Legislature(2005 - 2006)
2005-01-26 House JournalFull Journal pdf
2005-01-26 House Journal Page 0170 HB 114 HOUSE BILL NO. 114 by the House Rules Committee by request of the Governor, entitled: "An Act relating to the retaining of certain privileges of a parent in a relinquishment and termination of a parent and child relationship proceeding; relating to eligibility for permanent fund dividends for certain children in the custody of the state; relating to child in need of aid proceedings and juvenile delinquency proceedings; and providing for an effective date." was read the first time and referred to the State Affairs, Health, Education & Social Services, and Judiciary Committees. The following fiscal note(s) apply: 1. Zero, Dept. of Health & Social Services The Governor's transmittal letter dated January 25, 2005, follows: "Dear Speaker Harris: Under the authority of art. III, sec. 18, of the Alaska Constitution, I am transmitting a bill relating to the retaining of certain privileges of a parent in a relinquishment and termination of a parent and child relationship proceeding, relating to eligibility for Permanent Fund 2005-01-26 House Journal Page 0171 dividends for certain children in the custody of the state, and relating to child in need of aid proceedings under AS 47.10 and juvenile delinquency proceedings under AS 47.12. The bill would add language to AS 25.23.180 to permit parents to relinquish their parental rights to a child while retaining certain privileges, such as ongoing communication or visitation with the child. This proposed amendment is in response to a recent Alaska Supreme Court decision holding that current law prohibits a parent from retaining any rights or privileges in a relinquishment. In some cases, ongoing contact with the parent is in the child's best interest, particularly in cases involving adoption by relatives or family acquaintances. Before the Supreme Court's decision, retention of privileges in relinquishments was a common practice. The proposed amendment would authorize retained privileges in appropriate cases. The bill would add language to AS 43.23.005 to allow children who are placed temporarily by the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) outside of the state--in out-of-state treatment facilities, for example--to maintain their eligibility for Permanent Fund dividends. Some children require long-term treatment of a nature that is currently unavailable in this state; such children are at risk of losing their Permanent Fund dividend eligibility if they remain placed out of state for more than a year and are unable to return to the state to meet permanent fund dividend eligibility requirements. These Alaskan children should not lose the privilege of dividend eligibility as a result of being placed by the DHSS in a treatment program that is only available out-of-state. The bill would add language to AS 47.10.020 to clarify that the court may issue any orders necessary to aid the DHSS in its investigation of an allegation of child abuse or neglect. Orders to aid DHSS are not prohibited by existing law; however, the proposed clarification would resolve any ambiguity regarding the ability of judges to issue such orders. The bill also would add a new provision to permit courts to dispense with unnecessary and costly expert witness appearances in child in need of aid cases involving parents who cannot be located or identified. Under existing federal law, in order for a court to authorize 2005-01-26 House Journal Page 0172 the out-of-home placement of, or termination of parental rights to, an Indian child, the court must consider the testimony of a qualified expert witness. In cases involving a parent whose whereabouts remain unknown despite a diligent search, this federal law would appear to require that an expert witness be called solely to support the self- evident finding that placement of a child with the parent who cannot be found is likely to place the child at risk of harm. The proposed addition to AS 47.10 would permit a court to conclude, as a matter of law, that the testimony of a qualified expert witness would support a finding that placing the child with an absent parent would place a child at substantial risk of serious harm. This provision will satisfy federal legal requirements. Finally, the bill would amend the definition of the term "mental health professional" for purposes of child in need of aid and juvenile delinquency proceedings. In order to authorize placement of children in secure residential psychiatric treatment facilities, courts must hear the testimony of a "mental health professional." The current definition of that term, contained in AS 47.30.915, excludes professionals who may be licensed to practice in other states, but not in Alaska. The testimony of such professionals is often critical in cases involving Alaska children who are already placed out of state by DHSS. Thus, expansion of the existing definition is necessary to ensure that Alaska children who are placed outside of this state receive the psychiatric treatment they need. Each of the provisions of this bill constitutes a step toward making Alaska's children safer, healthier, and more secure, without unreasonably expanding governmental powers. I urge your prompt and favorable action on this measure. Sincerely yours, /s/ Frank H. Murkowski Governor"