Zolnikovs’ Rapist Rights Bill

There is a saying that politics makes strange bedfellows, and that is certainly true in the case of Daniel Zolnikov, the self-described Republican “young-gun” representative from Billings.

Zolnikov is well-known for his anti-establishment ways and for operating outside the norm, but his recent hearing on HB 399 in House Judiciary this week was a real head-turner. The bill itself was problematic, in that it could make it easier for unfit parents to gain custody of their children and alludes to the idea that some mothers are awarded custody simply because they are female. But it wasn’t the statements that Zolnikov made about this bill that struck our fancy, but instead the company that he chose to keep.

In his opening, Zolnikov mentioned that he was bringing the bill at the request of a constituent. That constituent, going by the name “Steve Cape” then testified in support of the bill, IDing himself as a lobbyist with the Montana Coalition on Safety and Justice.

We looked up Steve Cape and found some interesting backstory. Cape is currently on probation for aggravated felony assault committed in 1998. We also found a story on the graphic and disturbing nature of the man’s crime in the Bozeman Chronicle. And, as Zolnikov said, Cape thinks that HB 399 is an important bill for the Legislature to consider based on his experience.

We may never know if Zolnikov knew who he was working with to get this piece of legislation passed. But it raises doubts about his ability to vet his friends before bringing potentially life-altering pieces of legislation forward. And it raises even more serious doubts about the real-life implications of this bill, something that Zolnikov is tasked with paying special attention to as an elected official.

Watch the video on the bill’s hearing here.


2 Comments on "Zolnikovs’ Rapist Rights Bill"

  1. As one who testified against this bill, and is working to defeat it, this is not a rapists rights bill. This is what the bill says:

    (5) When the court is making a determination regarding the physical custody of the child, there is a rebuttable presumption that joint physical custody would be in the best interest of the child if:
    (a) the parents have agreed to an award of joint physical custody or agree in open court at a hearing for the purpose of determining the physical custody of the child; or
    (b) a parent has demonstrated, or has attempted to demonstrate but has had the parent’s efforts frustrated by the other parent, an intent to establish a meaningful relationship with the child.
    (6) The court may not give preference to a parent for the sole reason that the parent is the mother or the father of the child.”

    There are several reasons this bill is a lousy idea:
    –HB 399 will encourage litigation. We took the term “custody” out of parenting plans in 1997, which according to attorney Mars Scott, decreased parenting plan Supreme Court appeals, by 91% in the 5 years following the change.
    –When parents agree on parenting time, a judge is likely to approve it. There are times when a judge should overrule the parents such as when a parent has been convicted of sex crimes or abuse.
    –This is not a child focused solution. 50/50 parenting time is not appropriate for very young children and can expose children to damaging parental conflict. With parental alienation, it may be better for the non-alienating parent to have most of the parenting time.
    –HB 399 is unnecessary. Parenting statutes are already gender neutral.

  2. Linda there were many reasons Supreme Court Litigation decreased by so much in the late 90s. That is because there was a very concerted effort by a group of attorneys over many months to rewrite most of the statutes in the family law area and present those changes to the legislature. Yes, we deleted the word custody but we did a whole lot more. I agree with your other points, this bill is unnecessary and potentially harmful

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