As we’ve learned from Reagan to Thune and Janklow to Noem, Republicans only hate big government when they are campaigning; once they are in power, they love expanding government to force people to do what they want.
A curious example of the most conservative Republicans proposing government programs to intrude on people’s personal lives comes from Representative Steven Haugaard (R-10/Sioux Falls), who proposes House Bill 1241, which would have government teaching adults how to be parents.
Now Haugaard would mandate parenting classes only for “parents who have filed for divorce, and parents who have petitioned for child custody or visitation.” He’s not making parenting classes a precondition for getting a marriage license or requiring pregnant women and their partners to come sit for mommy-and-daddy lessons.
He’s also not proposing any blatant “Sharia for Jesus” with HB 1241: rather than forcing parents to sit through some state-mandated Christian diatribe against divorce or requiring parents to produce proof that they’ve passed Sunday School to maintain parental rights, HB 1241 requires divorcing parents to sit through four hours of lectures or activities on “the impact that divorce, the restructuring of the family, and judicial proceedings have upon children and the family; methods for preventing parenting time conflicts; and dispute resolution options.” But watch out: I’ll bet Representative Haugaard has a whole bunch of Jesus-flavored curriculum ready to recommend if HB 1241 passes.
Rep. Haugaard will surely incur the wrath of angry-dad Representative Tom Pischke (R-25/Dell Rapids), whose entire political career is dedicated to avenging his divorce and child-custody struggles. To perhaps keep Pischke from going ballistic over the prospect of any further infringement on his parental autonomy, Haugaard writes into HB 1241 immunity provisions preventing anything participants say in parenting class from being used against them in court. Statements in parenting class would be inadmissible as evidence. No one connected with the class could make records of anything related to participants other than participants’ attendance and completion. HB 1241 would even create a new legal confidentiality, preventing program facilitators from disclosing any information about parent education program participants or being subpoenaed or called as witnesses in court.
Yo, lawyer Steve: your intent in that last clause is obvious, to apply that immunity only in the context of statements and actions in parenting class. However, as written, HB 1241 says, “Program facilitators may not be subpoenaed or called as witnesses in a court proceeding.” A court proceeding here technically means any court proceeding. If an angry dad walks out of his HB 1241 class, smashes the facilitator’s car windows, and the next day sees the facilitator at the bar and pops him in the mouth, the facilitator could not testify the angry dad’s trial for vandalism and assault. You might want to reword that.
HB 1241 as written also appears to run counter to our mandatory reporter law, which requires any teacher or social worker (one would hope parenting education facilitators would come from those professions) to report any information giving them reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or neglect. The House just voted to add dental hygienists to the mandatory reporter list (see House Bill 1132). Rep. Haugaard voted against that measure… and now he’s dropping a cone of silence on family counselors who might be in a prime position to hear evidence from parents in conflict that they may not be treating their children well.
HB 1241 may go too far in trying to make mandatory parenting class a safe space for grouchy, loudmouth parents headed to Splitsville. But perhaps it doesn’t go far enough in protecting the welfare of children and the integrity of families. I mean, if the state can claim a legitimate role in ensuring that adults act as good parents, should we really wait until those parents have hit some insurmountable obstacle that forces them apart? Maybe HB 1241 would do more good for kids if it did mandate pre-natal or pre-marriage parenting classes—an ounce of prevention….
Back in my Rush Limbaugh days (yes, I had them, back in the 1990s, when I was young and stupid), one of my dearest professors said the state should require everyone who wants a marriage license to sit through parenting classes. Even in my saner liberal adulthood, my antennae still twitch at the idea of the state teaching individuals how to be good parents at any stage in their lives. I certainly don’t trust Steven Haugaard or Kristi Noem to explain to my family or my neighbors, without religious bias or political agenda, how to be good parents.
If my liberal, communitarian antennae twitch at the suggestion of government intrusion on family matters, anti-government conservative Steven Haugaard’s antennae should twist his head clean off. Yet he’s the one proposing House Bill 1241 and government-mandated parenting classes for every prospective divorcee-parent.
Maybe ideological contradiction won’t matter to House Education when it hears this bill tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 7:45 a.m. But HB 1241 shows that the talk from Representative Haugaard and the rest of his party about keeping government small is just talk. Just like Democrats, Republicans want to use government whenever they can to achieve what they think is best for the public good. The difference is, Democrats are honest about that intent and are willing to have a complicated discussion about the public good and the many ways to achieve it. Republicans like Haugaard pretend they hate government when they run for continual reëlection, then hope we won’t notice when they propose bills like HB 1241 to expand government to achieve their goals.