Child Safety and Custody Bills Receive Support
This week in the Missouri Senate I have some good news and some bad news about a few pieces of my legislation. The good news is that two pieces of legislation I proposed that deal with the issue of child safety and parental custody both received hearings and large amounts of support in the Seniors, Families and Children Committee meeting Tuesday, Feb. 9. The bad news is that my legislation related to invasive feral hogs, SB 617, has been held up in committee and will most likely be killed.
First, the bad news. I am disappointed that my Senate bill relating to the management and curbing of Missouri’s destructive feral hog population has been held up in the Senate Agriculture Committee and is currently on track to be killed before it can reach the Senate floor for debate. This is a real shame as the destruction caused by this invasive species in Southern Missouri is harming our state’s agriculture industry and natural resources.
Now, the good news. My first bill heard in the Seniors, Families and Children committee this week was SB 963. This legislation adds multiple crimes to the list of offenses that make an individual eligible for placement on the child abuse and neglect registry. Some of these added offenses include sexually exploiting minors, possessing child pornography and promoting sexual performance by children. The goal of this Senate bill is to increase the punishments for people who commit these despicable acts in an attempt to better protect Missouri children.
Senate Bill 963 also sets forth new guidelines pertaining to the family court’s process in assigning youth custody to the Children’s Division (CD). This legislation will charge the family court with considering whether or not the youth will benefit from CD custody, whether the youth will cooperate and any other circumstances of importance. Five witnesses came to Tuesday’s hearing and provided testimony in support of this bill. There were none against. It’s clear that my bill will protect Missouri’s children and crack down on those who wish to do them harm.
My second bill heard during Tuesday’s committee, SB 964, will also improve Missouri children’s futures and it will achieve this by assuring all children will have approximate and reasonably equal time with both of their parents in joint physical custody agreements. This is a bill that I feel very strongly about, as do many Missourians, which was clear to see when 19 citizens came to testify in support of my bill this during its hearing. I was extremely happy to hear so much encouragement for my bill from all of the fathers, mothers, teachers, social workers and children from around the state who came to share their personal opinions and stories about how SB 964 will change Missourians’ lives for the better.
Currently, many joint-custody decisions handled in Missouri courts conform to something called the Siegenthaler custody plan. This plan allots unequal balance between the mother and father’s custody time amounts – usually in favor of the mother – with the father typically getting visitation rights only every other weekend and one night a week. This imbalance is often unfair to fathers engaged in custody battles for their children, and it can be incredibly harmful to the children involved.
Most fatherlessness is not caused by willful abandonment, but by outdated court practices and vague statutes that promote conflict and ruin families’ economic and emotional futures. When viewed from the child’s perspective, the social cost of fatherlessness explodes. Here are some statistics about fatherless children from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Justice and the US Census Bureau:
- 63 percent of teen suicides come from fatherless homes.
- 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children grew up without a father.
- 71 percent of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
- 71 percent of pregnant teenagers lack a father.
- 85 percent of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes.
- Fatherless boys and girls are four times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems than dual-parent children.
It truly is the children who suffer most from these outdated judicial standards. Crisis requires change, and 72 percent of American believe the most significant social crisis facing this country is the issue of physical absence of the father. Research shows that throughout every measure of well-being, children in joint-parent relationships are healthier, more prosperous and happier than those in single-parent households.
Senate Bill 964 would ensure that all parents and all children will be able to spend reasonably equal time with each other so Missouri’s children can develop meaningful, healthy and continuing relationships with both of their parents. This act is sorely needed, and it’s well past time to change our state’s custody laws to be in the best interest of all children and their parents.
I urge you to contact me with any questions or concerns you have about state government so that I can better represent you during the 2016 legislative session.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions, and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Wayne Wallingford, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101, or email at email@example.com or www.senate.mo.gov/wallingford.
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