• Grandparents seek for rights referendum

    By: Deborah Horne

    Updated:

    PUYALLUP, Wash. - It is an endearing image, a picture of a grandparent and grandchild. 

    But for some grandparents, that image is a cruel reminder of what they don't have.

    "I don't want to cry about this," said Lori Paine, sitting on the couch of her Puyallup home.

    The tears came anyway when she was asked what becoming a grandmother meant to her.

    "There's like this empty space in your life that you don't even know you have," she said. "And the grandchild fills that space."

    But the only space her granddaughter fills now is the one on the wall of Paine’s home. 

    It is a portrait Paine painted last year after she and her daughter had a falling out. 

    "It was a way to keep her with me," said Paine, her cheeks stained with tears. "I said to myself, they'll never be able to take her away from me completely because I will always have her.  She's in my heart."

    For years, the organization called GROWS -- Grandparents Rights of Washington State -- has tried to convince the state Legislature to fill a void left when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a grandparents rights law.

    The justices ruled that the right of a parent to decide what is best for their children is paramount.

    "We agree with that," said Bob Rudolph, GROWS founder. "When we were parents, we didn't want anybody to tell us how to raise our kids. And we don't want to do that. "

    But, says Rudolph, they believe there should be room for grandparents too.

    "We just want to be able to visit our grandchildren," he said.

    Katherine Miller, however, wants more. 

    "This is the last time I saw them," she said, holding a photograph of her with two young boys.

    Since her drug-addicted son and his girlfriend relinquished their parental rights, she and her husband have tried to adopt their grandsons. 

    The older boy, whom she once saw every week, misses her most.

    "The last time I saw him, he cried out to me," said Miller. "And said 'Nana, Nana. Why can't I go with you?' "

    The boys were placed in the custody of Child Protective Services, she says, and have bounced from home to home. 

    But CPS won't release any information about them.

    "And now Danny, the oldest, he's blind," said Miller. "And I have no idea why, ever since the first adoptive home. And now they are in a second adoptive home.

    Still their plight has mostly fallen on deaf ears in Olympia.

    "Getting Senate bills written, House bills written," said Paine. "And trying to get a law passed year after year after year.  And it just doesn't go anywhere."

    So now Paine is leading the effort to collect signatures to get a Grandparents Rights Initiative on the ballot; her precious granddaughter, her inspiration.

    "She's the face of the initiative," said Paine.

    The initiative would give grandparents legal standing in a court of law.  For more on the grandparents' rights initiative, follow this link.

    "All's the law would do is give the grandparent the ability to petition the court for visitation," Rudolph insisted. "When they go to court they've got to prove to the judge that 'yes, we are unreasonably kept from our grandchildren.' It's almost like a child custody case in a divorce."

    Miller believes a change in the law would change all their lives.

    "Had I had grandparent rights," she said, "My grandsons would be with me today.”

    And she would still be in the picture of their young lives.  

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