Equal Parenting Time Sponsor Agrees to Compromise

A controversial bill to mandate that a child in a divorce spend equal time with father and mother was resurrected Tuesday in Tennessee’s House of Representatives.

Representative Mike Bell wants a new law that says when a couple divorces, father and mother would have equal time with the children.

Bell doesn’t like what he says is the “standard plan” – a father gets his kids for a weekend every two weeks, and for two weeks in the summer.

Bell and his backers, mostly unhappy fathers, were upset when the “equal time” language was crossed out and “equal opportunity” written in by members of the House Children and Family Affairs Committee.

Last week Bell yanked the bill out of play. But this week he went back to the committee and accepted the compromise.

State Representative Johnny Shaw asked Bell for a guarantee that the sponsor wouldn’t change the bill back to the stronger “equal time” language.

Shaw: Will you make a commitment to us, that you will not add, or take away any amendments on this bill, in any of the committee or on the floor?
Bell: I make that commitment.

The bill now goes to the House floor.

The Senate version is on an agenda for the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

The original bill – the language that’s still in the Senate bill – sets up a default position that a child will spend half his or her time with the father and half with the father. The compromise leaves more of the custody decision to the judge, but requires that the decision be in the “best interests” of the child.

In such situations, often the House and the Senate pass different versions of a bill. In this case, Bell could keep his word and pass the softer version in the House, while a stronger, pro-father version could pass in the Senate. When different versions of the same bill are passed, a conference committee between the two houses work out a new version and the “report of the conference committee” is voted on by both houses, up or down, no amendments.

Bell left himself wiggle room to go back to stronger language if the bill goes to a conference committee.

“I will commit not to conform to the Senate bill. A conference committee? I ..I don’t know.”

So the focus now shifts to the wording of the Senate bill as it advances.

The bill is HB 2916 Bell/SB 2881 Bunch, here:

http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=HB2916

A relatively clear summary, by legislative staff, of the original bill is here:

http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/billinfo/BillSummaryArchive.aspx?BillNumber=HB2916&ga=106

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