with secure Internet access to income-deduction and related information.
Ø Make it easier for state agencies to suspend a business, professional, occupational or recreational licenses of a parent who fails to provide support to his or her children.
Ø Allows wider use of a 2002 law allowing the "worst of the worst" parents who fail to pay support to be charged with a felony if they owe their children more than $5,000 in delinquent child support for a year or more. Previously, these could be charged with the crime of failure to pay child support. Parents can only be convicted if they have the means to pay but choose not to do so.
"Governor Bush, Senator Campbell and Representative Galvano have been champions for hundreds of thousands of Florida children," said Jim Zingale, executive director of the Florida Department of Revenue. "Because of their hard work, children all over our state will have a better chance of getting the financial and emotional support they need to be successful in life. We at the Florida Department of Revenue are deeply grateful for their leadership."
Governor Bush was joined at today's event by bill sponsors Senator Walter "Skip" Campbell, Representative Bill Galvano, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Revenue, Dr. Jim Zingale and a custodial parent, Tina Calloway.
The Department of Revenue currently administers more than 700,000 child support cases statewide. These cases involve approximately 1 million Florida children.