A task force on spousal abuse and federal legislation that would substantially change laws affecting education, domestic relations, welfare and taxation were among the topics of a one-day conference sponsored by 14 Montgomery County women's organizations.
The meeting, which drew about 125 persons, focused on state and federal bills affecting women, children and families, and particularly on how the incoming Ronald Reagan administration and the newly reorganized Congress can be expected to deal with women's issues.
County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist announced the formation of the spousal abuse task force, which is charged with monitoring implementation of the Protection from Domestic Violence Act enacted last year by the Maryland General Assembly.
The law enables abused wives and husbands to bring civil rather than criminal action against their spouses. It gives the court power to remove the abuser from the home, require counseling and to award temporary custody of children before a hearing.
Susan Ness, president of the Montgomery County Commission for Women, told the gathering in the County Office Building in Rockville Sunday that women's organizations were very concerned when the Republican platform reversed its traditional stand in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. The Reagan administration, however, "is an open book and we want to do everything we can to work with it," she said.
Bobbie Greene Kilberg, campaign vice chairwoman of the Reagan-Bush Women's Policy Advisory Board, warned the group that they would not see a massive, federally funded program for day care from this administration. "What you are going to see is a variety of options discussed."
She said she expected to see proposals for tax breaks for industry-sponsored day-care facilities and comparable tax breaks for families with elderly dependents.
"I urge all of you to come up with specific and not very expensive programs in the economic area because I think there will be a receptive ear," said Kilberg, who works with the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in Washington.
Workshops held during the day included discussions of the legislative process, employment law, the state budget and status of pension and Social Security legislation.
The proposed Family Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), generated some of the liveliest discussion at the meeting.
Among the most controversial sections of the bill are those which would bar federal funds for education to states that ban voluntary prayer in schools or require teachers to belong to a union and for textbooks that are sex-neutral (books that avoid sex roles in portraying men and women) or belittle traditional women's roles in society. The bill also would effectively free private and parochial schools from federal educational and employment requirements and desegregation orders.
Other provisions would bar college students from receiving food stamps, eliminate federal funding of spouse abuse shelters and require that parents be notified of minors receiving abortion and contraceptive services from federally funded clinics.
Jo Ann Gasper, Washington-based editor of The Right Woman newsletter, who helped draft the bill, said it was intended to "neutralize federal intrusiveness into education and the family."
Several conference participants questioned the constitutionality of some of the provisions.
"The first (provision regarding school prayer) is a matter of separation of church and state that is so basic to the American way of life," said Charlotte Chase, of the National Council of Jewish Women and the Women's Suburban Democratic Club. "Voluntary makes it sound great, but voluntary means dividing kids up according to religion."
"The intent was to permit a moment of silence at school or at a football game or at a graduation," responded Gasper.
"It is not uncommon to have voluntary prayer in public buildings," said Avis Birely, former president of the Montgomery County Council and a member of the Rock Creek Republican Women's Club. "Our United States Congress opens with a prayer. The Supreme Court opens with a prayer. It seems unfortunate to deny prayer to children in school."
Others objected to provisions requiring that parents be notified when their children receive contraceptives, abortions or venereal disease treatment at federally sponsored clinics.
Judith Vaughan-Prather, director of the Montgomery County Commission for Women, said before children were permitted to obtain help without telling their parents, hundreds did not seek treatment and attempted self-inflicted abortions.
"I would come down in favor of parental rights as opposed to children's rights," said Gasper. "I don't think the federal government should intrude itself between parents and children."
"There may be one or two provisions (in the bill) that are good," said Chase, "but this looks like an attack on the family, on the individuals in the family and it is an attack on our rights as citizens."
At a workshop on local legislation, Beverly Anne Groner, who chairs the Governor's Commission on Domestic Relations Laws and Elizabeth Tennery, past president of the Montgomery County Bar Association, described bills expected to be considered by the Maryland General Assembly, which opened this week.
One measure, introduced by Del. Philip C. Jimeno (D-Ann Arundel), would allow illegitimate fathers to have visitation rights. Another, introduced by Del. Patrick C. Scannello (D-Anne Arundel), increases the penalties for child abduction, requiring jailing and a fine, and a third, introduced by Del. Judith C. Toth (D-Montgomery), authorizes a court to post notice of delinquent child support accounts with a credit bureau. Still another, introduced by Del. Robin Ficker (R-Montgomery), would permit the court to grant visitation rights to the grandparents of children in a divorce.
Democratic Baltimore Dels. Arthur S. Alperstein, Theodore Levin and Paula Colodny Hollinger sponsored legislation that would provide free medical service to rape victims for medical treatment not covered by insurance. Another Ficker-sponsored bill sets stringent standards for strip searches.