Tennessee lawmakers on a House Children and Family Affairs subcommittee debated the question Tuesday while considering proposed legislation providing that a man who proves by genetic testing not to be a child's father is not liable for future child support responsibilities.
"This would not give them the ability to go back and get back money they've already paid for child support or anything like that," said the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.
Two Northeast Tennessee lawmakers on the subcommittee, state Reps. Nathan Vaughn and Matthew Hill, were on opposite sides of the bill.
Vaughn, D-Kingsport, said he was "very unhappy" with the bill and called it "a rejection" of children.
"(If) you have been determined to be that child's father as to the best of that child's understanding and then to pull the rug from underneath the child after that period of time and say â€˜This is no longer my child and I have no obligation or responsibility to that child,' that is akin to just throwing the child away," Vaughn told Campfield.
"Would you not agree with that?" Vaughn asked.
"No, I would not, honestly. Genetically he is not the person's child," Campfield responded.
"Is this bill in the best interests of children or is it in the best interests of fathers?" Vaughn asked.
"I would say it is in the best interests of both," Campfield said. "I would hope the parent would ... come forward and say â€˜This may not be your child' and maybe who knows and make a determination from there."
"Who's going to take care of this child from there?" Vaughn asked.
"Hopefully, the true father," said Campfield.
Vaughn responded: "This bill basically says â€˜We don't care about children. All we care about is the money involved in terms of the support.'"
Hill, R-Jonesborough, disagreed and noted the bill's goal is to transfer child support responsibilities to the rightful father.
"I think this bill is about responsibility. ... The point of this legislation is to make sure the individual that is responsible owns up to that responsibility," Hill said.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) says that approximately half of America's children live in single-parent families at some point in their lives and adds that child support enforcement is a "continual challenge."
States use measures such as restricting driver's licenses and requiring employers to report all new hires to child support agencies to enforce support payments.
"Some states have taken other aggressive approaches, including ... publishing â€˜most wanted' lists of delinquent parents," said an NCSL overview of the subject.
A Department of Human Services official told the subcommittee that Campfield's bill will reduce child support payments and added there are adequate measures in the law to require a parent to support a child until the child turns 18 years old.
The bill, which was deferred for one week, included an amendment that would require someone who has legally adopted the child to be responsible for child support.
Campfield's bill, said state Rep. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, is about truth and justice.
"If we find truth, we will apply justice," Kelsey said.
For more about the bill go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on "Legislation." The bill's number is HB 1523.