The birth of a law
by Sharon Duke
It started with a simple call to our local public library in early 2001. Our family had returned all but one of our borrowed books. If we knew the title of the book still at large, we might be able to track it down. I asked our son, Tyler, then 13, to call the library. As I went about my tasks, I realized that the phone conversation was not going well. The librarian apparently didn't want to tell Tyler the title, since the book had been checked out by his younger sister, Kelly. I asked for the phone. Certainly the librarian would tell me, Kelly's mother. But I was wrong.
"She's only 10 years old," I said in exasperation. "You can't tell me what she checked out?" I could tell that the librarian was uncomfortable. Her legal obligation was at war with her desire to serve. She had the title in front of her on the computer screen, but would not reveal it to anyone but the cardholder. It was difficult to hide my frustration as we ended the call.
Tyler and I discussed what had just happened. Was this a local policy? Wisconsin state law? Federal law? We started doing some research. To our surprise, we found that the librarian's actions were based on a Wisconsin law that had been in effect since the late 1980s. Yes indeed, parents in Wisconsin had had no legal access to their children's library records for years! We contacted our state senator to see what he knew about this issue.
Senator Roger Breske (12th district) emailed back, "Ironically, the same day that you contacted my office requesting information, another legislator with a constituent facing a similar situation introduced legislation that would explicitly require that the library records of any child under the age of 16 be released to a parent upon their request." This was perfect timing. It could only have been the Lord's. Now we were really getting excited. God was positioning Tyler and the rest of the family right in the middle of a preplanned, hands-on unit study on the legislative process. We watched with great anticipation as the next steps unfolded.
Our local library board was meeting in another week. Tyler drafted a fact sheet and presented it at the meeting. He told about our experience, explained the proposed legislation, gave contact information for the appropriate legislators, and answered questions. Many of the board members had not been aware of the current law and were glad to hear of the proposed legislation.
By email we corresponded with the staffs of our state legislators. If we didn't understand something, we asked. We were learning firsthand the process an idea follows to become a law. God was leading this. We were having fun and learning so much.
Through the office of our state representative, Don Friske (35th district), we learned that the Wisconsin Assembly would soon be holding a hearing on this issue. Tyler and I prepared speeches, and our family made plans to go to our state capitol in Madison. With friends and family praying back home, Tyler stood and told our story before the assembly committee on children and families. It was a delight to find the legislators kind, interested, and responsive. Our speeches were well received, and our day visiting the legislators deepened relationships. Later that month the assembly voted to approve the new legislation that would return parental access rights for children's library records. We were thrilled. But the senate voted it down.
|The Duke family learned of a legislative hearing in the Wisconsin Assembly through their state representative Don Friske. Back row: Tyler (then age 13), Kelly, Brennan, Representative Don Friske, Sharon (mom), and Tom (dad) holding Lauren. Front row: Anna, Joel, Nathan, and Carrie.|
In 2002 the bill was reintroduced. The assembly quickly approved it. Tyler and I returned to Madison and spoke at the senate committee's hearing. The atmosphere was cordial, but the committee decided to do more research. The "research" took too long, and the bill died in committee.
The following year saw yet another reintroduction of the library bill. Elections had given a new flavor to the senate. Committees had different chairs. With a few clarifying amendments, the senate passed the library bill first. This time the media got wind of it. In early 2004, the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel betrayed the paper's anti-family bias. It read, "Libraries May Have to Tell Parents What Children Borrow." Talk show hosts took up the topic on their shows; editors shared their views. Would the sudden public attention sway the assembly? We waited and prayed. Despite the media flack, the assembly passed the bill once again! Now it went to Governor Jim Doyle's desk. Wisconsin was in the midst of debate on a constitutional amendment concerning the definition of marriage. The importance of the library bill paled in comparison. Even the governor's staff was unsure of his intentions.
Praise the Lord! With a stroke of his pen, Governor Doyle gave parents in Wisconsin a vote of confidence by signing the library bill into law. Tyler is now almost 17. We watched this bill go from idea to first draft, through public hearings, committees, amendments, deaths, and reintroductions, and finally to the governor's desk and onto the books. It was God's intention all along that this particular legislation would become law. What an honor that he would include us in the process. I'd always wanted my children to experience the legislative process. Apparently this was God's plan too!
About the author
Sharon and her husband Tom homeschool their eight children in Wisconsin. The Dukes have been HSLDA members since 1993.