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August 22, 2012 – Illinois Says Access to Children Important

Yesterday, Senate Bill 3823 became public law PA 97-1047 in the state of Illinois.  Parents who have had little recourse in stopping visitation interference by the other parent welcome the newly enacted statute which goes into effect immediately.

Led by Illinois Fathers, an ACFC affiliate, a coalition of groups and individuals worked for nearly two years to see the bill through the legislative process.  SB 3823 began after a meeting on a cold December evening in 2010 when Illinois Fathers Executive Director, General Parker and ACFC Exec. Dir.  Mike McCormick met with Dale and Penny Watkins at Panera Bread in Springfield.  The Watkins son, Steve, had been murdered several years earlier by his daughter’s maternal grandmother as he went to pick her up for visitation.  Steve was regularly denied access to his daughter in violation of court orders.  Dale and Penny embraced the idea of working together to initiate a bill providing parents with a statute to address interference.

The road for this bill to become law was not smooth.  Opposition came from several of the usual sources, namely the state’s domestic violence coalitions and initially also from the Illinois state bar association.  Early efforts by these groups were aimed at killing the legislation entirely.  They were nearly successful, but as time went on more and more legislators began to understand the significant problem of access interference.  Efforts to educate legislators continued throughout 2011 and into 2012. 

The goal for this bill was to create a statute mirroring the sanctions the state applies in cases where parents who had the capacity to pay child support did not.  There is a logical inconsistency in the state having sanctions for non-payment of support but nothing in the way of help for parents denied a relationship with their children.  SB3823 would give judges the leeway to suspend drivers licenses, assess fines, order probation and/or incarcerate parents interfering with child access.

After countless hours of meetings, press conferences, information sharing sessions and phone calls and visits to the state house by citizens SB3823 passed both the Senate and House of Representatives unanimously earlier this year.  Democrats and Republicans joined together to rise above partisan politics and enact a bill meant to benefit the children of Illinois. SB 3823 was sent to Governor Quinn’s office in June and became law yesterday.

Congratulations to everyone who joined in this effort.  And special thanks to Senator John Sullivan and Representative Connie Howard for their leadership, dedication and concern for Illinois families and children.

Click here for the bill and legislative history.