LIMESTONE, Maine — A public hearing on a bill that would amend the laws governing child support enforcement will take place in front of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, and one of the citizens testifying in support of the bill will be a high school junior.
James Jelin is a junior at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone. He will testify at the public hearing because he originated the bill, LD 115, “An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Child Support Enforcement,” and got it submitted with the help of a Biddeford legislator.
The 16-year-old, who lives in Kennebunkport when he is not in school, was born in California but moved to Maine with his mother and siblings when he was young.
The bill came about from a life experience.
“I had a parent who owed child support,” he said. “Despite that, a creditor stepped in and took the only asset that could have paid it. Luckily, I have a very good family and we got through it, but not everyone is so lucky. Families that are owed child support sometimes have to turn to the welfare system because they don’t have the support they need. That should not happen.”
The bill was submitted by Rep. Alan Casavant, a Democrat who represents part of Biddeford and Kennebunkport. It essentially revises two existing statutes to give child support payments priority over other creditors. If a parent who is court ordered to pay child support is in debt, it allows the state to assure that any available funds will be used to pay the child support before other unsecured, unperfected creditors are paid.
Jelin pointed out that Maine statutes say that “child support is a basic legal right of Maine’s parents and children” and that it parallels current federal bankruptcy law, which already gives priority to child support instead of creditors.
During his sophomore year, Jelin joined the Maine State YMCA Youth in Government program. He was the House chair of the Justice Committee last year and also wrote the bill “Giving Child Support Payment Priority.” The bill he wrote was passed in the YIG mock legislature and won the best bill award.
Jelin said he then contacted Casavant, who liked the bill and agreed to submit it for consideration by the state Legislature.
“[Casavant] has been very supportive,” Jelin said. “I am very optimistic that it will pass. It is not a party issue or a controversial idea. I don’t see how someone can argue against it, except for maybe a big company that wants their money ahead of someone owed child support.”
Daniel Melega, a history teacher at MSSM and YIG adviser, will be taking Jelin to Augusta to testify on Tuesday.
“James is an incredibly bright young man,” he said. “His work ethic is a testament to the seriousness in which he takes all his endeavors.”
Because of that, he said, he was not surprised when Jelin followed through and had the bill drafted.
Casavant said Saturday evening that he also is confident the bill will pass.
“I have had several people tell me that it would have benefited them in the past,” he said. “I am very confident it will pass. James did all of the work. He wrote it, I just put it through the process. I am very impressed with him. I have never had someone so young submit a bill to me before.”
The hearing begins at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Augusta.