glenn grothman

State Sen. Glenn Grothman

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The legislative session may be winding down, but state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, is still pushing the envelope when it comes to legislating social mores.

Grothman recently introduced a bill to force the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board to emphasize single parenting as a risk factor for child abuse and neglect.

Grothman says statistics show that children from "broken families" are up to nine times more likely to be abused or neglected than children from "old-fashioned" families.

"I guess as long as this state is going to fund a group called the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, at least that group could use the money that they have to publicize something that's politically incorrect, but I think has to be said in our society," Grothman said at a public hearing on the bill last week.

Noting that 41 percent of children born in the U.S. last year were born to single parents, Grothman said: "It's a very politically difficult thing to deal with because over time you're having more and more families that are not old-fashioned families. There are even people who make fun of old-fashioned families."

The bill was introduced only six days earlier, leaving some to wonder how much traction it would gain before the legislative session ends in two weeks. But a Republican insider Monday told me the bill was not likely to get a committee vote.

The chair of the Senate public health committee, Pam Galloway, R-Wausau, is caught up in what promises to be a close recall election and likely doesn't need any more partisan headaches for the time being.

But the suggestion that the board focus its efforts on promoting marriage set off alarms for some observers.

"What this bill does is call out and chastise women who have babies and are unmarried," said state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, at the public hearing on Friday.

Taylor said she wouldn't normally testify at a public hearing because she feels it's a forum for state citizens. But she said she was compelled to make an appearance because of what amounts to another assault on women by the Republican-controlled Legislature and the speed with which it appeared to be moving.

"I think it's a real shame that it's moving and being advanced so quickly because I know there's a lot of other people out there and a lot of groups that work on the issue of child abuse who would be here today if they had had some time to get here and testify against this," she said.

The 16-member Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, on which Grothman sits, is a 16-member panel that administers the Children's Trust Fund. Eight of it's members are appointed by the governor, and the rest represent the governor or other state agencies. The board provides funding for local and statewide child abuse prevention projects, public education and awareness campaigns, coordinates with state projects aimed at preventing abuse and neglect, and makes recommendations to the governor.

Grothman said he's been finding little support for his views, so he decided to go over the board's head to the Legislature.

Grothman's bill would direct the board to emphasize the role of fathers in the prevention of child abuse and neglect, and to emphasize non-marital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.

But critics say the board already lists single parenting with other risk factors, including parental substance abuse, mental health problems, domestic violence, teen parenthood, low maternal education, poverty and parental history of abuse.

"It is a complex issue," says the board's executive director, Mary Anne Snyder. "There are many risk factors associated with maltreatment."

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But Snyder said she was speaking only for informational purposes. The board hadn't had a chance to meet to take a position on Grothman's bill.

But other speakers had a position.

"I think Sen. Grothman is just really out of touch with what really affects families," said Victoria Gutierrez, a single mother and nurse who has been the victim of domestic partner abuse.

Gutierrez said a more sensible approach might be to promote safety for victims such as herself and to provide resources for struggling families.

Lisa Subeck, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, said she was "disturbed" by Grothman's bill.

Subeck said she was not speaking on behalf of NARAL but merely representing herself.

"I can't even believe that that could possibly be government's role," she said. "Of course given some of the other recent attacks on women's health care, I'm beginning to wonder how far our government can overreach. I think this really is a serious overreach."

Taylor took Grothman and other Republican senators to task for mounting assaults on family planning, access to abortions and sex ed.

"If we were really serious about ending child abuse we would get serious about preventing unintended pregnancy," she said.

Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.