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Provision in new bill would withhold 'big' wins from deadbeat parents

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State lawmakers want to crack down on child support collections and make it tougher for deadbeat parents to not pay what's owed.

A multi-pronged piece of legislation already moving through the Indiana Senate in the session's first weeks would revise a handful of state statutes involving back child support, a $2 billion statewide problem encompassing 165,000 noncustodial parents who owe at least $2,000 each in back payments.

To address that issue, Senate Bill 163 focuses on various angles of the state system in handling child support collections; the bill is being pushed by the Indiana Department of Child Services that handles much of the collection process. Supporters include Gov. Mitch Daniels, who said the idea makes sense in a state where just 58 percent of child support payments are collected.

The bill would match state statute with what federal law says on income withholding and particiapating in family assistance programs, allow various state agencies or boards to suspend licenses - such as drivers', fishing, hunting, or alcoholic beverage licenses - if payments aren't made. This legislation also touches on medical costs in relation to how child support is calculated, an ever-growing item of interest that delves into how both parents must pay for a child's health insurance.

But the most controversial part a of the bill introduces a gaming interception provision that would allow the state to seize delinquent child support on certain larger casino wins. Casinos would have to check gamblers with single-game winnings of at least a certain amount, against a list of deadbeat parents who are at least $2,000 behind in child-support payments.. Amounts discussed included a $1,200 minimum amount, so that someone would have to win at least that much before anything could be frozen and put toward the delinquent child support.

DCS Director James Payne, a former juvenile judge in Marion County, , told lawmakers that the legislation would be a similar setup to how banks are currently required to do periodic checks against a database for anyone who owes child support, and how the insurance industry voluntarily participates in a similar check when handling insurance award payouts. Other states, such as Colorado, use this method, and lawmakers questioned whether this would be beneficial to the state or overly burden the gaming industry.

"We recognize this could be a burden on the gaming institutes ... but this is important to make sure these children get the support legally owed to them," Payne said.

The Casino Association of Indiana feels the legislation unfairly targets the state's gaming industry and would cause a two-minute delay on casino floors while names of winners are checked against an electronic list of people who owe child support. That could mean more than 13,000 work-hours annually, just for the checks. This would result in widespread waits and could cause gamblers who might be impacted by this bill to go outside Indiana to gamble, according to the group's director Mike Smith.

"With our tax burdens, we are paying our fair share to have the privilege of operating in Indiana," he said. "We just ask not to be additionally burdened."

Casinos already must generate tax forms for people who win more than $1,200 on slot machines and more than $600 from certain types of other gambling, and Smith said it might make more sense to send that information not only to the Indiana Department of Revenue but also the DCS for review for child support collections.

But several lawmakers voiced frustration with that argument. Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, said the state created the gambling industry and casinos need to play by its rules. The state is simply asking for the same help in collecting child support that banks, insurance companies, and other industries provide, he said.

"I'm not too sympathetic," he said.

Lawmakers first discussed the topic Jan. 6 but followed up on Jan. 13 by voting to send it to the full Senate for consideration. All senators present to vote agreed with the idea of requiring this check and money freezing from casinos. However, Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, who voted against its passage, said the bill doesn't go far enough. He wants to see legislation that would require the insurance industry to do this and wants to look at how other industries might be involved.

"This should have been done a long time ago," he said. "But I don't think it's strong enough at this point. This is a good bill, but I'm voting no because it has a lot left to be considered."

All the other committee members in attendance voted in favor of the bill, including those who'd expressed concerns a week earlier about the gaming industry impact, that private industry is being singled out, or that state revenue could be negatively impacted by this bill. Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, was absent.

Voting in favor of the legislation, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, was skeptical about the casino's argument of not being able to easily put this system into place because this is a "day of technology" and those types of things are commonplace in the public and private sectors. He also wondered why the bill had a threshold of $1,200 before any winnings could be frozen.

"That's a good compromise number, but really I think we should be looking at the first dollar won," he said. "Why should we enrich someone who owes child support and isn't keeping up with their obligations?"

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, also expressed his support of the legislation as public policy but indicated he could see the gaming industry's side of the debate because it effectively gives the industry the role of "collection agent" to a degree.

Committee chair Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, told the gaming industry that negotiations would continue about how that component of the bill would be included as the legislation progresses. Bray described it as having "a long way to go before being finished," even though the Indiana General Assembly is in a short session and must wrap up its work by March 14.

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