Supporters of SB334, a bill that establishes procedures by which grandparents can regain visitation rights of grandchildren, were visibly angered when their speeches were cut short so that members of the House Judiciary Committee could get to the House floor for the beginning of Tuesday’s Legislative Session.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia), builds on earlier legislation which was ruled unconstitutional. The new bill uses a similar Arkansas bill as a model, expanding on that legislation by requiring grandparents to prove, by “clear and convincing” evidence, that a relationship with the grandchild exists and is worthy of retention.
Concerns were raised that the bill puts the burden of proof on grandparents, who should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But, on the other side of the coin, it was argued that the bill is a “usurpation” of a parent’s right to decide whom their children are allowed to spend time with. It was further noted that a similar bill in Georgia has now spiraled into a bill allowing visitation from aunts and uncles.
Kenneth Paschal, president of the Alabama Family Rights Association, gave testimony that on one hand seemed to justify the legislation but, on the other seemed to condemn it. Paschal noted that 40,000 children are “torn from their parents” each year, adding that 80,000 grandparents are thereby stripped of access to their grandchildren. But Paschal argued that those discrepancies would be best tackled by addressing the root problems.
“If we care about grandparents, we would fix that problem,” Paschal said. “Let’s protect the foundation of our families. This bill is not what we need.”
Though a small group spoke out against the bill, noting that the state should have no interest in family dynamics if a child is not in danger, the most emotional confessions came from two grandparents whose access to their grandchildren has been stripped from them.
Dee Booker, who formed the group Grandparents ROC which swamped the committee hearing Tuesday, detailed the story of her son’s death in Iraq and the subsequent removal of access to her grandchildren by her son’s ex-wife. She noted that the last time she saw her granddaughter was at her son’s funeral – since that time, her son’s ex-wife has remarried and changed her granddaughter’s name.
Julia Cooper was the last to speak in support of the bill and talked through tears for most of her monologue.
“Can you imagine how a grandchild feels when he can no longer hear you read him a bedtime story?” Cooper asked. “Think about the long-term effects this will have on the child.”
Cooper noted that children often feel abandoned or unloved, as they are often too young to understand the ins and outs of adult turmoil.
Before Dr. Perri Jacobs, a family therapist, could speak in favor of the measure, the committee adjourned amid the outbursts of those in support of the measure. No vote was taken and the bill will be taken up again next week.