Kettering residents testify before the Ohio House Civil Justice Committee in support of H.B. 352


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Kettering, Ohio – On Tuesday, October 12, 2021, Kettering residents Eric Duffy, and Richard Payne traveled from Kettering to Columbus to testify before the Ohio House Civil Justice Committee. Both Duffy and Payne were testifying in support of House Bill (H.B.) 352. H.B. 352 would prohibit disability from being used to deny or limit custody, parenting, time, visitation, adoption, or service as a guardian or foster caregiver of a child.

Kettering residents Eric Duffy and Richard Payne stand in front of the Ohio Statehouse.

Duffy and Payne, both of whom are blind, told the House Civil Justice Committee that the National Federation of the Blind of (NFB) Ohio proposed H.B. 352 because the organization has seen numerous instances where blind parents have had children taken away by social workers immediately after a child’s birth. NFB representatives said that in many cases social workers take or consider taking children simply because they do not believe that a blind person can be a parent.

Duffy said that as a volunteer with the NFB of Ohio, he often advocates for blind parents with custody issues. Duffy testified, that he has seen situations where a parent’s blindness was not an issue until divorce and custody proceedings started. Duffy also talked about how he had Child Protective Services called on him at least twice because people were raising issues about his ability to parent. Duffy testified that “it is terrifying, it's heart-stopping” as a blind person when CPS knocks on your door to investigate you. Duffy concluded by saying that the legislation seeks to ensure that people with disabilities have the right to parent like everyone else. Duffy also clarified that the legislation was not intended to protect bad parents, regardless of their disability status. Duffy believed that H.B. 352 was one of the most important Civil Rights legislation for blind and disabled people that the Ohio Legislature could pass.

Payne testified that the mother of his daughter is also blind. He said that when his daughter was born they had to wait for hospital social workers to decide whether they would be able to take their daughter home. The social workers were considering whether the two could parent given their blindness. Payne talked about how the social workers would never have considered not allowing his daughter to go home had they not been blind. He talked about how non-disabled individuals would never have their ability to parent questioned by a hospital, unless there was some specific and obvious cause of concern, such as drug addiction, etc.

Duffy, Payne, and other supporters of H.B. 352 called on the House Civil Justice Committee to protect the rights of blind parents by passing H.B. 352.

Under the proposed legislation all individuals with disabilities would be presumed to be competent parents, just like all other parents are currently. In order to deny parental rights because of a disability, a Court would have to find by “clear and convincing” evidence that the individual’s disability has or could have a detrimental impact on the welfare of a child. But before a court could reach this finding, it would also have to consider whether support services, such as training, alternative techniques, assistive technology, etc. could eliminate the detrimental impact on the child. In addition, the legislative proposal would put the burden of proving the existence of a disability-related detrimental impact on the party making the claim, not the parent with a disability.

H.B. 352 is being sponsored by Representative Sharon A. Ray (District 69). Erica C. Crawley was also a primary sponsor of the bill before she left the House to become a Franklin County Commissioner. The House Civil Justice Committee is the legislation’s first committee in the House. The NFB of Ohio also has a companion bill, S 202 sponsored by Senators Bob D. Hackett (District 10) and Nickie Antonio (District 23).

H.B. 352 and S. 202 are not the NFB of Ohio’s first attempt to address the issue of protecting the parental rights of Ohioans with disabilities. The organization also worked with Representatives Erica C. Crawley and Jon Cross during the 133rd General Assembly on H.B. 188, which was a similar proposal. H.B. 188 received broad bi-partisan support passing the House Health Committee 13-0 and the full House 93-0. , H.B. 188 received no opposition testimony in either committee or on the House Floor. The bill did not reach the Senate before the end of the session.

H.B. 352 would also seem to have broad bipartisan support as it was introduced with 19 cosponsors. The House Civil Justice Committee’s next steps are to hold a hearing for any opposition and/or interested-party testimony, and then vote on the proposal. If the Civil Justice Committee approves H.B. 352 then the bill would go to the full House for consideration.

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