From the Office of State Senator Royce West - District 23

For Immediate Release
April 26, 2001

Senator West says supporting family matters in Texas

We're now past the Easter Holidays and into the home stretch of the 77th Session of the Texas Legislature. The break gave all involved in this lawmakers marathon a few days to catch their collective breaths, rest a bit, and catch up on time with loved ones.

Anyone who knows me knows that family matters. Many of my evenings and weekends are spent at baseball games, football games and Boy Scout meetings. Of course those activities are made easier because I am in daily contact with my boys.

Unfortunately, many children - through no fault of their own - do not enjoy the blessing and security of day-to-day contact with their parents. It's a fact of modern life that many children do not live with their biological parents for numerous reasons. It's also present commentary that divorce, separation, joblessness, illness, incarceration, abuse and addiction, all have a role in disrupting Norman Rockwell's picture of the American family.

Taking these factors into consideration, I have drafted three bills whose intent is to strengthen the natural connections of the family. Respectively, they are Senate Bill 297, the Grandparents' Bill; Senate Bill 875, the Fatherhood Bill; and Senate Bill 1430 on the subject of child support. All three passed successfully in the Texas Senate April 17, 2001, on 29-1 votes.

During the 76th Legislative Session, we were able to pass into law Senate Bill 1423, the original Grandparents' Bill. Because of the real-life situations earlier referenced, many grandparents, after having raised their own children, now are faced with the challenge of providing support to their children's children. However, a lot of these grandparents who have opened their homes and their hearts to the task, also do this within the bounds of a fixed income.

What the original Grandparents' Bill did was provide a one-time payment of $1,000 to qualified grandparents to offset the additional costs involved in the care of their grandchildren. Since this program started in November 1999, more than 4,400 grandparent households and more than 8,300 grandchildren have benefitted from this one-time grant.

And believe it or not, the Grandparents' Bill was implemented at a savings of more than $9 million to the state. By providing this assistance, Child Protective Services placed more than 2,800 children in the homes of grandparents and thus, reduced the need for these children to remain in foster care at a higher cost.

Senate Bill 297 will expand the net - so to speak - for those who can participate in this program. Presently, those grandparents whose incomes are at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for this one-time grant. Senate Bill 297 will move that threshold up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. What this means is that a family of four, whose income does not exceed $35,300 will be eligible. The age requirement for grandparents will also lower from 50 to 45 years.

But the true reward of this bill comes in the ability to have these children raised in the homes of loving family members.

Much is made in the public arena about the lack of responsibility exhibited by some fathers, so much so that the term "deadbeat dads" has become a part of popular lexicon. Make no mistake, I lead the chorus that says men should live up to the responsibilities that come with fathering a child. But, I have also observed that the very programs and services designed for families and children often exclude fathers, whether by design or not.

To aid this dilemma, Senate Bill 875 and Senate Bill 1430 were formulated.

Unfortunately, we do have a lot of single head of households, and women normally represent that head of household. It is from that vantage, that most of our social service programs target mothers and children and overlook the need for father involvement. For example, if the mother does not include the name of the father on the application for one of our newest programs - the Children Health Insurance Program (CHIP)- he cannot access information, even if he lives in the household.

Under Senate Bill 875, the Health and Human Services Commission, the Attorney General's Office and all Health and Human Services agencies are charged with examining their policies and procedures to determine the extent to which they deter or encourage a father's involvement. If found lacking, those policies must be modified to accommodate the father's participation.

Senate Bill 1430, pertains to laws that govern child support. Presently, under Texas law, courts are empowered to order retroactive child support dating to the birth of a child. Such an order can impose a financial barrier that may deter compliance with orders that enforce current support payments. This could, and undoubtably has, caused some fathers to think twice before stepping up to face their parental responsibility.

But there is another dynamic in play here. There are instances where years later, a mother has notified authorities or informed an unsuspecting father of his biological progeny. Should a man - under those circumstances - be ordered to pay-up from day one? I submit that there is a question of fairness here.

Senate Bill 1430 uses what we call the "carrot and stick" approach. It provides a time limit to the amount of retroactive child support a court could order. Under this bill, a period of four years support has been determined a reasonable level of payment. This comes under the condition that the father was not aware of the existence of his child.

However, if the judge determines the person knew, or should have known he was the father, or attempted to avoid his obligation, child support can be ordered back to the birth of the child.

Another provision of Senate Bill 1430 says that a parent may be forgiven arrears owed to the state if he or she adheres to orders for current support payments, and becomes actively involved in the life of the child.

While the government cannot make a person a good parent, it can see that laws that obstruct the willing participation of fathers in their children's lives are made more amenable.

These bills are a legislative attempt to bring families together, because we know that family strength is a pillar of our nation's foundation. It is from these homes that our next generation of leaders emerge. And we know that in raising children, today more than ever, family matters.

For more information, please call Kelvin Bass at 512-463-0123.

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