As 45 states start their legislative sessions this month, now is the time for you and me to push lawmakers to champion necessary child welfare reform.
Last summer, we presented model language for a bill that would provide due process before a name goes on a child abuse registry. Volunteers in more than a dozen states reached out to their lawmakers with that proposed reform.
If you are one of those volunteers, now is the time to follow up on those contacts and encourage your lawmakers to support this legislation.
If you haven’t yet volunteered, now is a great time to step up and join the effort with a call or email to your state senator or representative (delegate, or assemblyman).
Many states will be friendly to parental rights legislation this year, as parents and lawmakers alike have been sensitized to family needs by the challenges of 2020. What’s more, our model was drafted by a coalition of family-policy experts and family-defense attorneys from both sides of the aisle. This means any state could be in play for this reform.
Why This Reform Is Needed
In a majority of states—far too many—all it takes to add a name to the state’s child abuse registry is the agreement between a child welfare investigator and his or her supervisor. In some states, even the supervisor is optional!
This means parents who have had their children taken away and then returned by order of a family court judge are still having their names added to the list of offenders. And many more parents’ names are added without ever getting a hearing before any judge or magistrate at all.
Last year, we were able to help two families, one in New York and one on the West Coast, whose names were added to the list of child abusers by a state agent who just didn’t like the parents’ decisions. In both instances, the Parental Rights Foundation was able to intervene and get their names removed.
But they should never have been added in the first place.
Our common sense reform will protect families by preserving their reputations: keeping the names of innocent parents off the list of child-abusers. It will also save states money by reducing the number of appeals, 80% of which today end in having the name removed anyway.
The time to bring legislation to your lawmaker varies by state, depending on when the legislature convenes and whether bills have to be prefiled.
January is an important month in many states, because 45 state legislatures convene this month, and three more convene on February 1 (NV, OK) or February 2 (AL). (California and Maine both convened ceremonially in December, but their sessions begin in earnest in January; they are counted in the 45.)
Of the states convening in January, seven start today (January 13), and five more (AK, HI, NM, OR, UT) will convene next week.
It is vital to introduce legislation early in the session, both to maximize the time our bill has for passage and to make sure we don’t miss important deadlines in the long legislative process.
There is one caveat to this timing: If bills had to be prefiled, then lawmakers may not be able to introduce anything new at this point. Check with your lawmakers to find out if this requirement applies to them.
Make a Difference
If your state doesn’t require that bills be prefiled, now is a great time to reach out to your state-level senator or house member and urge them to take up this important legislation before the session is too far gone.
All you need to do to get the ball rolling is download the model from our website here, then send it to your lawmakers with the request that they look it over and consider championing it this legislative session.
If you are willing to take that step, please email Michael@parentalrights.org before reaching out to your lawmakers, so we can coordinate efforts in your state.
As I mentioned at the start of this email, efforts have already been started in 13 states: Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
If your state is on this list, we could still very likely benefit from your reaching out to your lawmakers and encouraging them to support the legislation.
But if your state is not on the list, we could definitely use your help to begin an effort where you live.
As your legislature gets cranked up for 2021, will you be the one to step forward and take action in your state?
Working together, we can make a positive difference for families by protecting good and innocent names from your state’s misused child abuse registry.