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Valley voters send legislators message on diverse collection of ballot questions

By John Snyder and Kimberly Ashton, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Staff Writers

Nov. 3, 2004

Hampshire County voters Tuesday clearly said they want to see limits on the USA Patriot Act and support for joint child custody in divorce cases.

Those were their answers to two of the six nonbinding questions asked on ballots around the county on Election Day.

Voters also called for laws to let the state manufacture, sell and tax marijuana for everyday use, and introduce "instant runoff voting" for state races.

The 3rd Hampshire District (Amherst and Granby) alone voted on questions regarding workplace bullying and the creation of a redistricting commission.

The questions are advisory only, meant to serve as a barometer of public opinion.  Here's what voters said they want. 

Child Custody 

A nonbinding ballot question urging the Legislature to adopt "shared parenting" passed by a landslide both locally and statewide.  Voters in 35 districts backed questions that would instruct their state lawmaker to support legislation requiring that courts mandate joint legal and physical custody in divorce cases unless a parent is deemed unfit.

In Hampshire County, Deerfield, Sunderland, and Whately, 44,972 people voted "yes" and 8,873 people cast a "no" vote.  The question passed in every county municipality.

"It's very encouraging that it would pass so handily," said Mike Franco of Holyoke, co-chairman of the Fatherhood Coalition, which petitioned to get the question on the ballot.

Franco said his group worked hard to fight to change "the perception of men's domestic role in parenting."  He expected the measure to poll well, but it got even better numbers than he expected, he said.

Opponents said that such a law, if the Legislature were to pass it, is unnecessary, would make parental rights more important than the welfare of children and would limit judges' discretion in determining the best custody arrangement.

Franco and other fathers' rights proponents have said that any such law could not be used by unfit parents to maintain joint custody of their children.

. . .(From here story speaks of other policy questions)

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