Bad Bills

Bark and Bride

Tighten the Knot

HB 180Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington)

What that state has joined, let no one tear asunder—without properly signed releases and a permission slip from a counselor.

To strengthen the bonds of matrimony, Rep. Bill Zedler wants to create a second tier of marriage licenses that would be $5 cheaper, but also make it harder to get a divorce.

The idea of “covenant” marriages—already allowed in Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona—is that couples who obtain the We Really, Really Mean It marriage license will pledge a stronger troth. Those not interested could still get a garden-variety license that allows no-fault divorces.

“It’s easier to get out of a marriage than to get a lease on your car,” Zedler says. “You often see that some flare-up happens, and with the option of a no-fault divorce, one person can decide ‘I want out,’ and that’s it.”

Couples seeking a covenant license would have to receive premarital counseling. They couldn’t divorce unless both spouses and a counselor agree the marriage is unsalvageable. (Divorce without permission slips would be permitted in cases of imprisonment, abandonment, adultery, and abuse, with certain stipulations.)

It’s tempting to make jokes about picking between two levels of hell, but family violence counselors say Zedler’s bill is no laughing matter. Battered women do not need another potential barrier when trying to escape from an abusive relationship, they say.

Under Zedler’s bill, abused spouses in a covenant marriage would have to file a police report and get a court protective order before they could legally divorce. Zedler says he plans to amend the bill to require just a sworn affidavit.

Laura Wolf, director of public policy at the Texas Council on Family Violence, says no-fault divorce is often the best option for battered victims, who may have concerns about going to public authorities. Zedler’s affidavit would require victims to state on the record that they’re being abused.

“It may be safer for a victim of family violence not to have to disclose to the general public that that’s what’s happening in her home,” Wolf says. “It would potentially expose her to greater shame, greater danger, or it might provoke her batterer into contesting a divorce.”

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, says two women are killed every week in Texas by an intimate partner. “Texas should do nothing to place barriers in the way of those women facing that situation,” Miller says.

Wolf points out that covenant marriages are already available through churches, though the covenants have no legal standing.

“People can opt into a covenant marriage in their own faith community today, but by the state creating this option, they put victims of domestic violence at risk,” Wolf says.

Zedler says he’s doing it for the kids: “If you look at what happens to children who are in a marriage versus a divorce, there is less child abuse, less crime, they are less likely to be in poverty. The end result is that it’s beneficial for us to create an environment that helps to maintain a marriage.”

Gag the Dog

House Bill 408Rep. Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands)

They’re out there. Lurking. Sniffing. Scheming. Barking. Who will defend innocent Texans from the scourge of … a neighbor’s loquacious dog?

Rep. Rob Eissler.

“My mission is to respond to my constituents,” Eissler (R-The Woodlands) says modestly, and his constituents—channeling their concern through his justice of the peace, Edie Connely—have asked for a bill that will silence the dogs that wake them in the middle of the night.

House Bill 408 applies only to “an unincorporated area of a county with a population of 275,000 or more” next to “a county with a population of 3.3 million or more,” otherwise known as The Woodlands. Eissler says he offered to include the rest of the state, but no other legislator would sit up and take notice. The bill makes it a public nuisance to “allow the barking of or another noise made by a dog … if a reasonable person would find it objectionable.” Thirty continuous days of the nuisance would result in a $50 to $200 fine. A second offense could result in six months in jail. Assuming a neighbor who would sic the Texas Legislature on a lax dog owner might still be called “reasonable,” the bill raises another puzzling question to chew on: What “other noise” do dogs in The Woodlands make when they’re not barking? Eissler says he has no idea.

While local governments around the state have already passed similar noise laws, because this afflicted neighborhood is unincorporated, it falls under state law. Eissler recognizes the bill won’t be a high priority—the same bill went nowhere last session—but even if it isn’t fast-tracked to the floor, he says he was glad to file it for the people he represents. “It’s one of those where I know I’m going to get some ribbing,” Eissler says, apologizing in advance for his dogged pursuit of this howling injustice. “I’m taking one for the team.”

Pity the misunderstood vulture. Although much maligned, it provides a vital community service by keeping the roadways clean. In the same way, every two years Observer staffers feast on the rotting flesh of truly bad or absurd legislation. If you can direct us to a bad bill, stupid bill, funny bill or bill that’s just plain unconstitutional, e-mail us at [email protected]

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Published at 12:00 am CST