Yesterday THSC Legislative Liaison Paul Hastings, family law attorney Cecilia Wood, and I spent our day talking to staff members of the legislators on the Texas House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee about the Texas Parental Rights Restoration Act (HB 2557), which may be voted on in that committee on Monday.
As I mentioned earlier this week, the hearing on Monday went well. Although we had appointments with legislators, they were all on the floor for the entire day debating the budget, and we therefore met with their staff. In the course of these discussions, we explained that HB 2557 would be amended through a committee substitute to address concerns raised by some about the bill. That amendment includes changes to make sure that adoptive grandparents are treated the same as biological grandparents. As a result of advice from the family law attorneys (most of whom are also members of the Texas Family Law Foundation [TFLF], which opposes the bill), the standard the law sets which grandparents must prove in order for the court to order access was changed back to the original “significantly impair the child’s physical health or well being.” This change was made because it is a higher standard than the language in the original bill.
While we made these visits we learned that TFLF had been arguing against the bill on two major points. They claim that the bill would take away grandparents’ rights to have access to their grandchildren and that requiring a hearing within 45 days of the filing of the suit for the grandparents to prove they meet the standard is not enough time to prepare the case. Neither of these arguments is true.
Grandparents will still have the right to sue for access, but they will have to prove, at a hearing within 45 days of the time the suit is filed, that they meet the standard that their lack of access will significantly impair the physical health or well-being of the child. The court will no longer be allowed to take any other action until this hearing and proof is given that the grandparents can meet that standard. The current practice of giving access and/or possession to the grandparents while these suits are allowed to go on for years at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars will end.
TFLF also says that 45 days is not long enough to gather evidence and records. Experienced family law attorneys scoff at this since CPS is required by law to give evidence in a hearing within 14 days of the taking of a child to show evidence to sustain that taking. Attorneys also point out that those who file the suit should examine evidence in advance of filing the suit and therefore have time to prepare for the hearing and if they don’t have evidence, they should not be allowed to continue the case indefinitely.
We will be back at the Capitol on Monday to talk directly to these legislators regarding this bill. If your State Representative is on this Committee, please call them on or before Monday and ask them to support parental rights and vote this bill out of committee. If you have friends or family members who have a legislator on this committee, ask them to call as well. To find out who your legislators are, go here and type in your address. Please pray for favor with this committee.