Senate File 2247 is NOT a Grandparents Rights bill

There have been various posts on various social media platforms accusing me of being against grandparents rights and/or of voting against grandparents rights, and I’ve received a few emails along the same lines, and while I often ignore this type of “fake news” I’m going to clear this specific fake news up right now.

Short Story:

Senate File 2247 is NOT a grandparents rights bill, and I did NOT vote no on it.

Long story:

Under current Iowa law, the only legal rights that grandparents have re visitation with their grandchildren are set out in  Chapter 600C of the Iowa Code. Basically, a grandparent whose own child is deceased can file a petition in district court seeking visitation rights with the children of that deceased child, and if the judge makes certain specific findings of fact (which are spelled out in 600C.1) the judge may order visitation between the grandparent/grandchild, even if the surviving parent objects.  So under current Iowa law, the only grandparents who have what’s called “legal standing” to petition for grandparent visitation rights are grandparents whose own child is deceased.

Back in February of 2017, Senator Brad Zaun sought to change that with Senate File 281, the precursor to Senate File 2247, which if passed would have granted any grandparent (or great-grandparent) legal standing to petition the district court for visitation with their grandchildren.  This bill did not move forward during the 2017 legislative session, but in February of 2018 the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed SF281 – but did so with a recommendation that the bill be amended (probably because because someone pointed out that what SF281 sought to do was totally unconstitutional pursuant to the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Troxel v. Granville).

Senate File 2247 is the amended version of SF281, and in stark contrast to SF281 it does NOT expand the category of grandparents who can petition for grandparent visitation under Chapter 600C.  All SF2247 does is add a provision to 600C.1 that requires a judge to order mediation in the event that a surviving parent resists a grandparent visitation petition filed by a grandparent whose own child is deceased.  That’s it.  So that’s the bill that passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously, and that’s the bill that passed out of the Senate unanimously on March 12, 2018.

SF 2247 was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee on March 13th – the same day as the last scheduled House Judiciary meeting prior to the March 16th second funnel deadline.  The House subcommittee on the bill (made up of Representatives Rizer, Baltimore, and Lensing) met that same morning and heard testimony from several grandparents. I sat in (as I do with many House Judiciary subcommittee hearings, even if I’m not on the bill’s subcommittee) and it quickly became clear to me that all of the people who spoke during the hearing were under the mistaken impression that if passed, SF 2247 would give any grandparent legal standing to file a petition for grandparent visitation.

So I was sitting there thinking “Yikes that’s not what this bill does at all” but like I said, I wasn’t on the subcommittee and thus wasn’t in a position to ask questions or attempt to clear up the confusion during the subcommittee hearing (and I doubt I would have been able to do so had I tried).  And because it was a crazy day, and I was dealing with several other Judiciary bills, I didn’t have a chance to discuss the bill with any of the subcommittee members. Ultimately, Representative Rizer (the chair of the bill’s subcommittee) didn’t pass the bill out of subcommittee, and it wasn’t debated/voted on during the House Judiciary meeting scheduled later that same day – so, Senate File 2247 technically “died” in the House Judiciary Committee. And a lot of grandparents believe that the Iowa House killed their grandparents rights bill, and some are accusing me of killing the bill or voting no on the bill – despite the fact that I’m a member of the House minority party and thus can’t kill anything, and despite the fact that I never even had the opportunity to vote on SF 2247.

BUT – and this is important – for all intents and purposes,  the Iowa Senate majority party actually killed the “grandparents rights” part of the bill back in February, when the Senate Judiciary Committee amended SF281 so as to strip out the language that would have given all grandparents legal standing to seek visitation with their grandchildren. Senate File 2247 – the bill that the Senate passed unanimously, and the bill that was before the House Judiciary subcommittee on March 13th – isn’t a grandparents rights bill because it does nothing to expand or strengthen grandparents rights.

I don’t know if the people lobbying on behalf of SF2247 were affirmatively misinformed by someone in the Senate that even as amended, the bill would still give all grandparents a legal right to file a petition seeking grandparent visitation – I sure hope not, because if so, that would be a really rotten thing to do to the good Iowa citizens who have worked hard on this issue for years and who were thrilled by the fact that (what they believed to be) a grandparents rights bill was moving forward.  Regardless, Senate File 2247 is not a grandparents rights bill, and had it passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, passed the House, and ultimately been signed into law by the Governor, grandparents whose children are alive would not suddenly have the legal right to file a petition seeking visitation with their grandchildren. And that isn’t due to anything the Iowa House did or didn’t do, and if anyone in the Senate is claiming otherwise, shame on them.

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About Representative Mary Wolfe

Part time attorney; full time State Representative for Iowa House District 98 (East Clinton County)
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