Legislature(1995 - 1996)
04/29/1996 02:10 PM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE BILL NO. 289 "An Act relating to runaway minors and their families or legal custodians." Members were provide with a proposed committee substitute, Work Draft 9-LS1635\D, 4/27/96 (copy on file). JUDY SHIFFLER, FAIRBANKS testified via the teleconference network. (Ms. Shiffler's written testimony is on file.) She expressed concern that section 6 of the proposed committee substitute on page 5 would not adequately slow down or stop the revolving door. She stated that SB 289 needs to provide clear and immediate consequences. She stressed that the section allows to much time to pass before consequences occur. She maintained that the bills should be designed as an early intervention measure. She emphasized that the bill does not replace other facilities that troubled kids can turn to on a voluntary basis. GUY PATTERSON, FAIRBANKS testified via the teleconference network. He observed that there are two classes of children. The abused child that is running from an abusive situation and those that are out on the street because they 11 do not want to follow their parent's rules. He maintained that children are encouraged to run away by other kids. He suggested that the process be simplified. He emphasized that it should not be assumed that the parents are at fault. He stated that when the State takes custody the State should provide a safe place. He maintained that the State should know where the child is in the middle of the night. He spoke to the expense of lock up facilities. He asserted that children would not leave home if they knew that they would be placed in lock up facilities. In response to a question by Representative Brown, Mr. Patterson clarified that Fairbanks does not have children on the streets that are under 12 years old. LESLIE DRUMHILLER, FAIRBANKS testified via the teleconference network. She noted that she is the parent of a 15 year old runaway. She recounted experiences with her child. She emphasized that early intervention can protect children. She stressed that the threat of lock up can persuade children to seek help. (Tape Change, HFC 96-147, Side 2) ALLISON GORDON, STAFF, SENATOR FRANK testified in support of SB 289. She observed that the legislation was introduced to address the growing concern among parents for the safety of their runaway children. She maintained that: "The runaway epidemic is a significant problem in our communities that needs serious consideration. The overwhelming frustration parents currently feel can be best attributed to the lack of support they receive from the government. Parents are held accountable for their children's actions yet they are not given the necessary tools to exercise authority and instill guidance in their children's lives. Current law provides minors with the ability to thumb their noses at figures of authority, whether they be parents, teachers, law enforcement or otherwise. Their freedom is guaranteed and they have learned how to exploit and manipulate the system in order to get what they want. We feel that parents should be the ones who should decide what is best for their children and be able to nurture and guide them in a manner they see fit until the child is old enough to make their own decisions, support themselves, and be on their own. Senate bill 289 tightens existing law in an attempt to close the revolving door that currently allows runaways the freedom to avoid having to abide by rules and parental authority." Ms. Gordon noted that the legislation strengthens the language within AS 11.51.130 regarding contributing to the delinquency of a minor. "By discouraging people from harboring runaways, it will compel these children to take 12 advantage of available services that are necessary for assessing the individual's situation and beginning the process of reconciliation with the child's family." Ms. Gordon stressed that the legislation clarifies that a police officer's first course of action, after picking up a runaway, will be to take that child back to his or her parents unless the officer believes that there has been abuse to the minor. If the parent will not accept the child, then the second course of action will be to take the minor to a safe place agreed to by the parent. If this cannot be accomplished then the police officer must take the child to a semi-secure shelter for assessment of the child's situation and determination of the course of action that is in the best interest of the child. Ms. Gordon noted that various ways to address the secure placement of a minor who is a habitual runaway were addressed. The version that passed the Senate would place runaways who run from placement in semi-secure shelters into secure placements. This provision jeopardized OJJDP funding from the federal government in the amount of $600,000. The Department of Health & Social Services also attached an extremely high fiscal note. Ms. Gordon noted that members were provided with a proposed committee substitute, Work Draft 9-LS1635\D, dated 4/29/96. This version authorizes law enforcement to temporarily detain a minor who has fled from a semi-secure shelter pending a court hearing to ascertain whether probable cause exists to conclude that the child is a child in need of aid. At the hearing the court is required to determine placement of the minor and to order that minor to remain in that placement. If the minor runs from placement they will be in violation of a court order and will be picked up and detained in a secure environment, thus shutting the revolving door. ANNE CARPENETI, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF LAW expressed concern with revisions to the Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor statute on page 3. She urged the Committee to change this provision to make it easier to prosecute individuals who contribute to the delinquency of a minor and encourage children to be absent from the custody of their parents. She stressed that "just cause" needs to be defined. She observed that new language on page 3, line 30 - page 4, line 1 is not clear enough. She noted that it is easier to prove lack of knowledged than lack of permission. She suggested that on page 3, line 1 after "custodian" that "or without the knowledge of the parent, guardian or custodian" be added. Representative Parnell pointed out that Representative Kelly has an amendment to 13 that effect. Ms. Carpeneti referred to page 6, lines 10 and 11. She noted that the Court can order the child to remain in the custody of the parents or another party without a finding of probable cause if the child is a child in need of aid. She stated that this language is problematic. Under AS 47.10.010(A)(2)(a) a finding of probable cause is needed for the court to have jurisdiction over the issue and child. Ms. Carpeneti observed that page 4, lines 21 - 25 takes away the provision that the sole fact that the child is a runaway is not enough to justify emergency custody. She stated that it is unclear of the effect of this deletion. Ms. Carpeneti suggested that on page 6, line 9 that the court when making its order, should specify the terms and conditions that must be followed by the minor and the parent or guardian. She observed that there are cases where the parents are as much of the problem as the child. DIANE WORLEY, DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF FAMILY AND YOUTH SERVICES clarified that the Division supports the House Judiciary version of SB 289. She expressed concerns with the proposed committee substitute. She acknowledged the need for legislation. She stated that the Division supports parents having more control over their children. She asserted that some of the new amendments are going to complicate the issue and set up false expectations. She emphasized that the State cannot make children follow the rules any more than the parents can. The State can provide early intervention, counseling and support. Ms. Worley referred to page 2, lines 12 - 14. She emphasized that the requirement that the Division take emergency custody of a minor who has previously left a semi- secure program without permission would take away any discretion from the Department. She noted that there are no cases where the Division is currently required to take a child into custody. She observed that language on page 5, lines 27 - 30 also removes discretion from the Division. Ms. Worley expressed concern that if children know that they will be detained and taken into state custody if they run from semi-secure shelters that they will not use the shelters. She acknowledged frustration of parents with the revolving door syndrome. She emphasized that semi-secure shelters provide safety for children that would be on the streets. Children have the opportunity for counseling and intervention services in the semi-secure shelters. Representative Therriault noted that children often go to 14 shelters only after being picked up by enforcement officers. Ms. Worley agreed and added that the police will have to take the child home. Children will only go to a shelter if the parent refuses to accept the child. She maintained that many children use the Family Focus shelter in Fairbanks on a voluntary basis. She noted that all the children at Covenant House in Anchorage are voluntary. Ms. Worley observed that the legislation will only apply to children that are running from a semi-secure facility. Only five facilities around the State would be under the mandate to become semi-secure. She observed that children in other parts of the State will not be affected by the law. Ms. Worley referred to page 7, lines 9 - 12. She observed that Covenant House operates on a voluntary basis. This language would exempt Covenant House from the provision to maintain a semi-secure facility. She noted that Covenant House stated that they would end operations if they were forced to operate a semi-secure facility. She pointed out that Covenant House serves 84 percent of the State's runaways. Ms. Worley summarized that the Division supports tougher consequences for adults that harbor runaways and more parental involvement and responsibility. The Division has concerns regarding the mandate to take runways into protective custody. Representative Mulder asked if the fiscal note would change. Ms. Worley estimated that it would cost $250.0 thousand dollars to implement the proposed work draft. This represents an increase of three social workers, two in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks. Representative Martin spoke in support of the provision exempting Covenant House. Ms. Gordon noted that language on page 2, lines 13 - 15 was a drafting oversight based on a previous version. She observed that the requirement that the Division take children into emergency state custody was removed. She observed that this provision should be deleted. She added that the Department of Health & Social Services is instructed to file a child in need of aid petition with the court. The legislation requires that a law enforcement officer take into protective custody a minor that has fled from a semi-security shelter. A minor that has fled a semi- secure shelter after placement could be arrested as a delinquent and could be detained under AS 47.10.080. Representative Therriault noted Representative Kelly's 15 intent to delete (4) on page 2, lines 3 - 5 and lines 12 - 15. Ms. Worley clarified that the requirement to file a petition is a higher standard than the Division is currently under for child in need of aid cases. Ms. Gordon responded that the sponsor feels that something needs to be done to require the Department to take action in these situations. SB 289 was HELD in Committee for further consideration.