Kleefisch pulls child support proposal

Rep. withdrew bill after criticism that he wrote it for former constituent, donor
Kleefisch pulls child support proposal
Rep. Joel Kleefisch

Kleefisch pulls child support proposal

A controversial bill to change child support and placement in the state is now on hold.

Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, withdrew the bill Tuesday after criticism that he had written it for a former constituent and donor.

Kleefisch said he’s been working on the bill for six years, and is adamant he didn’t write it for one specific case, but rather concerns over how child support is being awarded in the state.

The bill, which was supposed to get a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Family Law Wednesday, was withdrawn by Kleefisch Tuesday saying that misinformation had become a distraction to the issue.

The legislation itself would have said judges couldn’t consider incomes above $150,000 when assigning child support payments and would also have to award equal child custody to both parents. The bill was requested by former constituent and former Columbus Mayor Michael Eisenga, whose 2010 divorce required large child support payments based on his income and assets.

“It was never intended to help one person,” Kleefisch said. “In fact, we intended it not to be retroactive whatsoever. In fact we have amendments that say this bill will only affect divorces that happen upon publication of this legislation.”

Kleefisch said the bill was not special treatment for a former donor, who has given $2,000 to Kleefisch since 2005, and $7,500 to Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch since 2010.

“If we ignored the constituency we wouldn’t be doing our jobs,” Kleefisch said. “I can look you in the face and tell you I can swear on my children’s lives that no more attention was paid to any constituent who calls this office whether they have ever been a donor or whether they ever haven’t.”

Drafting files show that Eisenga’s attorney did suggest changes that would require the court to modify Eisenga’s child support order based on the passage of the bill.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, is a former family law attorney and is on the family law committee. She said she was glad to see the bill pulled, and felt it wasn’t simply serving a constituent.

“This is different because what the (Legislative Reference Bureau) file reveals is this bill was specifically crafted for one man to avoid or reduce his child support obligation,” Taylor said. “That’s fairly unusual and I have not seen something like that before.”

While the bill has been pulled from committee, Kleefisch said he’s committed to addressing the issue in future legislation.

“I think it was time to pull it back, re-evaluate it, talk to judges, parents, parents groups, Dads of Wisconsin that I have been working with for six years, and re-evaluate, put a package together that is going to have a lot of the same things in it and forward that in hopes of having a true debate about the legislation,” Kleefisch said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he respected Kleefisch’s decision to pull the bill, and that he shares the same concerns that child support may be being used to uphold the lifestyle of a divorced parent and not the child. He said he didn’t know if the bill would be back this session.