Non-Father’s day in question in Olympia

UPDATE — I might have painted too optimistic a picture on the chances on this bill. On Feb. 5 the Senate Law and Justice Committee voted 4-3 to send SB 5006 to Ways & Means. But it wasn’t as easy as all that. The explanation follows the original post.

“Time makes more converts than reason.” — Thomas Paine

A year ago a bill dealing with the rights of men who prove the children they support financially are not biologically theirs received enough support to make it to the state Senate floor, but not enough to get a vote on time.

By all indications the bill, SB 5006, should have an easier time of it this year than last.

The legislation would not apply to children conceived through fertility treatments or for children who were adopted by a non-biological father. Existing law would allow a man to question paternity within four years of accepting it, but judges have more discretion in allowing testing than the new law would dictate.

103579072We wrote about the bill last year, giving some attention to how it came to be. It was presented to Angel by Naomi and Andrew Evans of Bremerton. They have been dealing with the kind of situation in question for some time, saying Andrew was told when he was 19 that he was the father of the baby his girlfriend was carrying. They married and divorced and both sides have seen their share of days in court. Andrew questioned whether he was the father, said he got tested and found out he wasn’t. The way the law stands now he has no recourse. Should the bill pass the courts would have to give him a hearing.

We reached out to the mother in question and someone who contacted us on her behalf said there would be no comment.

The disagreement between adults is not the child’s fault, which is why opponents of the bill argued last year that the welfare of the child should not be threatened as this new legislation could do.

But Angel and others have said this is a fairness issue, that fathers who are led to believe they are biologically responsible and therefore financially responsible should not have to continue being responsible if genetic testing proves they were wrong or lied to about paternity.

If a mother is financially harmed by this legislation, she could turn to the state to make up for it, so there could be a cost to taxpayers. But again, Angel argues that a duped non-biological father shouldn’t pay the price for a child that isn’t his. The mom needs to go where anyone would go when faced with a new financial hardship.

And this time, by all indications, legislators seem to agree. The House companion to Angel’s bill, sponsored by state Rep. Michelle Caldier, a Port Orchard Republican, was sent to Judiciary and has seven co-sponsors, three of them Democrats.

A delay in the bill moving forward is happening, Naomi Evans said she was told, because state officials want to be sure that men who have been paying won’t be entitled to back payments, so an amendment is in the works.

Naomi Evans said she and other advocates spent a day in Olympia talking to 50 legislators from the Senate and House committees that are home to the bill and found only one legislator who outright said he would oppose the bill. Another one or two were iffy. All others expressed support, she said.

If that’s true it looks like legislators getting a year to think about it has made a difference, because any changes to this year’s version of the bill were not substantial, according to Angel. The angst about the child being harmed over the loss of money does not seem to be trumping the question of fairness in dictating who pays the bill.

Earlier in the session I questioned whether that was the case. I wondered if opponents were waiting for a House hearing to pile on in hopes of swaying a more sympathetic Democratic leadership. That might also be the forum where any perceived substantive technical problems could be aired, making it too late to pass. But I’ve seen no evidence of that.

Time, which seems to have won some legislators over, will tell.

UPDATE — As mentioned earlier, the Senate Law and Justice Committee voted 4-3 to send an amended bill to the Ways and Means Committee, from where it could go to the floor.

The amendment does specify that non-bio fathers would only be saved any future payments, that the state wouldn’t be liable to pay them back should genetic testing prove the father was not biologically related to the child. A man who was behind in payments would still have to make up however much he hadn’t payed, perhaps ensuring that no dad just stops paying in anticipation of expected developments in the future in court.

The one-vote split reflected party differences, however, with the four “do pass” recommendations coming from Republicans and the three “do not pass” votes coming from Democrats. Should that hold it’s fine for the Senate, but could present problems in the House, even though three Democrats co-sponsored the House version.

The bigger problem is one of the Republican votes was from state Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn. Democrat Jamie Pedersen said he had problems with the bill because he said it undermines a state policy on what parentage is and because of the way it could affect parenting plans.

Roach, while she agreed to send it on, said she had concerns and that the bill needed work. She said she wondered if fathers would still have access to the children, and while she agreed with the overall aim of the legislation, I wouldn’t take her willingness to move it as a guarantee she would vote for it on the floor. “I vote it out and I say I think it needs some work,” she said.

According to the report on the bill the Department of Health would like implementation of the law delayed so it has time to develop policies to match the mandate.

Meanwhile, in the House there has been no movement at all on the companion bill.

2 thoughts on “Non-Father’s day in question in Olympia

  1. Good article. The only thing I would add is that in all of the cases brought before legislators in the House and Senate the actual father is known. In a majority of cases once the mother has gotten a support order against the wrongly named man she has then moved in with the actual father.

    Nothing in this bill hinders the state from collecting support and other financial reimbursments from the actual father.

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