In November of 2017, I found out my now ex-husband was abusing our infant son. What happened in our lives over the next year and a half demonstrates the power of a community that cares, the power of the media, the changes that are possible if we could all work together, and the potential that exists to change outcomes for children.
It all began when columnist Jim Shaw mentioned the poor sentencing in our case in one of his columns. I reached out to Shaw to say thank you, and he subsequently invited me to lunch as he wanted to learn more and learn how to help. Shaw then introduced me Rep. Austen Schauer, R-West Fargo, who introduced me to Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo. We all sat down together with my family law attorney, Ashley Heitkamp, and the prosecutor on our criminal case, Reid Brady. We took everyone’s feedback, and came up with the idea for HB1395 and HB1396.
- Shaw: It's time to strengthen our state's child abuse laws
- Shaw: We need stiffer penalties for child abusers
HB1395 allowed for a fiscal note for personnel to administer now mandatory parental capacity evaluations, mental health evaluations, and anger management evaluations to those convicted of child abuse. HB1396 established a mandatory minimum of one year for those who are convicted of Class B felony child abuse (victims under age 6). It also states that someone convicted of child abuse cannot serve his or her sentence using electronic home monitoring if there is a minor in the home.
I was thrilled that every legislator from Cass County supported these bills. Schauer, prime sponsor of both bills, kept in contact with me almost every day of this session learning about the issues at hand. He will always be known in my mind as a true voice for the voiceless. Rep Kim Koppleman, R-West Fargo and co-sponsor of both bills, fought for children of our state every step of the way advocating for these bills. He carried these bills on the floor with poise and authority, and wealth of knowledge from prior experience.
Hogan heard about my case from a constituent while doing door-to-door knocking and campaigning, and made a promise to help if she got elected. She followed through with that promise she made to a stranger. She worked hard lobbying, and contributed her vast and invaluable knowledge from working within the social services system for years along with her passion for children.
Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, co-sponsored HB1395. I hope their names are seared in your brain when you think of legislative champions for children. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be children that owe their lives to the hard work of these individuals and the passage of these bills.
The most important lesson that I learned is that you really can make change if you are dedicated to it. Your voice matters. Your vote matters. Find a group representing an issue you are passionate about today and get involved. North Dakota needs you.