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Report: Busy in the State House and in the U.S. Senate

ParentalRights.org has been busy in the state house and in the U.S. Senate in recent weeks, working to pass parental rights legislation and see the Parental Rights Amendment introduced in the new Congress.

By mid-January, ParentalRights.org volunteers were working with lawmakers on active parental rights legislation in four states: Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wyoming. As of this writing, three of those remain viable and two more efforts have been added to the list. Our effort in Mississippi, HC2, failed to clear the House Constitution Committee by the January 31 deadline and thereby failed. We will work with lawmakers there to try again next year.

  • Maine – Our effort in Maine, championed by Rep. Ellie Espling, has not yet received a bill number or been assigned to a committee.
  • Missouri – In Missouri, HB 354 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee,but a hearing has not yet been scheduled. Nevertheless, lead sponsor Rep. Kurt Bahr and our state volunteer Jill Johnson have already been making visits to the Missouri Senate to prepare for when the bill arrives there after a successful House vote. Bahr and Johnson got together on February 2 to meet with key Senate targets on what Johnson called a “short by exciting, fruitful day.”
  • Wyoming – Unlike Missouri, whose legislature won’t adjourn until the end of May, Wyoming’s legislature will adjourn in March. That means bills there have to move much more quickly. Fortunately, HB 153 on Parental Rights is doing just that. Approved by the House Development Committee (9-0) on January 23, the bill was adopted by the full House (50-7, 3 excused) four days later (Jan. 27).By February 3, it had been transferred to the Senate and assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.To Wyoming state coordinator Jan Loftus, that was terrific news. “I think we have a good chance of passing there [Judiciary],” Loftus commented in an email. “Praise God. There were a couple of committees [it could have gone to] that looked very unlikely.”

In addition to these efforts, we have added support for bills in Alaska and New York, though those are not our typical parental rights-defining legislation.

  • Alaska – Alaska’s HB 10 seeks to bring all of Alaska child removal cases into line with the stricter standards of the federal Indian Child Welfare Protection Act 1978 (ICWA),regardless of whether the child involved is of tribal descent or not. As a result, the state could no longer remove children from their parents without showing “(1) by a preponderance of the evidence, removal of the child is necessary to prevent imminent physical damage or harm to the child, or (2) by clear and convincing evidence…the child would likely suffer serious physical or emotional damage if left in the child’s home.”This heightened evidence requirementshould result in fewer children being removed without cause from non-abusive homes.As a result, ParentalRights.org supports this bill.
  • New York – And in New York, Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (D-113) is preparing to introduce legislation that will tighten the instances when grandparents can sue for child visitation under that state’s grandparent visitation statute. The bill, which we have reviewed, would also provide a means for parents to recoup their court costs from the grandparents in the event the visitation is denied. These steps will protect parents from being beggared by repeated frivolous attempts to disrupt their healthy family.While this bill is a long way from establishing parental rights as fundamental and protected, it is a solid step in a positive direction in a state that has not traditionally been favorable to parents. For these reasons, we support this bill as well.

National Efforts
Meanwhile, new ParentalRights.org President Jim Mason joined Government Relations Director Will Estrada on Capitol Hill last Thursday to meet with key Senators about the proposed Parental Rights Amendment.They met up with our outreach coordinator Melissa Ortiz to visit the offices of several key Senators, including members of the Senate leadership, to pitch the proposed Parental Rights Amendment (PRA). They also took the opportunity to meet with roughly 50 other organizations near the Capitol to educate them on this important issue. Meanwhile, Community Liaison Martin Brown met with the staff of a key House lawmaker, also to pitch the PRA.

Though the Senate is currently swamped with confirmation hearings, our allies there give us every confidence we will see the PRA re-introduced early in this session, perhaps by the beginning of March.

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By the Numbers: State and National Legislation

4 ParentalRights.org personnel who visited Capitol Hill last week to champion the Parental Rights Amendment.
5 State bills currently being championed by ParentalRights.org, including efforts in AK, MO, ME, NY, and WY.
50 Approximate number of D.C. organizations ParentalRights.org President Jim Mason spoke with last week about the Parental Rights Amendment.
67 “Yes” votes needed for a constitutional amendment proposal such as the PRA to pass the U.S. Senate.
500 Approximate number of bills that will be considered by the Wyoming legislature this session, the fewest in the country, according to LexisNexis.
16,000 Approximate number of bills likely to be considered in New York this year – the most by one state legislature – according to the same source.

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Going Deeper: Two-Thirds Vote Needed to Pass the Parental Rights Amendment

To see the Parental Rights Amendment adopted, we need a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress, followed by a majority vote in the legislatures of three fourths (38) of the states. And it all starts with filing a “concurrent resolution” in Congress.

A concurrent resolution is one designed to be taken up in both houses at the same time, so a House concurrent resolution will presumably be accompanied by a matching Senate concurring resolution. We are already in talks with lawmakers in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle, with the aim of introducing a bipartisan measure in each house.

Once a resolution is introduced, it is assigned to the appropriate (House or Senate) Judiciary Committee, who will generally then assign it to the Subcommittee on the Constitution. From there, the first step is generally a subcommittee hearing, followed by a vote of the subcommittee. If the resolution passes the subcommittee, it then goes to the full Committee on the Judiciary. A majority vote there is sufficient to send the resolution to the floor of the House or of the Senate.

On the floor of each house, the Amendment must receive a two-thirds vote. That means 68 senators and 290 representatives. This is important to note: because of this two-thirds requirement, adoption of the PRA absolutely must be a bipartisan effort. If the current majority party chose to go it alone, the Amendment would come up 16 votes short in the Senate and 50 votes shy in the House. And that’s if every Republican voted for the measure!

This is why spanning the aisle is so important. And that’s why our representatives on Capitol Hill last week were meeting with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to get on record in supporting parental rights.

Only together can we protect children by empowering all parents through the Parental Rights Amendment.

Sincerely,

Michael Ramey
Director of Communications & Research