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Zirkin says child support bill may need amendment

ANNAPOLIS — A bill modifying a law that allows Maryland prisoners to ask the court to suspend their child support payments might have to be amended in order to pass the state Senate.

State Sen. Robert Zirkin said Friday that he thinks amending his bill to require that correctional facilities tell prisoners they are eligible for a waiver of child support while in jail might encourage senators to OK the legislation.

Prisoners can already apply for a waiver because they have no income while in jail, but Zirkin’s bill would allow child support payments to be adjusted without any action from the prisoner.

Such an amendment, which was offered and rejected Friday, would remove the automatic alteration to child support payments and leave the correctional system responsible for forwarding the paperwork to the courts, Zirkin said.

“I think that a bill like this should not be jammed through,” he said. “I want this to get an overwhelming vote because people are comfortable with what they are doing.”

The Senate also amended the bill Friday to include a provision to apply the waiver only to people who were not late or behind on their child support at the time of their arrest.

That amendment, which was sponsored by Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, needs to be stripped from the bill, Zirkin said.

Opponents of the Ramirez amendment said it handicaps the system and would serve virtually no one.

“I’m sympathetic if something happens unfortunately and you go to jail and you can’t work and you’ve been doing all you can paying for your child support,” Ramirez said.

Opponents of the bill have said it is unfair that criminals are still held to other debts like mortgages but allowed to walk away from child support payments while in jail.

Zirkin and other supporters said that mounting debt of missed payments while incarcerated make it less likely someone will return to paying regular child support once out of jail.

“I know it’s a tough bill because it looks as if we’re being soft on criminals and it looks as if we’re taking money away from a child,” Zirkin said. “And the reality is, the practical reality is neither of those things is really true.”

A version of the bill passed earlier this month by the House of Delegates is also before the Senate. The House version could move forward instead of Zirkin’s bill, the senator said.

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