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Wilson Urges Penalty for Deadbeat Parents : Politics: Governor proposes law to suspend driver’s licenses of those who fail to pay child support. Attorney general also addresses issue.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Gov. Pete Wilson on Wednesday called for a new law that would allow the suspension of driver’s licenses of “deadbeat” parents who fall behind on their child support payments.

Later, a spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown contended that Wilson had borrowed a page from Brown’s policy book, saying she had proposed last April that parents who fail to pay child support be “ineligible for all state licenses or colleges and universities.”

Child support enforcement was also discussed Wednesday by state Atty. Gen. Daniel E. Lungren at a separate campaign stop in Orange County.

During a speech before the Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach Chambers of Commerce at the Waterfront Hilton, Wilson said the plan to suspend driver’s licenses was the latest addition to a package of welfare reforms he has advocated during his first term.

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“If you are delinquent on your child support payments, we will suspend your driver’s license or even your professional license,” Wilson said.

“You cannot casually father a child and walk away, no strings attached; you cannot pass your child and his mother onto the welfare rolls for the taxpayers to support. That’s simply not fair, and we will not tolerate it,” Wilson said.

The proposed driver’s license suspension--which is expected to be introduced during the next legislative session--would occur once parents are found to be more than four months behind on their child support payments, according to a statement released by Wilson’s office. The license would be returned when the payments are made or the parents “have an agreement in place to make payments.”

The suspension of professional licenses to recover child support payments was approved by the Legislature two years ago. The law also allows the denial or non-renewal of commercial driver’s licenses.

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Meanwhile, Brown campaign spokesman John Whitehurst criticized the governor’s proposal. “The welfare system has gotten worse, not better,” he said. “Pete Wilson is trying to reinvent his record at this stage of the campaign.

“We are happy he’s accepting our platform,” Whitehurst added, contending that Brown’s proposal goes even further than Wilson’s.

Before Wilson’s luncheon speech, eight former welfare recipients talked about how they got off welfare, during a public round-table discussion led by the governor’s wife, Gayle Wilson. Most of the women credited the state program known as GAIN (Greater Avenues for Independence) with helping them move into the work force.

While praising the program, the group suggested that more attention be given to helping women meet child-care expenses as they try to re-enter the job market; that counselors do more to motivate women; and that solutions be found for women who do not speak English but could be trained for work.

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The governor was initially scheduled to attend the meeting with the former welfare recipients but was instead near San Luis Obispo surveying the area consumed by a firestorm that claimed more than three dozen homes.

Wednesday’s forum was the latest in a series of meetings the governor’s office has sponsored in Orange County to call attention to Wilson’s major policy initiatives. Past meetings have included discussions with victims of rape and other crimes.

Wilson also told the luncheon audience that within the next month his administration will file a third lawsuit against the federal government. It is part of a package of lawsuits partly aimed at recovering the costs of incarcerating, providing health care and educating illegal immigrants. The third lawsuit will specifically address the education of illegal immigrant children.

Later, Wilson told reporters that the lawsuit will not ask for reimbursement of providing public education to children who were born in the United States but whose parents are illegal immigrants, even though the state is lobbying Congress for those funds.

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As with the previous two suits concerning the imprisonment and health care of illegal immigrants, the next lawsuit will attempt to require the federal government to “actually enforce the law, to secure the border,” Wilson said.

Lungren, who is being challenged by Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove), told the Orange County Bar Assn. at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine that white-collar crime, including non-payment of child support, “costs the economy, the government and deeply erodes the confidence in the (criminal justice) system.” The costs “are staggering,” he said.

Lungren criticized the Clinton Administration’s crime bill--which has stalled in Congress--because it does not target white-collar crimes such as money laundering, counterfeiting, grand theft and the failure to pay child support.

“Is there a defined effort (in the bill) to deal with crime in a targeted way? I have doubts,” Lungren told reporters afterward. “This thing doesn’t have a single focus to it. I guess you can say I’m not overly enthusiastic about the bill.”

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Times staff writer Tammy Hyunjoo Kresta contributed to this report.


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