Texas legislators are listening and responding to parents complaints that their children have been harmed by violations of their parental rights where the courts have been using statutes the legislators passed to violate fundamental rights of children and their parents unconstitutionally.
To correct this problem several proposed bills have been introduced by Senator Hughes and Representative Leach.
We are very pleased with their response. These two legislators have introduced bills with language that we have recommended for years and that Ron B Palmer and Sherry Palmer published in their book, NOT in the Child’s Best Interest in May of 2013, and in sample declaratory judgment motions in 2016, and that have been used in several SAPCR suits, appeals, and federal complaints.
Last year Sherry Palmer wrote several proposed bills that contained the constitutional language that these three representatives adopted in their parental rights bills. These suggestions were brought to the attention of the legislatures through Jeremy with the Texas Home School Coalition (THSC) and Michael Turi after Ron and Sherry crafted and simplified the arguments protecting parental rights.
Jeremy with THSC had presented some parental rights bills last legislative session (85th) but they were nowhere near as comprehensive as these this year. Michael Turi and Sherry Palmer shared the proper constitutional language with THSC and other decisionmakers, and through these combined efforts, Texas is the only state we know of this year that has bills this close to making their family law code compliant with constitutional guarantees. If these bills pass into law, SB 2365, HB 2528, and HB 2756, Texas will have the most protective family law code in the United States.*
What was the tipping point for getting this constitutional language into proposed legislative bills related to parental rights?
Approximately two years ago, Ron and Sherry suggested that parents ask their legislators to request an Attorney General opinion on what procedures were required in family courts and what rights did the state consider as fundamental rights and what kind of protection do these rights receive. This was shortly after the Palmers had discovered that Senator Jane Nelson had received an opinion years prior related to parental rights in a more limited context.
Jeremy says the recent AG opinion, KP-0241, was the tipping point and what finally convinced the legislators that these arguments about parental rights have merit.
This opinion says that a fit parent decides the best interest of the child even if a judge thinks a better decision could be made, and that the state courts do not get to interfere with your parental rights without meeting the highest burden of strict scrutiny, a higher burden than just best interest, reflecting some of Ron and Sherry’s work which simplifies the issues and reflects Supreme Court caselaw.
The AG has properly held that strict scrutiny applies in SAPCR between fit parents.* He has improperly held that this class of parent may be subjected to viewpoint discrimination on matters of conscience in child rearing, what is commonly referred to as the best interest of the child standard.
When Ron and Sherry first published their books and started making these arguments, the response they would hear from attorneys and judges was that they didn’t use these terms in family law, strict scrutiny, fit parent, and constitutional guarantees. Those days of denying these protections to children and parents and some of the unconstitutional practices in Texas may soon be over, or at least become the exception and not standard practice.
While an AG opinion may not make judges change their ways, it is certainly persuasive, and has provided that final piece of the puzzle the legislators needed to be confident enough to introduce constitutional protections into the family law process.
We would like to give special thanks to TFRM, Catherine MacWillie with Custody Calculations, Wendy Perry, Joan Kloth-Zanard, and Jill Egizzi for the trails they blazed before us, giving us the headstart and a starting place and support.
NFLPC strongly supports the following bills* with the recommendation that the reference to these rights depending on the type of suit be removed and made applicable to all SAPCR suits.
There are many, many other people who contributed to the filing of these bills, so if you are not mentioned here and deserve recognition, please let us know.
*Parents in suits with another natural parent are being excluded from these constitutional fundamental rights protections in HB 2756. The Policy Center actively searches for and identifies this problem and informs and educates the legislators and others on what needs to be done to correct the problem and bring the bill into constitutional compliance. The Policy center supports this bill and makes some language adjustment or deletion recommendations.