A new court ruling raises troubling legal questions about a centerpiece of Idaho welfare reform.
Fourth District Magistrate Russell Comstock on Monday said the state’s definition of “license” was incorrect in a new law that lets the state yank deadbeat parents’ driver’s and professional licenses.
The implications of the ruling remained muddy Tuesday, but what’s at stake is clear: the future of a program state officials already have declared a huge success.
The new law is designed to make parents pay child support and grant visitation by suspending state-issued driver’s and professional licenses if they refuse.
But Boise attorney Scot Ludwig, representing a woman whose ex-husband wanted her driver’s and nursing licenses suspended for denying him visitation, challenged the state’s definition that says a license “does not constitute a property interest.”
While prior rulings have shown that driver’s and professional licenses do represent a property interest, Comstock sided with Ludwig.
And while Comstock declined to speculate on the ramifications of his ruling, Ludwig maintained it will affect the law’s ability to take away licenses.
“If other cases are handled with the same argument, they will get dismissed,” he said.
That could come as bad news for state officials, who have lauded the success of the program, which took effect Jan. 1.
Some cases, like that of Wallace physician Dr. Joe Bayard Miller Jr., have led to new agreements by parents to start paying child support. Miller was $25,250 behind on support for his two teenage boys, but agreed to resume payments after learning his medical license had been suspended.
In fact, in the months since its inception, child support collections have risen nearly 10 percent and the state has suspended 144 licenses held by parents who are behind a combined $3 million in child support.
But Ludwig’s prediction - if true - would come as a delight to men such as Don Kuper, who fought the law from the start.
“I’m absolutely thrilled. It was a bad law,” said Kuper, executive director of Dads Against Discrimination in Idaho.
“It was a bad law.”
His sentiment is shared by Bob Marsh, Boise State University criminal justice chairman, who said the law is flawed.
“To threaten someone and say, ‘Pay up or else,’ is a very simplistic way to deal with a complex problem.”