This Post is Co-authored by Matthew Hickok and Nicholas Dreeszen. Their opinions are their own.
The date was March 14, 2018. The stage was perfectly set for a truly historic day in the state of Iowa for children and families.
Both the Grandparent’s Rights Bill (SF2247) and Shared Parenting Bill (SF2374) had passed the Senate with SF2247 receiving a unanimous vote.
SF2374 had been declared dead by Judiciary Chairman Zach Nunn the day before and was willed back to life due to the relentless efforts and passion of FUAN members refusing to give up.
Each bill was scheduled to be heard in a subcommittee meeting that day.
As fate would have it, devoted father and FUAN Member, Darien Clark had arranged with Representative Tedd Gassman in early February for his kids to lead the Pledge of Allegiance in the Iowa House while on spring break.
That date just happened to be March 14th. It seemed that the stars were finally aligning for the children of Iowa.
What began as a group of three quickly turned into a team of 20, then a crowd of 50, then into a mass estimated at nearly 200 people that stretched from the meeting location in the House lounge all the way out to the Rotunda. The energy and enthusiasm were electric.
The Shared Parenting subcommittee was set to begin at 9:30 with the Grandparent’s Rights to be heard immediately after.
Meanwhile, Danny Carroll of the Family Leader and ally to these bills led several supporters in a moment of prayer.
Due to the House members caucusing, the first meeting did not take place until about 11:30, and it was for the Grandparent’s Rights Bill, SF2247.
The crowd was enormous, several people spoke in support with not a single objection from anyone. The Representatives presiding over the meeting asked no questions and offered zero comments.
This one seemed to be in the bag, and the momentum appeared to be building. Inexplicably, the subcommittee meeting for Shared Parenting was further delayed.
The crowd began to dwindle because the majority of the supporters of these bills took time off work and drove from all areas of the state to attend and just had to leave. By comparison, the Iowa State Bar Association (ISBA) lobbyists are paid to be at the Capitol and utilized the extra time to call in reinforcements.
As the additional ISBA members arrived through the House Chamber elevator, the meeting was called to order within seconds, leaving only around 14 of the remaining 40 supporters an opportunity to even attend the meeting.
The meeting was called to order by Representative Megan Jones and conducted in a very unconventional manner. Rather than hearing alternating arguments in support of and in opposition to Shared Parenting, the meeting proceeded in a circle, ensuring that the ISBA would have the final words.
The arguments and evidence in support of the merits of Shared Parenting were infallible and included words from Attorney Jeff Janssen that preemptively undermined the ISBA’s already weak and unsupported arguments.
Left to scramble, the best they could muster was to cite a Shared Parenting law passed in California in 1979 and later rescinded in 1995. No support or reasons why were given other than simply stating that it “didn’t work.”
As a supporter attempted to make a closing statement, Representative Jones abruptly ended the meeting without a vote stating that she and Representative Heartsill had “urgent subcommittee meetings that they had to attend and would consider the issue later.”
These "meetings" proved to be a lie as Representative Heartsill spent nearly 10 minutes speaking with supporters immediately after the meeting, while Representative Jones (a practicing attorney herself) was photographed meeting with the ISBA just moments after the meeting’s conclusion.
Sensing the urgency of the situation, FUAN Custodial Reform Committee-(CRC) Chairman, Matthew Hickok, leapt into action and went Live on Facebook with an urgent call to action to target Megan Jones with calls and emails urging her to allow SF2374 to proceed to a full committee vote later in the afternoon.
Without a vote later in the day, the bill would be caught in the funnel and be declared dead for 2018.
As had happened so many times before, FUAN members and supporters came through when it mattered the most. Despite the call to action being specific to Megan Jones, Judiciary Chairman Zach Nunn confirmed that he had received over 200 phone calls in less than an hour!
It has become clear that the majority of Iowans are both in favor of and very passionate about Shared Parenting to the point that many close races statewide will be decided on this issue.
For reasons that are not yet clear, the Iowa House stalled both bills despite a tremendous outpouring of public support as well as strong support within the House itself, including written pledges from two of three subcommittee members supporting SF 2374.
No vote was ever granted by the Chair of the subcommittee, and no full committee meeting was able to transpire.
There are gladiators for Shared Parenting in both the House and in the Senate, both Democrat and Republican, that went above and beyond to move us closer to restoring children’s rights to have a significant and meaningful relationship with both parents.
This is not, and never should be looked at as a partisan issue.
Senator Brad Zaun did a tremendous job when he introduced the best, most comprehensive Shared Parenting bill that our state has ever seen.
Senator Julian Garrett chaired the subcommittee on this bill, elected to move forward with it, and stood strong as the Senate floor manager for this bill.
Matt McCoy and Rita Hart were strong vocal supporters in the Senate.
Lastly, Representative Liz Bennett did a fantastic job both advocating for this bill in the House, as well as asking the uncomfortable questions, rather than accepting one side’s arguments at face value. Her dedication to knowledge and the well-being of Iowans is unmatched.
These senators, along with several others, should be commended and recognized for their efforts.
It is believed that the biggest sticking point in the House was how the bill specifically addresses domestic violence.
The Iowa State Bar Association believes that SF2374 would put children at an increased risk for domestic violence but were unable to offer any actual evidence to support that claim.
The truth is that the current code found in 598.41 places children at a much higher risk of domestic violence. All too often, an abused spouse will choose to stay with the abuser rather than risk losing their children.
Why? It's because there is nothing in any state law that 100% guarantees that a capable parent will not be marginalized or even eliminated from their child’s life.
SF2374 addresses that issue in two ways.
Firstly, the rebuttable presumption of joint physical custody guarantees that a parent who finds the courage to leave their abuser will not lose their children.
Second, the move from the “preponderance of evidence” standard of evidence to a “clear and convincing” standard means that an abuser can no longer “win” the children just by having the more convincing argument, i.e., who has the better attorney which often equates to who has the most money.
Imagine a woman who endured physical violence, verbal abuse, and rape during her marriage. After many years, she finally manages to find the courage to take their three children and leave. Her ex is very well off and cuts off all access to their joint accounts while hiring a high powered attorney.
In court, she is accused of doing and selling drugs, prostitution, and having sex in front of her children. Supported only by the words of friends of the abuser and no actual evidence, the judge limited her to every other weekend with her children, despite that fact that she did have clear and convincing evidence of abuse.
Under SF2374, she would have been able to overcome the rebuttable presumption and have primary custody of her kids, and they would no longer be in harm’s way.
This real story (names withheld for obvious reasons), is one that is too often swept under the rug because it doesn’t fit the agenda of the opposition.
This chilling tale is a nightmare turned reality for an untold number of Iowans. By sitting on a bill (SF2374) that simultaneously addresses both the domestic violence issue and the growing number of false allegations, the Iowa House of Representatives is responsible for keeping both parents and children at an increased risk of domestic violence while continuing to allow one parent to be removed or marginalized merely because the other parent was a more convincing storyteller.
Their inaction is irresponsible at best and downright dangerous at worst. The voters will have their say in November.
This legislative session may be over, but we implore every one of you to continue to do the right things. Write articles to your local newspaper, reach out to your district candidates to gauge support, and join the Families United Action Network “Active Committees” to help us continue growing Iowa’s most significant Family Preservation Coalition.
We cannot wait for the changes to spontaneously occur. We cannot leave it to the chance that others will take the initiative. Now is the time that each family, each individual must step up and be heard. Let’s protect our children and allow democracy to prevail!