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Trying To Legislate Morality State Republicans Plan Array Of Bills Aimed At Preserving Traditional Social Values

Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer

Republican lawmakers who promise to make government less intrusive are considering just the opposite when it comes to people’s most private affairs.

Rep. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, is mulling a bill to require a cooling-off period of six to nine months before a couple can obtain a divorce.

He also wants to encourage couples to see a counselor before they marry and if they file for divorce.

Already before the Legislature are two bills restricting abortion. Padden and Rep. Steve Fuhrman, R-Kettle Falls, want women to see pictures of a fetus before getting an abortion, and parents to be notified before their minor child could get an abortion.

A bill by Rep. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, would outlaw gay adoption or foster parenting. Another filed by Padden and Rep. Todd Mielke, R-Spokane, would clamp down on adult entertainment businesses.

Supporters of these kinds of measures say last November’s GOP landslide provides a chance to arrest the state’s moral slide and stand up for traditional values.

Republicans control the House and are only one seat shy of a majority in the Senate.

“Voters are more than ready - we are begging them to take bold stands,” said Cindy Omlin, a Meade resident and mother. “We are worn out from fear of violence and the constant harassment of human decency. … Justice and responsibility have become almost demonized in the ill-fated attempt to grant selfesteem at any cost.

“To foster the common good, we’ve got to seek a balance of responsibility with rights and justice with mercy.”

But critics like Rep. Dennis Dellwo, D-Spokane, said Republicans “want to get government off our backs but into our bedrooms.

“They campaigned for office advocating reduced government involvement, making government more efficient and less burdensome - things all of us support,” said Dellwo.

“Now once they are in office, the trapdoor of the Trojan horse opens and out comes the truth squad, to tell us what to do with our families and our private life. It’s scary.”

The debate in Olympia mirrors a nationwide struggle over values, and concern that the nation is in a moral tailspin.

“People feel being a good parent is almost a countercultural act today,” said David Blakenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values in New York City, a non-profit think tank.

“They feel the culture just does not support it. They are going against a tide of afternoon talk shows, what you see in the movies, condoms in schools, kids who are brandconscious by age 5 and want their parents to buy them $150 sneakers, and teenagers having babies or murdering each other.

“There is a real constituency for talking about values, not just on the religious right,” he said. “Liberals really miss the boat when they say this is just some conspiracy cooked up by a bunch of ministers. There is widespread social concern out there.”

Padden, chairman of the House Law and Justice Committee, said the abortion bills are an attempt to balance laws out of step with voters who believe abortion is murder.

“We require parental involvement to get an aspirin at school,” Padden said. “Obviously this is something much more important, and right now government tells parents they have no right to even know what their own children are doing.”

One bill would require “informed consent” before any abortion could be performed. At least 24 hours before any abortion, doctors would have to inform women of alternatives as well as the anatomical and physiological characteristics the fetus would have at the time of the abortion.

The other bill would require parents to be notified 48 hours in advance of abortions performed on minor children.

Fuhrman also is contemplating a fetal pain bill to require doctors to give a fetus anesthetic before abortion.

Sandra Meicher, executive director of Planned Parenthood in Spokane and Whitman Counties, said informed consent is already obtained before any abortion, and additional provisions are not needed.

“I don’t think this is about informed consent at all. It’s about controlling women and their bodies,” Meicher said. Requiring parental notification would also scare off many young women seeking abortion, she said.

Gov. Mike Lowry said Friday he would not sign any bill that restricts abortion rights.

Padden said his idea for a coolingoff period before couples could divorce is a way to protect children.

“People need to take time to think about the possible effects on the children, and on each other,” said Padden who hasn’t decided yet whether he will file the bill.

Sen. Harold Hochstatter, R-Moses Lake, has introduced a measure that would allow couples, if they choose, to enter into binding contracts when they marry. Under it, they would have to have a reason, stated in the contract, to divorce.

The no-fault divorce laws on the books allow people to take marriage too casually, Hochstatter said. “One man, one woman for life, no options. That’s the way it ought to be, that’s a real commitment,” he said.

Padden’s and Mielke’s adult entertainment bill would require establishments that feature nude or seminude performances to be located no less than 1,000 feet from schools, homes, or churches in most circumstances.

Every owner, manager and operator of the club also would also have to obtain a license, with photo, at a cost of no less than $750. Violations of the law could be punished by fines ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.

Padden said he sees his proposals as ways government can help strengthen families.

“There is some role to play in setting parameters on behavior,” he said. “We are trying to create an atmosphere in which families and children will do better.”

David Popenoe, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, said merging values and politics isn’t new. It’s just that the values are changing.

“More than anything, it’s the baby boom we see moving through society, like the proverbial pig in a python,” Popenoe said. “These people, when they were young, brought us ‘do your own thing.’ Now they are in their 30s and 40s, they are raising kids and getting older, all of which makes you more conservative.

“They are saying, ‘Let’s go back to law and order, strong families.’ I think you will see a conservative trend for years to come.”

But whether the GOP can survive walking point in the values war is another question. Values and politics are “a very dangerous brew,” Popenoe said.

“It’s very possible the GOP will run aground on values conflicts. You have the social libertarians on one hand who want society and government off their back, and on other side people who believe you can’t have a decent society in which anyone can do whatever they want. It’s not clear who’s going to win that fight.”

Don Eberly, founder of the National Fatherhood Initiative, based in Lancaster, Pa., doesn’t think legislating values will work.

His non-profit organization emphasizes the importance of responsible fathers in healthy families and communities.

“Strengthening the character of individuals is not the work of politics,” Eberly said. “You can’t promise to legislate virtue. The idea that the law is some great tutor, that if you change it that will make people moral, I think is flawed.”

Rather, he said, the task is to persuade large numbers of people to change what they believe is right.

“There is something much deeper going on here, about our own personal values.

“We’ve bought into an idea of freedom based on self-centered notions of individuality and materialism and unless we deal with that, I doubt legislation will make much difference.”

xxxx A quick look Among the bills filed on social issues so far: HB 1519, requiring “informed consent” before any abortion could be performed. HB 1523, requiring parental notification at least 48 hours before any minor child could have an abortion. HB 1171, prohibiting homosexuals from becoming adoptive or foster parents.

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