With a House vote in support last week, legislation sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend to protect disabled parents’ rights is moving toward General Assembly passage this year.

The legislation precludes the disability of a parent from serving as a basis for denial or restriction in matters involving a child’s welfare, foster care, family law, guardianship and adoption.

The bill (2021-H 5394) won approval from the House of Representatives April 15 and is now headed to the Senate, which approved identical legislation (2021-S 0056) sponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) March 30. Both lawmakers have sponsored the bills for three years, and while the Senate has previously passed the measure, this marks the first time it has passed the House. One or both of the chambers must now approve the other’s bill and send it to the governor in order to enact it.

Representative Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) said she is very pleased to see the bill moving toward full passage, because families with disabled parents deserve justice, understanding and security.

“Our world is a better place when we recognize that loving, supportive families come in many, many varieties. Lots of children grow up with one or even both of their parents disabled, and their families are worthy and valuable,” said Representative Cortvriend in a statement. “This legislation will prevent children from being denied loving homes due to the false, discriminatory and very outdated assumption that their parents are inadequate guardians due to their disabilities.”

A press release from the Rhode Island General Assembly on behalf of Rep. Cortvriend says that the purpose of the legislation is to protect the best interests of children who have parents with disabilities by establishing procedural safeguards that require adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act. This would include education of hospital, child protective services and judicial staff in the equal protection rights of parents with disabilities in the context of child welfare, foster care, family law and adoption.

The legislation states that a parent’s disability cannot serve as the basis of referral to a hospital social worker or the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. The parent’s disability cannot serve as the basis for the denial or restriction of visitation and custody either if the child’s best interests are taken into account.

Also, under the bill, when a parent’s disability is alleged to have a detrimental impact on a child, the party raising the allegation would bear the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence that the behaviors are, or will likely, endanger the child’s health, safety and welfare.

“On behalf of the National Federation of the Blind of Rhode Island, I would like to sincerely thank Senator DiPalma and Representative Cortvriend for their work on the Preservation of Families with a Disabled Parent Act. This legislation will help keep families together, and it is critical to protecting the rights of the thousands of parents with disabilities in Rhode Island. This is the third consecutive year that Senator DiPalma and Representative Cortvriend have introduced this legislation, doing the work to pass this bill has not been easy but again, I would like to thank them for sticking with us over these last few years. I am confident this is the year the Preservation of Families Act will become law, and I urge all members of the General Assembly to support its passage,” said Christopher Bove of the National Federation of the Blind of Rhode Island in a statement.

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Ryan M. Belmore

Ryan M. Belmore is the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers. Send questions, tips, and story ideas to Ryan@whatsupnewp.com.