HARTFORD -- Grandparents whose children are involved in divorces would be allowed to petition courts for scheduled access to their grandchildren under a bill that won unanimous support Tuesday in the state House of Representatives.

The bill, approved 146-0, next moves to the Senate. It would require grandparents to prove they have close relationships with minor children and that the children might be harmed if denied the visits.

During the brief House debate on the issue, lawmakers from throughout the state said that elderly constituents have called them to complain they should still be allowed to retain relationships with their grandchildren even though the parents have split or are estrangaqed themselves.

"We are living in a time right now where the rights of folks to visit with their grandchildren are not being taken seriously," said Rep. Andres Ayala Jr., D-Bridgeport.

"A great many of my constituents have reached out to tell me that they want to be involved in the lives of their grandchildren. They want to be there to provide proper upbringing," Ayala said. "They want to be able to speak with them. They want to be able to share their love with them. And in some cases, unfortunately, it's not happening."

Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, who served on a legislative task force on the issue, said the bill would guarantee the rights of grandparents. "I think this is all something we need to support," she said.

Rep. Brenda L. Kupchick, R-Fairfield, said she was contacted by several grandmothers who are concerned about visitation rights. One took care of a grandchild for a period of time, when the parents were unable to, but was prevented from seeing the child again when the mother took back custody, Kupchick said.

"This poor grandmother was just heart broken," Kupchick said. "She has spent time raising the (child), but because of an issue between her and her daughter, she wasn't allowed to see the child. There was nothing on the books to allow her to have access to her own grandchild. I think grandparents' rights are just as important as parents' rights."

According to a legislative analysis of the bill, under current law grandparents may cite a history of regular contact when asking state courts for the right to visit minors. The bill, written in part in response to a recent state Supreme Court case, would require petitioners to list specific instances of a "parent-like" relationship that exists. If the court finds "clear and convincing" evidence, the request for visitation rights would have to be approved with specific dates and locations set.

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