Plan to undercut parental rights is misguided

Lawmakers are making progress to approved a measure to allow grandparents and others to gain visitation rights with children even though parents object.

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An effort to usurp parental rights is gaining traction in Olympia.

The state House last week approved legislation pretty much along party lines aimed at making it easier for grandparents and other people who have a close relationship to a child to gain visitation rights despite the objections of a child’s parents.

The proposal, House Bill 1934, passed the House with unanimous support of Democrats and two Republicans — Dayton’s Rep. Terry Nealey and Enumclaw’s Cathy Dahlquist. It needs Senate approval to become law.

We certainly sympathize with grandparents and others who feel deeply wounded when visits to children they care about are overruled by parents. It’s also very unfortunate for the children. Having a strong, healthy relationship with your parents’ parents can be one of the most important bonds in people’s lives.

Parents should make every effort to promote that bond. Sometimes, however, family relationships can be so fractured that it simply is not possible.

Generally, the reasons are very emotional and heartfelt. Those involved likely didn’t reason themselves into their unfortunate situation, which is why a long list of rules — crafted by reason — will never satisfy at least one of the parties.

Few family problems will be solved by this proposal but a lot of new ones will be fueled by the animus created by the legal battles over visitation.

It’s also going to put unnecessary strain on the judicial system and social service system already overburdened and facing cuts like the rest of state government.

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled this isn’t an area government should tread. In 2000 the high court upheld a Washington state Supreme Court ruling saying state law went too far in granting grandparents authority to seek visitations.

“The family entity is the core element upon which modern civilization is founded,” the state Supreme Court wrote more than a dozen years ago. “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.”

It’s likely HB 1934 might be crafted to try to avoid some of the constitutional pitfalls that derailed the previous law, but in the end it’s based on the same principle.

Any effort to undercut parents’ rights in these very personal matters is simply none of the government’s business.

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