By Rep. Mike Sanders
Governor Mary Fallin is signing numerous bills that have successfully passed both chambers of the Legislature. There were a number of important measures enacted this month and I wanted to begin to tell you about them.
House Bill 1078, now signed into law, expands Oklahoma’s independent living program that helps children in the system enter into their adult lives. The expansion lowers the age by two years when an independent living worker and an advisor begin working with a child to prepare them for their adult life. It includes trying to get them on a college or career path, teaching them about living on their own and helping them plan for the time when they will be under their own authority.
The new law also increases the requirements for foster parents and group homes to ensure the child is exposed to the types of extracurricular activities that help them grow. Finally, it makes some changes to the protocols used to deal with runaways and child trafficking victims.
Since my election to office, I have strived to be an advocate for the children that enter into the Department of Human Services system. As a father, it hurts my heart to know about the struggles and horrors that some young people face in this world. My hope for these young Oklahomans is that they are cared for and can grow into productive and happy adults.
Another important area of law dealing with children is the custody process. Most of us recognize that family law is messy. Current law does not provide a father with any custody or visitation rights until paternity is established. An example provided of the problem with this was a case in which two parents met during a party. The father lived with the mother during the pregnancy. He then went on to raise the child after the mother left the scene. Later, the mother filed for state assistance and a paternity action. The way in which state law is written meant that the child left the father’s custody until paternity was established.
House Bill 1918, now signed into law, creates a process for awarding temporary custody to a father. The idea would be that he would be a “presumed father” with temporary custody until paternity was proven. The new law specifies that the court would have to consider the temporary custody to be in the best interest of the child.
Lawmakers are still waiting for this session’s budget negotiations to end. In the meantime, we are working on the remaining bills that have been amended and must either be sent on to the governor or through a second round of the process to hash out differences between the House and Senate.