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U.S. News Archive
March 01 - March 06, 2002



This page contains news for the period March 01, 2002 through March 06, 2002.  

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Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Iowa marriage bill loosening up

A story published today by the Des Moines Register reports that backers of proposals to establish a more binding form of marriage in Iowa have been balked again by lawmakers reluctant to make a major change in the law.

The proponents don't have the votes to pass a covenant or optional marriage bill in the Senate, so they are pushing a more modest plan to encourage couples to receive pre-marital counseling.

Couples who get the counseling would pay $20 for a marriage license instead of the current fee of $35, and they would have a three-day wait for their license, which is the current practice.

Those who don't receive pre-marital counseling would pay $50 for their marriage license and they would have to wait 30 days to get it.

Sen. Neal Schuerer, an Anamosa Republican, said it's a toss-up whether the Senate will approve the counseling proposal.

"We're just going to take it a piece at a time," he said.

Potentially more controversial is a related provision that Schuerer said would allow a judge "to slow down the divorce process if it's not in the best interests of the children to divorce."

Schuerer began the year pushing a bill that would have given couples the choice of designating their marriage a covenant marriage or following existing law. The bonds of a covenant marriage would be more difficult to break than the typical marriage commitment.

When it became clear there was not enough support in the Senate to pass a covenant marriage bill, supporters revised the religious-sounding proposal by calling it an "optional marriage agreement" and allowing couples to draw up a customized marriage contract.

Plan C is the stripped-down counseling plan.

"It's probably OK. Having people sit down and talk about what they're going to do is a good thing," said Senate President Mary Kramer, a West Des Moines Republican who has balked at supporting a covenant or optional marriage law.

"Covenant marriage is a spiritual commitment, and I really don't want the government mucking it up," said Kramer.


Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Colorado delaying divorce plan resurfaces

A story published today by the Rocky Mountain News reports that Colorado couples with kids need to think more than twice before divorcing.

A new proposal HB 1337, would mandate counseling and delay of a final dissolution decree for one year if the relationship involves children.

"That one year of having to sit down and think this thing over would likely stop a lot of divorce," said Rep. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs.

But some lawmakers wonder why government should be involved.

"The premise that the government knows best whether a couple should stay married is flawed," said Rep. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver. "Why is it that we know what's best for families? The assumption is that people are making a totally uninformed decision to get a divorce in the first place. That's just not true."

Schultheis, who tried a more ambitious divorce limitation proposal last year, has scaled back the scope. The plan would require six hours of counseling and extend the earliest possible date for a divorce decree from 90 days to one year. But those provisions would apply only if the divorcing couple has children or is pregnant.

Schultheis said he has also added "opt out" provisions for individuals seeking divorce because of mental or physical abuse, incarceration, drug use and a few other reasons. His plan would require people seeking those exemptions to provide proof of the abuse.

Legislators opposing the plan argue that the proposal could force many abuse victims who don't report the abuse to sit through counseling with their perpetrator.

"Do we really want women who have been traumatized by abuse to have to go into court and be retraumatized by trying to prove that the abuse they suffered was serious," Veiga said. "And what is 'serious' abuse. Is that different than 'some' abuse."


Lawmakers question Bush welfare plan

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that key Senate Democrats noted that President Bush's welfare plan fails to give poor Americans support needed to move out of poverty, does not spend enough on child care and wrongly fails to restore benefits for legal immigrants.

The president is also wrong to call for $300 million to promote marriage among welfare recipients, said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee, which will write legislation this year renewing the 1996 welfare overhaul.

"Marriage is a wonderful institution. But it's a personal and private choice, not something the government should interfere with," said Baucus.

"Parents who are working hard to make ends meet shouldn't have to raise their children in poverty," he said.

Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who voted against the 1996 welfare bill, said that the changes worked out better than he had feared, but welfare programs must now provide needed education, training, child care and drug treatment.

"Luckily, our economy was strong, and there were opportunities for people making the transition from welfare to work," he said Tuesday in a statement. "Now comes the hard part. Our economy is in recession. Those who could move easily into the work force have already done so, and many who took minimum wage or dead-end jobs are realizing they need more skills to move up the economic ladder."

Baucus said Bush can't expect Congress to increase work requirements without increasing child care spending, and he argued that reduction of poverty must be a central goal of the welfare system.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded that "the results of reform have proven such critics wrong" saying the 1996 law "dramatically improved the lives of many Americans."

"Let's call it what it is. It's an attack on poor families with children in America," said Maude Hurd, president of ACORN, an advocacy group for low-income Americans.

"It seems the administration believes getting a man is more important than getting a job," said Lisa Maatz of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Unless the government marriage program is called 'How to Marry a Multimillionaire,' the best way to strengthen marriage among the poor is economic security."


Experts debate the recent rise in the nation’s birth rate

A story published today by the Christian Science Monitor reports that according to a new government reports the "fertility boom" has pushed US births to their highest level in almost 30 years. Women now average 2.1 children over a lifetime. During most of the 1970s and 1980s, they gave birth to fewer than two children, on average.

As the wail of crying babies echo across the country, demographers, politicians, employers, and marketers are weighing the implications of this increase. Births topped the 4 million mark in 2000 for the first time in eight years.

Some of the growth stems from a prolonged economic boom. Immigration also plays a role: For Hispanic women, the total fertility rate is 3.1. Births to unmarried mothers, which account for more than one-third of all births, went up 3 percent in 2000, mostly among women in their 20s.

In addition, women in their 30s and 40s who had delayed childbearing are catching up. Equally significant, observers see a marked change in attitudes toward children and families among so-called Generation Xers, those in their 20s and early 30s.

Unlike baby boomers, who had been willing to postpone childbearing or make family sacrifices for careers, Gen-X women expect to achieve success without making the same domestic trade-offs, says J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich Partners, a market research firm.

Higher birth rates inevitably trigger speculation that women are going to leave their jobs. But workplace consultants insist that this will not happen.

As employers accommodate a growing cadre of parents with infants and young children, Smith anticipates more flexible schedules and more at-home work.

"Baby-boom women fought the battle for day care, and for a way to be at the office and not have to worry about family priorities," he says. "Gen-Xers will have to fight the battle to work at home."

Marketers, too, will need to pay attention to the family-related needs of new Gen-X parents during the next decade. These new households are important, Smith notes, because couples buy such big-ticket items as houses and second cars.

Already these babies are good for the economy. In 2000, Americans spent $6 billion on baby equipment - cribs, high chairs, car seats, blankets, bottles. That marks an 11 percent jump from the previous year, according to the Washington-based Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. Similarly, a large retailer of maternity clothes reports that net sales in January increased 12 percent over the same month last year.

Demographers caution that it is too soon to know whether the higher birth rate represents merely a temporary blip or the beginning of a long-term trend.

"We don't know how this will all pan out," says Stephanie Ventura, co-author of the report on birth rates from the National Center for Health Statistics. "It's very foolhardy to try to predict. We've had increases like this before, and then they just turn right around and go back down again."

Mark Mather, a policy analyst at the Population Reference Bureau, expects immigration to sustain relatively high fertility rates for some time. People who are coming to this country tend to have higher fertility rates than those who were born here, he explains.

Smith, of Yankelovich Partners, sees a continuing "fertility boom" ahead. He notes that Gen-Xers are having their first child much sooner than baby boomers did. He also predicts that they will have bigger families.


Religious ethicist challenge the science of making babies

A story published by the Chicago Sun Times reports that Roman Catholic ethicist at a conference in Chicago said that most advances in reproductive technology, from prenatal testing to cloning, are unethical.

"We have to safeguard human dignity so that human beings are not reduced to being objects of scientific experiment," said Cardinal Francis George, who gave the opening talk at the Symposium on Human Dignity and Reproductive Technology.

The conference at the University of Illinois at Chicago attracted some of the nation's leading Catholic bioethicists, including scholars from University of Notre Dame, University of Chicago and the United States Catholic Conference Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. It was sponsored by the John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago and other organizations.

The only acceptable way to have a child, ethicists said, is sexual intercourse between a husband and wife. "That's the way it's supposed to be," said William May of the John Paul Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.

Also unacceptable is a new technique that increasingly is being used to prevent single-gene diseases such as cystic fibrosis and hemophilia. Doctors fertilize a woman's eggs in a dish, then check to see which of the embryos contain the defective gene. Embryos that are free of the gene are transferred back to the woman or frozen for future use. Embryos that carry the bad gene are discarded.

Therapeutic cloning also is wrong, May said. In this experimental technique, an embryo would be cloned from a patient's DNA. Stem cells extracted from the cloned embryo could in theory be used to treat many diseases, including diabetes, strokes, cancer, AIDS and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Many ethicists who consider current techniques acceptable have nevertheless warned that the technology could lead down a slippery slope to unacceptable procedures. For example, some worry that preimplantation genetic diagnosis could lead to the production of "designer babies."

To Catholic bioethicists, the solution to this dilemma is to not go down the slope in the first place, May said.
University of Chicago ethicist Jean Bethke Elshtain decried the pressure that some medical providers exert on expectant mothers to have prenatal tests.

The tests enable women to abort fetuses that reveal abnormalities such as Down syndrome. But Elshtain said this fosters a belief that people with disabilities should not be born, and could lead to discrimination against the disabled.

"We are narrowing our definition of humanity," Elshtain said.

Monday, March 4, 2002

Study says tax laws penalizes wives who work

A story released today by U.S. Newswire reports that according to a study by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), federal tax laws systematically discriminate against two-earner couples. Thea study to be released said that more than half of two-earner households suffer a marriage penalty, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"The tax law discriminates against working wives from top to bottom." said Edward J. McCaffery, professor of Law at the University of Southern California and California Institute of Technology and author of the NCPA study.

"That's because it was mainly written at a time when most women did not work. Today, 70 percent of all married women and 60 percent of mothers with children younger than six years old are in the labor market." said McCaffery.

The marriage penalty is not really a tax on marriage but a tax on two-earner couples. When a wife enters the labor market, she is automatically taxed in her husband's income tax bracket even if she's earning only the minimum wage. The study says that when taxes are combined with the extra expenses of leaving home, the average married woman gets to keep only about one-third of what she earns.

The same report also noted that Social Security is great for women who don't work because they receive benefits on their husband's contributions; however, women entering the labor market get very little in return for the Social Security taxes they pay.

In general, employers cannot offer a choice between wages and benefits, and this take-it-or-leave-it approach penalizes women who already have health insurance and other benefits through their husband's employer.


Cities that are suited for women in America

A story released today by WISCTV.com reports that according to a survey conducted by the Ladies Home Journal, Madison, WI is one of the best small city for women in America. The survey took into account low crime, health, education, economy, jobs, lifestyle and child care.

The survey also rated the best places for women to find a job.

"For future job growth, the Sunbelt shines bright," the report reads. "Eight of the top boomtowns are in Texas, Florida, Arizona and California. Boise, Idaho, however, tops our list of towns based on how fast jobs are being added to the local economy."

The top small cities in America:

1. Madison, WI

2. Alexandria, VA

3. Ann Arbor, MI

4. Stamford, CT

5. Irvine, CA

6. Burlington, VT

7. Huntington Beach, CA

8. Santa Clarita, CA

9. Plano, TX

10. Thousand Oaks, CA

The top ten big cities in the nation:

1. Virginia Beach, VA

2. Boston, MA

3. Honolulu, HI

4. Austin, TX

5. Arlington, TX

6. Anaheim, CA

7. Minneapolis, MN

8. Colorado Springs, CO

9. San Diego, CA

10. Omaha, NE

Unmarried partners hoping for a share in Sept. 11 fund

A story published today by the Chicago Tribune reports that unmarried partners of victims who died in the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 may be on shaky legal ground as they try to claim victim benefits.

This week the Justice Department is expected to release its final rules for deciding who gets how much of the $6 billion Victims Compensation Fund set up to help families of the September attack victims.

How that family is defined, however, is an issue for many betrothed and gay partners who do not have a marriage certificate that legally defines their link to their partner.

Kenneth Feinberg, appointed by Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft to come up with a formula for benefits, has said survivors' compensation will be determined first by a will, if the victim had one, and then by laws of a victim's home state that divide money among spouses, children and parents.

Aita and her fiancé, Paul Innella, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, had been working on a will just before the terrorist attacks.

"It was in the process of being made, but it wasn't done yet," she said. "We were working on it less than two weeks before Sept. 11."

She and many of the men and women who lost partners have organized a support group since Sept. 11.

"We're heart-broken over the loss of our loved ones and over the loss of our future families," said Aita.

New York, California and Vermont are among the states that allow homosexual partners to claim some rights, such as funeral arrangements or hospital visits when their partners are dying, but those rights do not always extend to death benefits.

Illinois does not recognize same-sex partners as being married. Therefore, if a homosexual dies without a will and has no children or spouse, his or her assets would be divided between parents and siblings.

Charity fund drives organized to help survivors and families of victims of Sept. 11 are avoiding the controversy by including unmarried partners. But that money--not quite $1 billion from the Red Cross, for example--is slight compared to the federal program.

The federal fund was created by Congress after the attacks as a way to avoid lawsuits against the airlines.

Robert Clifford, a Chicago lawyer who has been advising Feinberg on the law in relation to the fund, said non-married partners have been part of the discussions in shaping the rules for disbursing funds.

From the beginning, Feinberg "felt strongly" that unmarried partners should be included in the claimant pool, Clifford said. "That, of course, is at odds with the law in the majority of states. . . . But the Victims Compensation Fund is unique."


Sunday, March 3, 2002

Why ruin your divorce with more conflicts?

A story published today by the Chicago Tribune reports that divorce happens to more than 50 percent of marriages in the United States. But the question is: Must divorce be adversarial?

A Web site called www.betterdivorce.com promotes the notion that divorces don't have to be a monumental adversarial battle. The goal of the web site is to tell people there are ways for people to resolve conflicts and make divorce better.

And the benefits of conscious efforts to alleviate as much confrontation as possible are many, including children who do not become entangled in the problems created by divorcing parents.

Betterdivorce.com believes that too often family law fosters an adversarial approach. It suggests that divorce statistics show "that conflict during divorce leads to more conflict after divorce."

Some suggestions for creating a better divorce include having both spouses establish a parenting plan. Consult a professional divorce mediator or mediation-oriented lawyer. Use terminology that isn't hostile. Instead of child custody, visitation and child support, think in terms of parenting time and parenting responsibilities.


Saturday, March 2, 2002

Welfare reform getting mixed reviews from religious groups

A story released today by the Religion News Service reports that the Bush welfare proposal is drawing mixed reactions from religious groups, with some saying more should be done to help the working poor and others saying it is headed in the right direction.

Overall, the 37-page plan, "Working Toward Independence," makes a commitment of about $22 billion per year to welfare payments, job training and child care through federal programs.

One of the key programs, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, must be reauthorized by Congress this year in order for it to continue. Bush recommends funding the program at $16.6 billion annually for fiscal years 2003-2007, maintaining the current level of funding.

The president, however, urged that the continuation of welfare reform should include new initiatives, including increased efforts to promote marriage and abstinence and greater emphasis on moving more people from welfare to work.

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, associate general secretary for public policy for the National Council of Churches, said more should be done to address "the greater number of people who are experiencing poverty since 1996," the year path breaking welfare reform legislation was passed by Congress.

"We are hoping we can lead the Congress and the president to a view that the goal of TANF would be to lift people out of poverty," she said.

The Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, praised the changes the president is proposing in welfare reform, especially his proposal to spend millions on promoting "healthy marriages" and abstinence education. Bush hopes such efforts will reduce the number of poor children by increasing the number of two-parent families.

The proposal includes up to $200 million in federal money -- $100 million of which must be matched by state dollars -- to develop faith-based and secular projects that help encourage people to get or stay married. He also has proposed $135 million for abstinence education programs.

"President Bush clearly has the well-being of America's youth at heart, and we applaud him for reaffirming his administration's commitment to abstinence education," Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement.

Girton-Mitchell didn't criticize the emphasis on marriage but said the children of the working poor need to be the primary focus.

"We can't neglect the ultimate impact on children regardless of what the new rules are," she said. "Every family is a family. We have to respect those differences."

Bush has proposed "transforming welfare" by requiring every state to have 70 percent of its welfare recipients at work within five years. He also hopes to help states have more flexibility in how they spend welfare money.


Friday, March 1, 2002

Oklahoma tries to keep couples from breaking up

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Oklahoma is one of only five states using federal welfare money to try to keep couples together. And Oklahoma's program is by far the largest.

The marriage workshops, which the state started a couple of months ago are free and open to anyone. It is primarily aimed to what some might consider a surprising problem in the Bible Belt state: Oklahoma has the second-highest divorce rate in the nation, behind Arkansas.

State leaders hope that by reducing broken homes and single-parent households, they can solve a host of other social problems.

Oklahoma set aside $10 million in federal welfare money to pay for the program.

Gov. Frank Keating said it is a good use of the federal money, especially with Oklahoma is facing a $350 million budget deficit this year.

"We have a lot of dysfunctional families. We have violence and drug abuse and out-of-wedlock births. If we could focus on holding families together, encouraging them not to divorce, then we would spend less taxpayer money on these problems," he said. "That's one of the reasons why we're poor."

Oklahoma has 6.7 divorces per 1,000 residents per year, compared with a national rate of 4.6, according to a 1994 government study cited by the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. Among the reasons given for the high divorce rate: Oklahomans are poor and marry young -- factors that can exert stresses on a marriage.

Oklahoma ranks 43rd in per capita income, at $23,517 in 2000. And people in the Bible Belt are said to marry younger because they are more religious and feel compelled to wed before having sex.

Hundreds of marriage-skills workshops are planned around the state in the coming year.

In Oklahoma, critics have questioned some of the expenditures, such as $3,800 paid to consultants to arrange a media photo opportunity during which pastors signed a pledge to work harder to stop divorce. And lawmakers recently rejected a bill backed by the governor that would have given couples the option of entering into so-called covenant marriages, requiring them to stay together except in cases of abuse, adultery or abandonment.

Howard Hendrick, state welfare director and head of the marriage initiative, said there is a limit to what the state can or should do to keep families together.

"People can change, but we're not interested in promoting an unsafe marriage or a domestic violent environment," he said. "There are situations where people need to get out, but the research indicates that is a small minority of the divorces that are occurring."


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E-divorce: A new route for quickie divorces?


A story released today by the WorldNetDaily.com reports that a new online divorce site that is blossoming in America's most populous states is giving couples contemplating dissolution a new avenue to speed up the process.

CompleteCase.com, a Seattle-based website allows couples looking to break up to simply log on, fill in the blanks and put a quick and relatively simple end to their marriage.

"Response has been overwhelmingly good," said Randy Finney, founder of CompleteCase. "I expected more controversy than we've had."

Launched less than a year ago to service Washington state and California, the site has experienced considerable growth, now operating in Florida and bringing its quick split service to New Yorkers today and Texans later this month. Finney hopes to be operating in 10 to 15 states before long.

CompleteCase.com bills itself as "the country's first automated online divorce procedure website providing streamlined and foolproof access to the family law system at substantially lower costs."

By "lower costs," Finney refers to the $249 price for the service, compared to the $3,000 to $4,000 dollars he estimates could be spent on attorneys in a courtroom battle.

Couples can use the service to break their marriage contract without ever appearing before a judge in many cases. They simply mail in signed forms. The site is not geared for all spouses looking to call it quits, just those with an amicable or uncontested breakup.

"You'll end up seeing people getting divorced who shouldn't be," said Wendy Wright, a senior policy director for Concerned Women for America. "A lot of hoops [to jump through] would weed out those who could make their marriages work."

While the page makes it technically easier for people to dissolve their bond, Wright blasts it for appealing to those thinking about divorce.

"It will fool them – make them think that it's easy," she said. "Divorce is not easy emotionally, and the damage to kids involved is incalculable."

Finney says he expected more opposition from the legal community since the debut of CompleteCase last May, but he's received some positive feedback regarding the reduction of overcrowding in the court system.

He also says he's been praised by people who previously had gone through nasty courtroom breakups, lauding him for the ease with which their most recent division went.


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Kansas lawmakers rejects restrictions to divorce


A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the State Senate of Kansas rejected a bill Thursday that would have made it more difficult for some couples to divorce. The vote was 15-25.

Under the proposed bill, the state would permit no-fault divorce only for couples without dependent children living at home. No-fault divorce allows couples to end a marriage without one spouse having to allege wrongdoing by the other.

"I don't believe this Legislature can engineer social relationships," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Vratil, R-Leawood.

State law provides three general grounds for divorce: incompatibility, failure to perform a material marital duty, or mental illness or mental incapacity. There is no requirement that both spouses agree to the divorce.

Under the bill, couples without dependent children from the marriage who are living at home could still get what amounts to a no-fault divorce if both were in agreement.

But if there were dependent children from the marriage, or if one spouse objected to the divorce, then the spouse seeking to end the marriage would have to allege one of nine grounds -- as was the case before no-fault divorce was adopted three decades ago.

Critics also suggested the bill would be costly.

The state's Office of Judicial Administration estimates that if the bill were enacted, 70 percent of divorce cases would be contested. The office said the state would need to hire another 29 judges and spend $5.7 million a year.

"This is really a lawyers' welfare bill," said Sen. Greta Goodwin, D-Winfield.



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