Remember what Schoolhouse Rock told us about how a bill becomes law? Believe none of that. According to Jere Royall, counsel and director of Community Impact at the N.C. Family Policy Council, that's old, useless, outdated stuff. How a bill becomes a law "nowadays," says Royall, is that organizations like his talk with legislators and propose models that lack foundational data and ask the legislators to accept their suggestions and come up with the data themselves, question the premises of the organization's lobbying efforts, and insert all of that into a months-long or years-long discussion on the merits and detriments of the organization's proposal.
I learned about the idylls of lawmaking processes during a (very protracted and circuitous) conversation with Royall today that started when I called N.C. Sen. Austin Allran (R-42) to ask about a bill he's sponsoring in the N.C. General Assembly to impose a two-year waiting period on divorce in North Carolina.
My question: Considering the correlation between domestic violence and the time period around the divorce/separation of a couple, do the data find an increase or decrease in domestic violence with the imposition of a two-year waiting period?
Sen. Allran's staffer's answer? "We don't know. The senator is sponsoring this on behalf of the N.C. Family Policy Council, and you can call them and ask that question. Their number is 919-807-0800."
And so we were off to the races. Follow the bunny around the little orange track.
I asked my question to Jere Royall, who lobbied for the bill with Sen. Allran. Royall didn't know the answer. Does he know whether any studies were conducted to determine the impact of a two-year waiting period on domestic violence?
"Well," he said, "that's how legislation works. We put something forward, and the legislators can ask us all their questions and we obtain the information and get it to them. If they have additional questions, we get those answers, too."
So I'm asking, I said. What studies were conducted to determine the impact of an additional waiting period on domestic violence?
The N.C. Family Policy Council hasn't actually conducted any studies, said Royall. But if I would go visit the Coalition for Divorce Reform, I could get all my answers there.
What if Sen. Allran asked for research citations? Oh, said Royall, he would get that information from the Coalition for Divorce Reform and give that information to the senator.
Apparently, Sen. Allran hasn't asked for research citations before drafting his bill. So ... let's say a voter asked for them? Again, a referral to the Coalition for Divorce Reform.
When asked for a copy of the needs assessment for imposing a two-year waiting period on divorce in N.C., Royall said that divorce used to be more difficult in our state until the 1960s, when the law was changed to permit divorce after "only" a one-year wait -- and the divorce rate doubled. It would seem logical, then, that the divorce rate could be cut in half by going back to the pre-1960s standard of a two-year wait.
And what about the unintended consequences -- what about the domestic-violence issues? Well, there are "exceptions" that would eventually be written into the bill if Sen. Allran and his colleagues wanted them.
The legislation proposes covering all married couples with minor children, with the exception of:How would these exceptions be granted? A spouse requesting the exception could simply provide documentation from their police department and families, says Royall.
spouses who are victims of domestic violence
spouses who have been abandoned for 18 months
spouses married to felons sentenced to prison for five years or longer or convicted of sexual offenses against a spouse or children
spouses married to alcoholics and drug addicts refusing treatment
How do law-enforcement agencies feel about being put into the documentation-producing business? Royall didn't know, because the N.C. Family Policy Council hasn't researched those issues yet.
What if a spouse's family didn't want to go on record about their family member's addiction to alcohol/drugs and treatment history? Royall said that's probably not a real issue, because "the vast majority of strong families" would want to help keep families together.
Royall further explained that if North Carolina were to adopt the Coalition for Divorce Reform's and the N.C. Family Policy Council's stance on waiting periods for divorce, our state could become the model that produces data needed for other stands to take a stand against easy divorce.
I called Sen. Allran's office again and asked him to take the bill down until further research has been conducted into the role of law-enforcement agencies in protecting vulnerable families during a two-year waiting period.
And an examination into state fiscal implications of imposing requirements on divorcing spouses that would require specific documentation from state and municipal law-enforcement agencies, court officials, and whoever provides proof to meet an "18-month abandonment" requirement.
What if individidual household costs of obtaining all this documentation make divorce prohibitive for most North Carolinians -- would there be a fund to help out, or would that be measured as a "success" of the law?
Sen. Allran's staff had no answer at their fingertips. They did, however, refer me to the N.C. Family Policy Council at 919-807-0800.
7:50 PM PT: Received a call late this afternoon from Jere Royall from the N.C. Family Policy Council. He agreed that there's a need for more research into unintended consequences of imposing a two-year wait on couples who wish to marry. His office has asked for input from the Wake County Sheriff's Office and the Raleigh Police Department. I suggested he also request data from the State Bureau of the Investigation and that he check with the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI, as his organization also participates in lobbying organizations that work on nationwide "divorce reform." And that he ensure that his lobby's "divorce reform" doesn't have implications that would violate the Violence Against Women Act.
We agreed to disagree on policy but to agree that more data are necessary before moving forward, so that lives, safety, and individuals' futures can be protected.