Committee OKs parental rights bill

But foes say it has same problems as last year's

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 13 2007 12:34 a.m. MST

A parental rights bill similar to one vetoed by the governor last year amid concerns of unintended consequences received committee approval Monday, despite opposition from those saying it will have the same negative impact as last year's measure.

"If this bill is supposed to resolve the issues of last year, it doesn't," said Salt Lake family law attorney Lauren Barros.

SB248, sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, would limit the use of an established legal doctrine called "in loco parentis" to certain circumstances. It is a follow-up to a measure carried last year by former state GOP Rep. LaVar Christensen, who sought to reinforce the rights of biological and adoptive parents over all others in court cases involving parental rights such as custody and visitation.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. vetoed the bill, citing concerns about the impact it might have on situations involving grandparents or step-parents acting in the place of biological parents.

Monday, both Bramble and Christensen told members of the Senate Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Committee that those concerns have been addressed and SB248 has the approval of Huntsman and his attorneys.

The bill specifically notes that it "does not affect any established rights of a step-parent or grandparent." But the line, said Stuart Ralphs on behalf of the family law section of the Utah State Bar, is mere "lip service" to the concerns of many.

SB248 "completely alters best-interest-of-the-child standard" that now exists in Utah case law, Ralphs said.

Lobbyist David Spatafore spoke against SB248 Monday, noting that as a grandfather of four children to whom he is not biologically related — one of whom lives with him — his familiar situation is at risk because of SB248. The bill addresses visitation only, he said, not custody. If his grandson's father decided he wanted custody of the boy, SB248 would require he go to court and prove the man an unfit parent.

"What hell will the child go through to go to court to prove one of their parents is an unfit parent?" he asked. "That is a bridge I don't think we want to cross."

SB248 has the support of the conservative Sutherland Institute and the Utah Eagle Forum. It will now go to the full Senate for consideration.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com

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