BAD BILLS MAKING BREAKING UP HARDER TO DO House Bill 480 Rep. Warren Chisum, R -Pampa Rep. Warren Chisum is on a mission to save Texas families, and he’s gonna educate the family-splittin’ fight out of ’em. “My goal is to reduce the breaking up of families because it’s the basis for our society,” Chisum says. “We have had in this state since the early ’70s something we call divorce for insupportability, which is basically no-fault, which encourages divorce. When you have minor children in the marriage, that should not be an option.” Eliminating no-fault divorce, which allows couples to dissolve a marriage without accusing each other of a divorceable offense, has been a crusade of the religious right for years. Chisum’s contribution to the cause is HB 480, a bill “encouraging” couples with children to complete a 10-hour crisis marriage education course before or shortly after filing for a nofault divorce. If the couple still ends up in divorce court, the judge would be able to use their marriage-class attendance as a factor in dividing their estate and determining spousal support. That might not seem like much of an issue: Logically, husband and wife would be on equal footing in court because couples generally attend marriage courses together. But the bill authorizes a court, in deciding spousal support, to consider all “relevant factors,” including “whether either party has filed with the court a completion certificate for a crisis marriage education course?’ This tidbit would essentially allow two people to use attendance in a marriage class against each other in divorce court. HB 480 does not specify how or to what degree a court can use the marriage course as a mitigating factor. Chisum says it would be the court’s prerogative. “I trust the judges to make the fair call,” he says. This bill would put more at stake than just the division of a couple’s earthly possessions and financial resources, however; it may also endanger battered women seeking divorce. Chisum’s bill includes an exemption from marriage education for families where there is documented domestic violence. This requires victims to produce a police report, a restraining order, a doctor’s note or a sworn statement by a counselor or family violence advocate affirming there has been abuse proof that courts don’t require now. According to Andi Sloan, executive director of the Texas Advocacy Project, which provides free services to domestic-violence and sexual-assault victims, “Only 20 percent of domestic violence victims ever access domestic violence shelters. We’re talking about a very small percentage of victims who would even be able to fit into one of these categories?’ Sloan says domestic violence escalates around a divorce, so the legislation not only fails to protect victims, it puts them in more danger by throwing another obstacle between them and a way out. Moreover, some courts may interpret the marriage course certificate as a prerequisite for divorce. “They’re going to say, well, come back when you have it,” Sloan said. “Meanwhile, the victim and her children will be in a very dangerous situation for even longer.” Chisum has a history with state-administered marriage education. Last session, he helped write and pass a law rewarding couples for completing an eight-hour marriage education course before the big day by waiving the state’s $60 marriage license fee and the 72-hour waiting period. But HB 480 requires couples to foot the bill. The cost could range from $150 for a church-sponsored course up to $800 for a private course. Susan Peterson HONK IF YOU LOVE SUBTLETY House Bill 109 Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman On Dec. 18, Gov. Rick Perry singled out House Bill 109 as one he would be devoting a great deal of time and attention to during the coming session. Perry said the bill would allow “Texans who believe in the sanctity of life” to tell it to the world in “a subtle but meaningful way?’ How subtle? HB 109, sponsored by Rep. Larry Phillips, would greenlight “Choose Life” specialty license plates, giving Texans a chance to oh-so-delicately proclaim their anti-abortion leanings to fellow drivers. “This is all about promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion,” says Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, who joined Perry at that December news conference after spending the fall touring the state to promote the plates. For each $30 plate purchased, $22 would go into a Choose Life account. The state would dole out this money to “eligible organizations,” meaning those that do not provide abortions or abortion-related services, and those that do not make referrals to abortion providers. Much of the Choose Life bounty would go toward pregnancy resource centers, also called crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs. These centers have spawned controversy across the country. A 2006 study by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., found that a large majority of CPCs provide inaccurate or misleading information to women seeking advice about unintended pregnancies. As Sarah Wheat of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capitol region notes, this state’s “taxpayers already fund pregnancy resource centers very generously.” In 2005, the Legislature began diverting tax dollars toward CPCs for the first time. Texans now pay $2.5 million each year for programs that, more often than not, provide no medical services, fail to screen for cervical cancer, oppose birth control, and fail to offer advice for FEBRUARY 6, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21
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