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By James Heffernan --email@example.com
Deadbeat parents, beware: The penalty for not paying your child support on time is about to go up.
A bill in Richmond from Del. Clifford L. "Clay" Athey Jr., R-Front Royal, would establish a procedure in Virginia under which a habitual offender could lose his or her driver's license more than once, and the minimum fee for reinstatement could reach $1,800.
Under current state law, parents who have had their license revoked for failure to pay child support must pay the Department of Social Services 5 percent of their total obligation, or $500, whichever is greater, to get it back.
HB 1694 would increase that figure to $600 for a first offense. For a second offense, the fee would jump to $1,200; a third offense would require $1,800 and potentially the repayment of the entire obligation before reinstatement.
The bill "brings the three-strikes-and-you're-out axiom to those who refuse to pay child support on time," Athey said.
When a deadbeat parent fails to make child support payments, not only do their children suffer, he added, but many times the government has to make up the difference through expensive social programs.
"This bill puts the responsibility for one's children where it belongs -- on the parents," he said.
The measure, which Athey has introduced in the Virginia General Assembly once before, faced only token opposition this session and passed both chambers by a combined margin of 133-4. It is now headed to Gov. Bob McDonnell for his signature.
Athey said the bill is intended to be a deterrent.
"What we've seen is, there has been some gaming of the system," he said. "Certain individuals have found that it's cheaper for them to not pay child support and then pay the $500 reinstatement fee to get their license back."
Still, Athey said he was careful not to set the penalties too high.
"It has to be a balancing act," he said. "You don't want to put an offender in a position where they'll just decide to go without a license and stop working, and then, in turn, stop making child-support payments."
According to the bill's fiscal impact statement, the Department of Social Services collected $2,185,000 from the minimum $500 license reinstatement fee in fiscal 2010.
Based on the provisions in Athey's bill, the department estimates that its total fee collection will increase by approximately $577,000 annually.