REPORT: Posts Distort Washington State’s Estranged Minors Law

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) – A bill written to protect young people seeking reproductive health services or gender-affirming care that was widely misrepresented online passed the Democrat-controlled Washington legislature Wednesday.

Viral posts falsely claimed the bill would result in children being legally taken from their parents if they did not consent to their child’s “gender transition.”

Legal experts and the bill’s primary sponsor say the legislation does not address custody issues or removing youths from their parents. The legislation is intended to help keep estranged young people housed, not remove children from parents.

Here’s a closer look at the facts.

CLAIM: Washington state lawmakers passed a bill that allows the state government to take children away from parents who refuse to consent to the child receiving gender-affirming care.

THE FACTS: The legislation, Senate Bill 5599, is designed to ensure shelter for teenagers who are seeking reproductive health services or gender-affirming care and, for example, were kicked out by their parents.

Existing law generally requires licensed shelters and host homes to notify parents within 72 hours when a minor comes into their care. The bill would allow the facilities to instead contact the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, which could then attempt to reunify the family if feasible. The bill would also allow youths to stay at host homes, which are private homes that volunteer to temporarily house young people without parental permission.

The bill does not address custody and would not result in the state taking children away from their homes and parents.

“There’s no procedure in here whatsoever that talks about taking children away,” said Deirdre Bowen, a law professor at Seattle University. “It is not remotely what this bill says.”

“The posts are inaccurate,” Craig Konnoth, a law professor at the University of Virginia, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Children cannot be taken away under this bill.”

Local Republican lawmakers have railed against the legislation. Senate GOP leader John Braun said in a March 2 statement that it would drive “a wedge between vulnerable kids and their parents.” Online, some users have twisted its contents to suggest it will see the state ripping children from their homes.

These claims misrepresent the legislation, which is intended to keep minors who are estranged from their parents housed, according to experts and the lawmaker sponsoring the bill.

“There’s nothing in this bill that speaks to the state taking your child from a home setting,” said Washington state Sen. Marko Liias, a Democrat who is the primary sponsor of the legislation. “We want to make sure everybody in our state, particularly young people who were kicked out of their house because of their identity, have a safe place to get stabilized, get connected to services.”

Liias added that he’s heard anecdotal reports of young people leaving a shelter after three-day stints because they are afraid of being in contact with their family.

“This is going to affect a narrow population of incredibly vulnerable children who’ve determined that they cannot live at home and have determined the only choice here is to run away from home, find a shelter,” Bowen said. “The goal is to protect them and make sure that they have housing during this period of crisis.”

The legislation also calls for the department to make a “good faith attempt” to notify the parents after they are contacted by shelters or host homes and offer services designed to “resolve the conflict and accomplish a reunification of the family,” according to the bill text. Family reunification efforts would be pursued when possible, Liias said.

“We’re not mandating care, but the protections or the provisions of the bill are designed for youth who are seeking gender-affirming care to have that housing and stability while they’re seeking that care,” Liias said.

Gov. Jay Inslee indicated at a April 13 news conference that he supports the legislation, saying, “If a young person is totally estranged from their parents, has no meaningful relationship, we need someone to care for that child.” ___

This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.

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