Harold Dutton 2.0

On Thursday March 12, 2015 as many of you know Ron Palmer and Stuart McMullen had their meeting with Representative Pena regarding the Equal Parenting Bill HB2363 and putting the Protecting Parent-Child Bonds Bill as a rider onto HB2363.

First, Ron and Stuart went by Rep. Dutton’s office (Chair of the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee) and spoke with Tamoria (Chief of Staff) before they met with Pena.  Tamoria informed them that the bill that Ron and Sherry drafted did not make it in time, however, since Pena’s bill (HB2363) addresses the same statute in the family code she can add it as an amendment to HB2363.  We should be able to address our concerns (best interest of child, judges discretion/authority, etc) with an amendment/rider to 2363. She was not aware of 2363 until Stuart and Ron brought it to her attention and she was happy to learn this information.  She said that she would be getting with Maricela (Pena’s Chief of Staff) to coordinate efforts.  She also said that she has 31 bills that deal with Family Code (custody, modification, and child support).  As soon as she compiles a list of these bills, she will be able to provide those to us.

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From there, Ron and Stuart met with Pena and Maricela (Pena’s Chief of Staff).  Ron did most of the speaking and addressed the constitutionality of the current family code.  They had several questions that Ron was able to address.  Both Pena and Maricela have personal experiences with the current flawed system and want some changes to the family code but they need to be educated. Maricela indicated that she needs to educate Pena as much as possible so that when he is questioned in the Committee hearing he will be prepared.  Ron has offered to send them a few copies of the book, “NOT in the Child’s Best Interest” and “Protecting Parent-Child Bonds” that he and Sherry wrote to use as a resource.

Pena has encountered some opposition to the bill from the Family Courts group.  They are scheduled to meet with Pena next week.  Maricela will update us with their concerns after the meeting so that we can help her address / counter their concerns.

Maricela also asked if there are any statistics available that show how many cases go to a final hearing where the judge has to make a ruling to designate a primary custodian.  We are not aware of any that are available but Ron pointed out that this statistic would not take into consideration the bullying that takes place outside of the courtroom (in mediation, in the court hallway, between attorneys, etc) where one party is bullied into settling for less than 50/50 out of fear of the unknown, lack of resources, and the current bias against divorcing parents.  If there is a source for this information, please share it.

Stuart is sending Maricela the list of states who are proposing legislation for a similar change.  He will also send her statistics from an article in Psychology Today that has some good information about children from Fatherless homes.  This will be good supporting information for her to have in her pocket.

Ron pointed out that in the current system, judges have the ability to determine the “best interest of the child” and override an agreement that the parents made outside the courtroom.  Pena took a lot of interest in this and also noted that these judges have no accountability.  He also wants to know the statute in the current Family Code that allows judges this authority.  Ron said that he would get this to him.

Pena and Maricela agree that 2363 is not perfect and they are open to amending it as needed.

As for the timeline, the bill has not been referred to a committee yet, but it is assumed that it will go to the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee.  Dutton is Chair and Pena is a member.  When this happens, we will have more information about how to move forward and who to be in front of.  Maricela thinks that the hearing on the Family Issue bills will be in mid-April.  They are only given 24-hours notice.  Once the notice is given, we will be able to sign up to testify at the hearing.  The hearing could be all day and last until midnight, depending on the number of bills and number of testimonies.

In the meantime, I would recommend that we get the word out about HB2363, contact our own reps & senators and ask for their support of the bill, and be ready to head to the capital when the call comes in about the hearing.  If your rep / senator shows interest in supporting the bill, ask them how they would be willing to show support of the bill. Send them to this page, Protecting Parent-Child Bonds, where they can see HB2363 as well as the Protecting Parent-Child Relationships Bill that Tamoria is trying to add as a rider, and other updates and resources. Both Bills will be updated on this page as changes are made to them.

You will find a letter to download and e-mail to your representative on this page as well: Protecting Parent-Child Relationships Bill

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Overall, Ron and Stuart are extremely pleased at the response they have gotten from these two and are excited that they are so receptive and willing to work to get as much as possible onto the floor this session!
Rep Pena and Rep Dutton are working on making Texas a better place for families to live. Please support them and their efforts to bring justice back into the family courts where parents and children can be free from unwarranted government intrusions and burdensome expense. They will need your help to get the amendments into the Bill. Dutton and his staff are trying to add the Bill that we wrote as a rider to HB2363 so that a better understanding of what triggers best interest and what doesn’t is covered, and to add protection for fit parents.

Stay tuned and be ready to mobilize. Subscribe above if you wish to receive e-mails when we need you at the capitol!

Thank you Stuart for the thorough and informative write-up!