EL PASO, Texas - Texas has collected more than $160,000 in back child support since starting a program this year that bars some parents who owe money from renewing vehicle registrations.
"We can't override it, we can't proceed, so what the attorney general's office suggested to us, when you come get a customer that has a notation, do not renew the registration" Tax Assessor-Collector Ruben Gonzalez said.
In September, the Texas Attorney General's office sent its first batch of notices to parents who owed more than six months in child support. The notice was a warning: if they didn't pay up, they wouldn't be able to renew their car registration in December. Those that didn't, had a notation put into their record in the system. Those that tried to renew anyway, got a push card that read: "If your child support is past due, you can't renew. Your motor vehicle registration renewal has been denied due to your delinquent child support."
Gonzalez some have tried to bypass the restrictions by applying for temporary permits or renewing online.
"A lot of people are going through the internet process, thinking 'they won't reject me, they won't catch me.' You'll be identified under the internet program, and of course, we'll identify you when you do a walk-in transaction," Gonzalez said.
Officials say utilizing car registrations seems to be working, 700 Texas parents have paid back child support through this new program.
"We've been pleased with the response, money has come in for children that otherwise would not have been collected. Parents have paid close to $162,000 in back child support," Janece Rolfe, Communications Manager for the Child Support Division said.
Rolfe says the attorney general's office has intercepted tax refund checks, lottery winnings and filed liens against insurance settlements. Car registration seemed to be the logical next-step.
"We're very aggressive in Texas, we're going to use every enforcement tool that's at our disposal. The law already allows the non-renewal of driver and professional licenses as well as recreational licenses, this was the logical next-step that the law does allow and that technology also has allowed us to put in place," Rolfe said.
The program has potential drawbacks that has taxpayers like Rowina Rivera-Montes on the fence.
"I can see both sides of it. I can see why they would want them to assess that extra fee and not allow them to renew their registration fee and everything else, however on the other end of the spectrum, how are they going to get to work, with an expired registration or they'll be driving their registration and they'll be assessing more and more fees," Rivera-Montes said.
When asked if Gonzalez thought it may encourage people to drive without renewing their registration, he said it could be a possibility.
"I'm sure it does, it depends on the circumstance. If they need to use it to go to work, then they're going to run with expired registration until they're caught, unfortunately the way the system is set up in Texas, that just identifies you as being more delinquent because there's other penalties that go with that and one of the penalties involved for being cited for no vehicle registration, the law does allow an officer to apprehend that vehicle, possibly store that vehicle, whether law enforcement pursues that serious action, is up to them," Gonzalez said.
But the child support division says based on the numbers, there are more pros then cons.
"It's not our desire to to take away a person's transportation, but it is our desire to see that the children receive court ordered support that is supposed to come to them."
If you need to arrange a payment plan, you can call the Attorney General's Child Support Division at (800)252-8014.