Legislature(2011 - 2012)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)

04/04/2012 01:30 PM Senate JUDICIARY

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+ Board Confirmations: Alaska Bar Association TELECONFERENCED
Public Member <CANCELED>
Moved CSSB 180(JUD) Out of Committee
Heard & Held
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
                  SB 134-CHILD SUPPORT AWARDS                                                                               
1:38:14 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  FRENCH announced  the  consideration of  SB  134, "An  Act                                                               
relating  to  child  support awards;  and  repealing  Rule  90.3,                                                               
Alaska Rules  of Civil Procedure."  He relayed that he  asked the                                                               
bar  association to  solicit input  on the  bill from  family law                                                               
practitioners  so  the  emails   and  statements  that  committee                                                               
members   have   received   from  practitioners   came   at   his                                                               
1:39:16 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR COGHILL joined the committee.                                                                                           
ALLEN   BAILEY,  family   law   attorney  representing   himself,                                                               
Anchorage, AK,  said his clients  tend to be victims  of domestic                                                               
violence and  many are in  the lower  income bracket. He  said he                                                               
did  not have  a  preference  about placing  Court  Rule 90.3  in                                                               
statute or not.  However, it would be a serious  loss to adopt an                                                               
entirely new  method. It would  have neither the  25-year history                                                               
with the courts  nor the legislative history  and commentary that                                                               
Civil Rule 90.3 has.                                                                                                            
He  said the  concerns the  sponsor's  staff raised  in a  letter                                                               
commenting on Civil  Rule 90.3 could not occur  under current law                                                               
to child support  payors in Alaska. He opined that  it should not                                                               
be the  duty of the court  or CSSD to adjust  reality for abusive                                                               
people they  do not  have the financial  income to  support their                                                               
irresponsible  behaviors.  People   sometimes  undergo  financial                                                               
reversals, but  there are  ways to deal  with that  problem under                                                               
current law. He urged the committee to take time with the bill.                                                                 
1:45:36 PM                                                                                                                    
RHONDA  BUTTERFIELD, family  law  attorney representing  herself,                                                               
Anchorage, AK,  said 20  percent of  her caseload  is exclusively                                                               
child support and  86 percent involves child  support issues. She                                                               
expressed concern  that the bill  would fundamentally  change how                                                               
child support  is calculated  and upheave 25  years of  case law.                                                               
She suggested  that if the  Legislature wants to place  the child                                                               
support rule into statute, it should  adopt it in full along with                                                               
the commentary and case law.  The system may have weaknesses, but                                                               
there are  more serious issues  than changing to an  income share                                                               
model.  For example,  the unemployed  need temporary  relief from                                                               
their child  support obligations.  She also  pointed out  that it                                                               
would be  difficult for people  to get relief from  child support                                                               
problems when the Legislature is not in session.                                                                                
MS. BUTTERFIELD said she believes  that the Department of Revenue                                                               
understated  the number  of child  support orders  that would  be                                                               
subject  to modification.  After listening  to an  administrative                                                               
law  judge speak  on  the  topic, she  understood  that CSSD  has                                                               
58,000  child support  cases,  yet their  fiscal  note says  only                                                               
20,000  would be  eligible for  modification.  Her experience  is                                                               
that most  child support orders involve  primary physical custody                                                               
by  one  parent  so  all  of those  cases  would  be  subject  to                                                               
modification.  She suggested  the  committee go  slowly and  look                                                               
carefully before  taking action on  the bill. She said  she would                                                               
submit additional comments in writing.                                                                                          
1:52:46 PM                                                                                                                    
MICHAEL SHAFFER,  family law attorney representing  himself, said                                                               
he represents  primarily victims of domestic  violence and sexual                                                               
assault.  He echoed  the comments  of the  previous practitioners                                                               
and  described  the  bill  as  profoundly  flawed.  Although  the                                                               
calculation  is  based  on  the Washington  model,  it  does  not                                                               
consider the  costs directly associated with  child rearing. That                                                               
significant   problem  will   create  a   tremendous  amount   of                                                               
additional   litigation  between   custodial  and   non-custodial                                                               
parents. It  will make things  worse for the custodial  parent in                                                               
primary  custody situations  as the  income disparity  increases.                                                               
This  is  often the  mother.  Although  Court  Rule 90.3  is  not                                                               
perfect,  the court  acts like  a regulatory  agency with  a rule                                                               
change process  and it  has the most  expertise in  child custody                                                               
and child support.                                                                                                              
MR.  SHAFFER  opined  that  every  parent  who  thinks  they  can                                                               
reassess  their  support  payment  through the  new  method  will                                                               
apply.  His  experience is  that  very  few obligor  parents  pay                                                               
voluntarily; more  often, it  is through  mandatory garnishments.                                                               
The  bill  will  have  an overall  harmful  impact  to  children,                                                               
particularly those in the care  of a low-income custodial parent.                                                               
It  will secondarily  be harmful  to custodial  parents and  will                                                               
benefit  non-custodial parents  who  want to  pay  less in  child                                                               
support. That  is not and should  not be the purpose  of the law.                                                               
He urged the committee to  move cautiously and solicit input from                                                               
experts  and  practitioners  in the  field  before  changing  the                                                               
calculation method.                                                                                                             
1:59:49 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR FRENCH noted  that Mr. Shaffer was careful  to clarify that                                                               
he was representing himself, not his employer.                                                                                  
DOROTHEA  AGUERO,  family   law  attorney  representing  herself,                                                               
Anchorage, AK,  echoed the comments  of the  previous testifiers.                                                               
She said  a number  of practitioners  articulated concern  at the                                                               
section meeting yesterday  that they had not  had the opportunity                                                               
to provide  input on the bill.  The impetus for the  bill appears                                                               
to have  come from constituent  complaints about fairness  of the                                                               
current  rule  and the  concerns  articulated  in Ms.  Shockley's                                                               
letter to  Beth Adams  from the Alaska  Court System.  She agreed                                                               
with  the   previous  testimony  about  consulting   experts  and                                                               
practitioners in the field before making such sweeping changes.                                                                 
MS. AGUERO  said many of her  former clients will want  to modify                                                               
their child  support orders if  the definition of  shared custody                                                               
is  changed.   Considering  a   parent's  expenses   may  require                                                               
extensive  evidentiary  hearings,  which will  burden  the  court                                                               
system and cost clients more  in attorney's fees. It also appears                                                               
that  lower  income parents  will  actually  pay more  under  the                                                               
proposed  changes. Another  concern is  that the  bill disregards                                                               
the  commentary  in  Court  Rule  90.3 and  will  result  in  the                                                               
potential  loss  of  25  years   of  case  law.  She  urged  more                                                               
deliberate thought and input before making any changes.                                                                         
2:06:18 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR FRENCH closed public testimony.                                                                                           
2:06:29 PM                                                                                                                    
DORTHY SHOCKLEY, staff  to Senator Albert Kookesh,  sponsor of SB
134, stated that  the bill puts Civil Rule 90.3  into statute and                                                               
changes the  formula for calculating child  support. She reviewed                                                               
the sponsor  statement and told  the committee that  she followed                                                               
the  entire  rule  review  process  four  years  ago.  The  court                                                               
solicited  comments,  but  made limited  changes.  The  statewide                                                               
teleconference to  comment on the changes  received little input.                                                               
She  recalled that  just five  people commented  in the  allotted                                                               
half hour. She  found the process disappointing and  asked how to                                                               
change it.  An attorney who sat  on two of the  review committees                                                               
suggested  that putting  the rule  in statute  would give  people                                                               
more voice. Another  suggestion was to change to  a shared income                                                               
MS.  SHOCKLEY  directed  attention  to  the  updated  Legislative                                                               
Research  Report  in the  packet.  Twenty-six  states have  child                                                               
support in statute,  six states use court rule, and  others use a                                                               
combination.  Thirty-seven states  use  the  income share  model.                                                               
Responding  to   previous  questions,  she  confirmed   that  the                                                               
economic  table  contained   in  the  bill  did   came  from  the                                                               
Washington  model.   The  Department   of  Labor   and  Workforce                                                               
Development  (DOLWD) indicated  what a  table specific  to Alaska                                                               
was not essential  because its purpose is to indicate  how much a                                                               
person at various income levels can  afford to support a child or                                                               
children. If the bill passes,  nonmonetary considerations and the                                                               
question of  a statute  of limitations  could be  considered. She                                                               
concluded that  the bill  addresses the  fairness issue  and that                                                               
people do not feel they have a voice.                                                                                           
2:15:18 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR COGHILL  asked if  the percent of  income model  could be                                                               
modified since the  income share model did not  have case history                                                               
in Alaska.                                                                                                                      
MS.  SHOCKLEY  said  the  bill   initially  did  not  change  the                                                               
calculation. The  decision to  change to  the income  share model                                                               
was based on  what most other states are doing.  People that have                                                               
called   the   sponsor's   office  support   that   change.   She                                                               
acknowledged that the fiscal notes were daunting.                                                                               
2:18:46 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR FRENCH held SB 134 in committee for further consideration.                                                                

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