Yesterday I noted the strange rejection of House Bill 1032, a mostly innocuous update to the state’s child support calculation table, a clarification of the state’s minimum work expectation, and a change in calculating primary income that will ease child support burdens on teachers and other workers whose main jobs don’t average to forty hours a week every week. But shared parenting activists led by Representative Tom Pischke complained that some parents would have to pay more money to support their children, and a whole bunch of family values Republicans said, We can’t have that! and killed HB 1032.
I suggested that legislators hurry up bring HB 1032 back… and lo and behold, they do! Today Senator Arthur Rusch (R-17/Vermillion) introduced Senate Bill 141, which appears to copy HB 1032 verbatim and numberatim.
Senator Rusch is also a member of the Child Support Commission that brought us the original proposal. In his floor remarks on January 18, Representative Pischke questioned the Child Support Commission’s reliability by pointing to its members’ ties to the Department of Social Services and the South Dakota Bar Association (that would include Senator Rusch, who is also a lawyer and former circuit court judge). Representative Pischke alleged that Senator Rusch’s fellow commission member and Judge Joni Cutler has an “outspoken bias against shared parenting and non-custodial dads.”
Yet the report the Child Support Commission prepared in December to explain the revisions it is seeking shows no apparent favoritism to lawyers, or bias toward non-custodial dads. The report explains that the changes now embodied in SB 141 are based on an economic analysis of changes in the cost of raising kids in South Dakota since the last formula adjustment in 2009. The report notes that formula assumes a state “price parity” of 88%, scaling child support obligations down to reflect South Dakota’s purportedly lower cost of living. The formula adjustment also includes new income brackets at the bottom of the scale to allow the parents in poverty a larger “self-support reserve.” The new formula thus treats South Dakota parents fairly and gives those in the most dire financial situations a break.
Finally, the report explains that the changes to the minimum work expectation and the primary-income calculation reflect the Commission’s desire to provide “a quantitative threshold that is realistic, reflective of typical employment hours, and could easily be applied.” In other words, that clarification provides clear numbers that remove one area where bias could creep into a child support determination.
Senator Rusch has recruited 26 legislators—a bipartisan crew of six Democrats and twenty Republicans—to co-sponsor SB 141. The revived child support revision goes first to Senate Judiciary, chaired by Senator Lance Russell, a Republican lawyer from Hot Springs, and vice-chaired by Senator Rusch.