The House Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Committee, after hearing impassioned testimony from divorced mothers and children's rights activists, unanimously endorsed a bill Tuesday that would let the state revoke the drivers' licenses of "deadbeat dads."

The bill advances to the House floor for debate.

HB83 would send a message to noncustodial parents that they must pay child support or they will be held responsible, said sponsoring Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights.

"This is the cheapest and most-effective way . . . to get child support paid," said Stewart P. Ralphs, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake.

According to a recent audit report of the state's Office of Recovery Services, $325 million in back child support was still owed by noncustodial parents.

Lori Russell, who testified at the hearing, does not regularly receive child support from her ex-husband but says he is often pulling $100 bills out of his wallet.

"I think (the bill) is really important for accountability," she said. When child-support payments aren't received, it "cheats children out of what they need and what they deserve."

Judicial action is currently the only way to suspend drivers' licenses in Utah, which is one of 14 states that doesn't use administrative authority to suspend licenses, according to Fisher.

While the bill is meant to be a deterrent to delinquency, it could also be an effective method of collecting money and tracking down noncustodial parents who try to avoid payments by fleeing the state.

If one loses his or her license in Utah and attempts to get a new one in another state, that state would see that the license is suspended and would be able to contact Utah state officials.

According to Fisher, "Colorado collected $7.6 million in 2004 and has collected $8.6 million as of September 2005 using the ability to threaten or suspend drivers' licenses.

"What really convinced me (to vote for the bill) was the data they presented about other states," Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, said. Morgan originally had some concerns about the logistics of the bill.

Passing the bill could end up saving the state money, as well, witnesses testified, as the custodial parents must depend on government and other sources for help.

"Church and state are paying for the children who are not receiving support from the parent," Russell said.


E-mail: pnagy@desnews.com