Mississippi child support bill passes Senate

Laura Tillman, Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- The Mississippi Senate is pushing ahead a plan to privatize the collection of child support payments.

Senators voted Wednesday to support House Bill 1009. It would allow the Mississippi Department of Human Services to contract with private vendors to collect unpaid child support, which lawmakers say totals more than $1 billion.

Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, who presented the bill, repeatedly told lawmakers he couldn't answer their questions about it.

"I'm going to be totally honest with you: unlike a lot of things, I haven't talked to anyone in this business," Brown said, when he was asked whether vendors had been chosen.

Brown said he was focused on the hundreds of thousands of Mississippi children who aren't getting the payments they are entitled to.

"There's no perfect program —I've learned that in my time in government," Brown said. "I'm willing to try this. If it doesn't work we can always change it."

State employees protested the bill on March 5 at the Capitol, saying a previous attempt at privatization had failed. Mississippi used a Virginia-based company, Maximus Inc., to collect child support in Hinds and Warren counties in the 1990s. That company ultimately collected less money per case.

Mississippi Alliance of State Employees President Brenda Scott said the bills would likely cause state workers to lose their jobs. She said that if the state were to provide adequate staffing to the Department of Human Services workers already charged with collecting child support, the numbers would improve.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, echoed this sentiment on the Senate floor Wednesday.

"They are understaffed, underpaid, and overworked," Bryan said of the state workers charged with child support collection.

The bill goes to the House for more debate.