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A bill that squeaked by committee Wednesday with a 5-4 vote would allow grandparents to petition for visitation rights, which may mean more court proceedings for parents of foster and adopted children, even after the rights of biological parents have been terminated.

Arianne Thorpe, an adoptive parent, said HB418s1 undermines the base of her family because the grandparents of her adopted children could take her to court, even though years of court hearings granted her full parental rights.

"Foster parenting is stressful and thankless. I think this bill will be used as a weapon in some cases to get [parents] to accommodate when we're not willing to bend." she said. "This bill could be the straw that breaks this foster mom's back."

Current law gives adoptive parents the final say in how involved grandparents can be. But sponsoring Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, says that diminishes a grandparent's right "to be a positive influence in their grandchild's life."

"If the law can say that you've lost your standing, you are no longer a grandparent and that entire family line was just terminated. It would be unjust and unnecessary to say that a grandparent no longer has standing to petition for visitation rights simply because parental rights were terminated," he said.

Liz Knight, director of Utah Office of Guardian Ad Litem, said the current law allows parents and grandparents to reach clear expectations in an agreement before the adoption. This bill, she said, changes that.

Jacci Graham, director of Children's Service Society, also spoke against the bill, saying the bill could mean parents will choose guardianship instead of adoption for foster children and she argued that additional court proceedings would be detrimental to the children.

"The child has already been through trauma because of abuse and neglect. They need stability. It is a time for this family to be allowed to heal and begin a journey to normalcy. It puts the child in between these disputes and the caregiver has already gone through much litigation," Graham said.

Christensen is pushing a handful of bills, including one proposed law that would mandate a jury trial in a parental rights termination case if requested by a parent. That bill, HB318s1 passed the House Monday and now awaits approval from the Senate.

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