Updated Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 07:01 PM
OLYMPIA — The parents of a missing Utah mother pushed Friday for changes in Washington state laws on custody cases, saying proposed legislation might have prevented the killing of their two grandchildren.
Chuck and Judy Cox testified before a state Senate committee considering a bill that would restrict or block visitation rights for someone who is the subject of a murder investigation.
They told lawmakers the legislation could have changed the course of the case involving their missing daughter, whose husband, Josh Powell, killed himself and his two young kids during a parental visit.
“Most likely, they would have officially named Josh Powell a suspect in order to afford Charlie and Braden more protection,” Chuck Cox said, referring to the grandchildren. The grandparents had custody of the two children.
Authorities in Utah had long been eyeing Powell in the 2009 disappearance of his wife. While investigators never publicly declared Powell a suspect, they treated him as one privately.
Powell killed his children last year when they arrived at his home for a supervised visit.
The proposed law in Washington would allow people involved in custody cases to demand information from law enforcement that might be relevant to decisions on visitation matters.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, who is sponsoring the proposed bill, said it provides more tools for judges to restrict visitation. She noted that some visitations can be limited to just once a month in a public place — not in a private home.
“We need more parameters around our current law to give us a wake-up call and bring us back to common sense,” Roach said.
Rick Bartholomew, who testified on behalf of the Washington State Bar Association, said he supported the idea behind the bill but not the implementation.
He expressed concern that some investigations are left open for long periods and ultimately lead to the exoneration of parents, which could mean parents would be separated from their kids for extended periods, even if they did nothing wrong.
Bartholomew also said the rule requiring law enforcement to turn over details of an investigation during a custody case could harm a murder probe.
The suspect in a murder case could use the tool to get a glimpse inside that investigation, he said.
A committee of senators hearing the bill did not take a vote on the measure Friday.
Rachel La Corte / The Associated Press
Judy Cox, mother of missing Utah mother Susan Powell, testifies Friday at a state Senate hearing as her husband, Chuck, center, and Sen. Pam Roach, right, listen.