Woman seeks child-custody changes, sues to put petition on the ballot

Posted: Sunday, July 18, 2004

FAIRBANKS - A North Pole retiree is taking the state to court in an attempt to get proposed changes to Alaska's child custody laws on the 2006 ballot.

Betty Rollins and two other co-sponsors had filed a petition in March, the first step to getting a measure on the ballot, but it was rejected by Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, head of the state Division of Elections.

So Rollins, administrative director of a child advocacy organization called All Kids Count, filed a lawsuit in Fairbanks Superior Court in May, asking the court to reinstate the petition.

"All we're trying to do is find a better way to do things," Rollins said of the petition. "And this is a beginning."

Her proposal calls for allowing parents a trial by jury when the state seeks to terminate their parental rights. It would require a videotape made of any investigative interview of child abuse or neglect; make the state place children with relatives, friends or neighbors before turning to a foster home; and mandate the state keep reports on any child in state custody who was prescribed mind- or behavior-altering drugs.

Leman rejected the petition in April, saying that demanding jury trials is in effect an order for the Legislature to change Alaska's court rules. The state constitution says court rules can't be changed by initiative.

Rollins said the group likely would refile the petition without the jury trial section if they lose the lawsuit.

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