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In the News

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Burton pulls controversial child-custody legislation

By David M. Drucker
Sacramento Bureau
L.A. Daily News

SACRAMENTO August 18, 2004 -- Legislation that would gut a California Supreme Court decision granting more equality to divorced fathers in child-custody disputes was yanked by its powerful sponsor Tuesday amid a flurry of opposition.

State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton shelved Senate Bill 730, which would have forced judges to ignore the child's "best interest" in cases where the custodial parent -- usually the mother -- wants to move with a child to another city or state.

Burton said the matter should not be rushed through the Legislature this year.

Fathers'-rights activists and family-law experts who believe the child's best interest should trump the custodial parent's hailed the move.

They said SB 730 deserved to die on its merits, and because it was originally prevailing-wage legislation that was hastily rewritten using the "gut-and-amend" process lawmakers typically employ to avoid major opposition.

Burton indicated in a letter to Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, that he was backing off because he believes SB 730 deserves more deliberation than would be afforded by the remaining 2 weeks of the legislative session.

"I am supportive of taking the time to study the issue further and gather public input during the fall recess before taking further legislative action," Burton, D-San Francisco, wrote.

Fathers' rights advocate Michael Robinson and John Eisendrath, a Los Angeles television writer and one-time executive producer of "Alias" who stands to benefit from the recent Supreme Court decision, lobbied lawmakers last week to oppose SB 730.

Tuesday's Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill was canceled after Burton signaled late Monday he was pulling it.

Burton drafted SB 730 at the behest of women's advocates concerned with the ramifications of an April state Supreme Court decision. The court ruled in favor of Gary LaMusga, who sued to prevent his ex-wife from moving to Ohio with their children on the grounds it was not in their best interest.

LaMusga's ex-wife initiated the move because of her new husband's employment situation, but feminist groups fear the ruling will negatively impact poor, single women who must move away for their financial and even physical well-being.

"We're seriously disappointed in (Burton's) decision to pull this bill. Hopefully it will come back in some other session," said Marci Fukuroda, a staff attorney with the L.A.-based California Women's Law Center.

David M. Drucker, (916) 442-5096