The Detroit News
Thursday, MARCH 18, 1993
Detroit News Home Page
DETROIT NEWS LANSING BUREAU
LANSING–James Thienel is fuming over a set of bills steam rolling through the Michigan House that would suspend the driver’s and occupational licenses of so-called “deadbeat dads” who fall behind on child support.
Thienel, the owner of a Maytag appliance store in Royal Oak, believes the bills will unfairly punish men like him who don’t have custody of their children. “This legislation will only make the problem worse,” Thienel said. “There are a lot of fathers now being pushed to the brink, and these bills may push them over.”
Thienel, 45, who pays his ex-wife $87-a-week in child support for their 11-year-old son, Jared, also blasted the term “deadbeat dad,” which lawmakers often use to describe noncustodial fathers.
“That term evokes the same feeling for men that a racial slur evokes for a black person,”he said.
“Sure there are some deadbeat dads. But the Legislature is using the term to brush all men.”
Philip Holman of the National Congress for Men and Children agreed and called the bills ”draconian legislation that treats loving fathers like criminals.”
“It’s based on the premise that there are all these men who are able, but unwilling, to pay,” Holman said. “That’s invalid.”
Specifically, the bills, which are before the full House, would let the state suspend the driver’s licenses of parents who are more than a month, or $1,000, behind on child support, whichever is less.
Occupational licenses also would be suspended under the legislation, and the state could also deny guilty parents the right to register cars with the Secretary of State’s Office.
Although the bills, which could pass the House and move to the Senate next week, designate neither sex as a target for punishment, more than 85 percent of the state’s 200,000 noncustodial parents are men, according to the state Department of Social Services.
“All these bills do is further punish men, who already are the victims of a gender-bias domestic relations industry,” Holman said.
Sharon Gire, DÄClinton Township, chief sponsor of the bills, defended the measures. “We have people who are self employed, who are making money, who can afford to pay child support, who have court orders to do 80, but are not responding” Gire said. “These bills just give the courts one more enforcement tool.
“And besides, if a person’s been given the privilege of making a living by virtue of a license, they ought to follow the law and show some responsibility toward their kids.”
Chuck Peller, a DSS spokesman, said the bills could help a lot of poor families on welfare escape poverty. “If people are paying child support, it means fewer children will get caught up in the (welfare) system and that means less kids will be living in poverty,” Peller said.
DSS records show that among households receiving aid to families with dependent children (ADC), only 12 percent of child support eve~ gets collected and $1.7 billion is outstanding.
About $648 million in child support is delinquent for families not on welfare in the state.