The Daily Breeze

Sunday, September 29, 2002

Davis vetoes tests to ID dads

PATERNITY: Men forced to support children not their own say bill would have offered relief. They vow to fight on.

By Jasmine Lee

Despite a last-minute lobbying effort by South Bay and statewide supporters, Gov. Gray Davis on Friday vetoed a bill that would have allowed some men to dispute paternity with a DNA test after they are ordered to pay child support.

Davis acknowledged that something should be done to curb the growing problem of paternity fraud, but he said Assembly Bill 2240 would only delay the legal process of collecting child support payments and provide a loophole for biological fathers trying to shirk parental responsibilities.

Davis also said if the bill became law, the state might not meet federal requirements on collecting child support payments, putting California at risk of losing $40 million in federal funds.

“I recognize that paternity fraud is a serious issue and has the potential of damaging an individual’s livelihood,” Davis wrote in a veto message. “However, AB 2240 is flawed in its attempt to address the issue.”

Carson resident Bert Riddick, a paternity fraud victim profiled in a Daily Breeze article in July, said Davis was missing the big picture. He called the governor’s claims about losing money “smoke and mirrors.”

Riddick protested that truth — not federal funds — is what’s at stake. He said the system lies to children about paternity and allows mothers to falsely name men as fathers. “What message are we sending to our children?” he asked.

Even though a DNA test excluded him as a biological father, Riddick pays $1,400 a month to support the daughter of an ex-girlfriend. Because a court summons was not properly served, he missed his day in court and a default judgment was entered against him.

AB 2240 could have allowed Riddick to use the DNA evidence to dispute the paternity claim.

Riddick had organized a grass-roots, call-in campaign to urge Davis to sign the bill and remained optimistic until he learned of the veto Friday afternoon. For years, Riddick worked along and with such groups as the American Coalition for Fathers & Children and the California chapter of Citizens Against Paternity Fraud, to get the bill before the governor.

Assemblyman Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, author of AB 2240, also sent a letter urging Davis to sign the bill. Cine Ivery, the district director for Wright’s Los Angeles office, said the assemblyman is disappointed, but he did not immediately have a comment.

Opponents of the bill called the veto a victory for children.

“We agree there are paternity fraud issues and that the system is not working 100 percent,” said Lupe Alonzo-Diaz, senior policy advocate for the San Diego-based Children’s Advocacy Institute. “But we’re glad that the governor put children first.”

The National Organization for Women and the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law also spoke against AB 2240.

Wright’s bill would have required process servers to personally hand a court summons to men named in civil cases for child support. Servers now can mail or leave a summons at a last known residential or business address. Also, men who had already been ordered to pay child support through a default judgment — which means they did not appear in court to dispute paternity charges — would have been able to challenge paternity with a DNA test.

In his veto message, Davis directed the state Department of Child Support Services to work with the Legislature and lobbyists on both sides of the issue to find ways to address paternity fraud.

Alonzo-Diaz said she can see flaws in a system that forces men to pay for children who are not theirs. More than 70 percent of Los Angeles County men who pay child support were ordered to do so by default judgment.

However, the Children’s Advocacy Institute was concerned about AB 2240 because it did not provide money for the child’s food, school supplies and other needs while proof of paternity was pending. Alonzo-Diaz also pointed out that a man could claim he is not a biological parent, and then a test could conclude he is the father.

Also, parenthood is more than just DNA, she said.

“Biology is not the one factor that makes a father,” Alonzo-Diaz said.

Riddick, married with an 11-year-old son and daughters ages 6 and 3, wondered who would advocate for his children.

“I wish (Davis) would come to my house and tell my son why he can’t sign this bill,” he said.

He challenged Davis to explain to his son, Azriel, why Riddick must pay for another child at the expense of his own children.

But, he said, the fight is not over. Riddick said he will continue to lobby to reform paternity fraud and has even considered running for the state Legislature.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “It’s not over.”

Publish Date:September 28, 2002

2002 The Copley Press Inc.