Legislature shouldn’t tamper with parents’ rights

The state has no business overruling parents on which relatives are allowed to visit their children.

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Without a doubt, it is an extremely sad situation when extended families are torn apart — when disagreement and discord result in grandparents being kept from spending time with their grandchildren.

But trying to use legislation to override parental decisions in fractured families is going to a place the Washington state Legislature does not belong. Yet, lawmakers in Olympia are trying to get to there. A proposal to make it easier for grandparents and others with a close relationship to a child to secure visitation rights has been introduced.

hearing was held on the proposed legislation, with proponents attempting to tug at heartstrings.

Ruth Wade, a 69-year-old great-grandmother from Lacey, told the House Judiciary Committee her greatest regret is not being allowed into the life of her great-granddaughter.

“I have missed out on all of her firsts, and unless this bill is passed, I feel I might miss out on her first kiss, her first date, her first high school prom and all these things,” Wade said.

Unfortunate, of course, but not a concern of state government (or any level of government). The state should be involved only if children are being abused. Other than that, it’s a family matter — period.

Parents have a legal right to raise their children the way they see fit.

In 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar attempt by Washington state to legislate this matter. The high court upheld a state Supreme Court ruling saying Washington’s law went too far in granting grandparents authority to petition courts for visitation.

“The family entity is the core element upon which modern civilization is founded,” the Washington Supreme Court wrote. “A parent’s constitutionally protected right to rear his or her children without state interference has been recognized as a fundamental interest ... and also as a fundamental right derived from the privacy rights inherent in the Constitution.”

Nothing has changed.

Perhaps this piece of legislation, House Bill 1506, can be written in a way to get around the 2000 ruling. Lawmakers might be trying to link the proposal to 2005 state high court ruling upholding “de facto parent” status to those who can demonstrate a permanent and unequivocal parent-child relationship.

The measure, as it was introduced, would allow courts to grant visitation to a third party who can demonstrate an ongoing and substantial nonparent-child relationship that if severed would likely lead to the child being harmed.

If this were to become law, it would put a time and financial burden on the legal system and social service system as well as putting families through gut-wrenching ordeals that likely won’t improve their situations.

This is not the state’s concern. The Legislature should butt out.

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