As his parents continue their struggle for visitation with his 4-year-old son, a bill bearing Steven Watkins' name is making its way through the Illinois General Assembly. Watkins was murdered in 2008 when he went to pick up his son for a court-ordered visitation. This bill would allow the court to suspend the driver's license of a person like Watkins' wife who fails to comply with a visitation order.
After passing the House, HB 1604 moved to the Senate for consideration. It landed in the Senate Assignments Committee a few weeks ago but has not been scheduled for a hearing. Since its introduction in the House, eight legislators have signed on as co-sponsors.
We've talked about court orders before, and the consequences of violating a court order for child support. This bill would bring penalties for violating court orders for visitation in line with those for child support.
Under the proposed law, if a court finds a person in contempt on a visitation order, the court may order that the Secretary of State suspend that person's license. The suspension will last until the family court determines the violator has been in compliance for long enough. The bill would allow the court to issue a provisional permit to allow the offender to drive to work or to look for a job.
Procedurally, the bill requires proper notice to the violator and allows the violator 45 days to appeal before the suspension goes into effect.
Other options open to the court would include suspension of the offender's professional license (not to exceed six months) and criminal conviction for a petty offense, carrying a fine of up to $500 for each visitation abuse incident. Repeat offenders could find themselves in jail, one day for each visitation denial, and subject to a $5,000 bond.
Finally, the bill would allow the court to modify the visitation agreement if a person violates a court order. That decision must be based on the best interest of the child.
Perhaps Steven Watkins' little boy will benefit if the bill becomes law.
While his ordeal inspired the bill, it's impossible to know if a law like this would have spared Steven Watkins' life. His ex-wife's grandmother was convicted of his murder last year, and the boy's mother is now awaiting extradition on nine counts of visitation interference.
Illinois 97th General Assembly, House Bill 1604 accessed on 04/11/11
The State Journal-Register (Springfield, Illinois), "Steven Watkins' bill passed by Illinois House committee," Andy Brownfield, 03/02/11