The Assembly Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Wednesday for a measure that allows a Nevada court to restore parental rights if a child is not likely to be adopted and if it's in the best interest of the child.
Clark County Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle argued for AB353, telling the committee he often sees children who want to return to their natural parents but the courts cannot now legally restore custody even if the parents are in a better situation.
"These children don't forget their families. They see value in them where we might not. When no one else has stepped in to establish that parenting relationship, it is just mean not to remove that legal barrier to restore that family in some form," Hardcastle said.
The judge added that adoptions have not kept pace with the rate of parental rights terminations. In 2004, there were 1,153 children waiting for adoption around the state.
Current law doesn't allow for parental rights to be restored once they have been terminated. The bill sponsor, Assemblywoman Susan Gerhardt, D-Henderson, assured the committee the measure would not apply to children who already have been legally adopted.
The measure allows a child or legal guardian to ask for rights to be restored, but does not allow for a parent to ask for the change - a factor that was opposed by Cynthia Lu of the Washoe County public defender's office.
"It seems incongruous that a person who is having rights restored can't ask for those rights themselves," Lu said, adding that in 13 years, she's only had two cases that would be covered under the proposal.
Unlike in Clark County, Washoe County does not normally provide attorneys for children, Lu said.
"These parents won't have the ability to potentially access this bill through either the child or social worker who may be too overburdened and too busy to add this onto their task list," she said.
But Gerhardt said she doesn't want parents who had lost custody of their children to be able to seek custody under terms of her bill.
"I feel strongly that we do not go down that road, I would hate to see a circumstance where a parent is, for example, in prison and is sending petition after petition through the courts trying to regain parental rights, disrupting the child's life," Gerhardt said.