Legislature(1997 - 1998)
05/04/1998 04:50 PM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 375 "An Act relating to children in need of aid matters and proceedings; relating to murder of children, criminally negligent homicide, kidnapping, criminal nonsupport, the crime of indecent exposure, and the crime of endangering the welfare of a child; relating to registration of certain sex offenders; relating to sentencing for certain crimes involving child victims; relating to the state medical examiner and reviews of child fatalities; relating to teacher certification and convictions of crimes involving child victims; relating to access, confidentiality, and release of certain information concerning the care of children, child abuse and neglect, and child fatalities; authorizing the Department of Health and Social Services to enter into an interstate compact concerning adoption and medical assistance for certain children with special needs; authorizing the establishment of a multidisciplinary child protection team to review reports of child abuse or neglect; relating to immunity from liability for certain state actions concerning matters involving child protection and fatality reviews and children in need of aid; relating to persons required to report suspected child abuse or neglect; relating to foster care placement and to payment for children in foster and other care and the waiver of certain foster care requirements; relating to the access to certain criminal justice information and licensure of certain child care facilities; amending Rule 218, Alaska Rules of Appellate Procedure; amending Rules 1, 3, 15, 18, and 19, Alaska Child in Need of Aid Rules; and providing for an effective date. WALTER GAUTHIER, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), GUARD FAMILY RIGHTS, HOMER, spoke in opposition to the proposed legislation. He addressed the child abuse crisis in Alaska and how the Division of Family and Youth Services (DFYS) has exploited many situations. He warned that the Department of Law had misrepresented the bill. He pointed out that there are only a few items contained within the bill which are required by the Safe Adoption Act and all of which regard time-lines. He emphasized that no state to date has been denied the right to access Title 4 funds. Mr. Gauthier commented that there are no legal safe guards contained in the proposed legislation. He voiced fears that there would be profiteering by government agencies from claiming child abuse issues throughout the years. GLORIA STEWART, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), FOSTER CARE PARENT, HOMER, testified in support of the legislation. She spoke to her history of foster parenting and the number of placements most foster child can expect to see during their time in care. She stressed that permanent placement would be the most beneficial thing to happen for any child. MARTHA HODSON, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), GUARD FAMILY RIGHTS, KENAI, spoke against the proposed legislation. She reiterated the reoccurring problems happening within the Division of Family and Youth Services. Ms. Hodson emphasized that children in the system are at the discretion of the officials and social workers within the Department. CAROL PALMER, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), PARENTS FOR CUSTODIAL JUSTICE, MATSU, recommended passing the federal portion of the proposed legislation. SHIRLEY WARNER, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), CHIEF, SOLDOTNA POLICE DEPARTMENT, KENAI, spoke in support of the proposed legislation. She provided graphic examples indicating the need for such legislation in crimes against children. Children are afforded few rights under the constitution and laws of the State. In passage of the child protection bill, children will be protected and valued as members of the community. Captain Warner recommended that domestic violence and sexual assault should be addressed in a pro-active manner and that emotional harm to children is being recognized and addressed finally to the advantage of our children. Captain Warner encouraged Committee members to pass the proposed legislation. SUZETTE GRAHAM, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), FOSTER CARE PARENT, KENAI, testified in support of the proposed legislation and urged that it be fully funded. She stressed that children are our most unprotected resource and that they should be a priority. Additionally, she recommended that funding for respite needs for foster parents should also be considered. Ms. Graham spoke to the "burn out" that occurs for foster parents of special needs children. SHELLE LEMAN, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), SELF, KENAI, suggested that the bill was too broad. She spoke to conditions which have existed for her daughter's child, who has currently been inappropriately placed in foster care. Ms. Leman closed noting that social workers have too much power and are often times biased which creates large problems for children and families. JODY OLMSTED, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), SELF, NORTH POLE, pointed out that there is no check and balance contained within the legislation for the DFYS social workers. She believed that these agency workers are often biased. Ms. Olmsted recommended that there be mandatory video taping of all allegations of child abuse. (Testimony temporarily was cut off). MARCI SCHMIDT, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), HEAR MY VOICE, MATSU, urged that the Committee pass at least the federal portion of the proposed legislation. The intent of the Safe Families Act was to curtail power struggles that social services has experienced in creating a time line to complete reunification or termination so that a child can have a safe and permanent home. The federal law defines a reasonable effort and allows foster parents an appropriate voice and area of raising a child. Ms. Schmidt stated that without federal law, there would be a big price for the State to pay. Ms. Olmstead continued her testimony. She suggested that the Division of Family and Youth Services should be provided with a check and balance system and that the prevention money could be used to rehabilitate adults who need help. Ms. Olmsted pointed out that no family supports abuse. The abuse exists within the system, where the system is used like a tool to get back at people. She asked what part of the law makes the State responsible for wrong action and where can people go with those concerns. (Tape Change HFC 98- 148, Side 2). Ms. Olmstead reiterated that funding should be used for rehabilitation. She emphasized that she did not support the legislation and believed that it would divide the people of Alaska. Ms. Olmstead questioned the monetary amount offered to people as an incentive to adopt children. RUSSELL WEBB, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES, responded that there is an incentive of approximately $4 thousand dollars per child without special needs and $6 thousand dollars per child with special needs. That money goes to the State which has a subsidized adoption program in which the State makes subsidy payments direct to the families. The incentives are to pay the costs of home studies and adoptive placement. LAURIE HUGORIN, DIRECTOR, ALASKA NETWORK ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT, JUNEAU, stated that the Network was interested in two particular sections of the bill. Section #72 defines what appropriate steps are which the Division of Family and Youth Services (DFYS) should take when investigating child abuse and crimes of adult domestic violence. Additionally, the Network supports Section #22. Ms. Hugorin explained that a presumption is an assumption or supposition based on reasonable evidence. To rebut is to try to show to be false by presenting opposing arguments. A rebuttable presumption is a position from which the court starts a case and can only be changed if the respondent adequately shows the presumption to be false. Establishing a rebuttable presumption that it is detrimental to the child and not in the best interest of the child to be placed in sole custody, joint legal custody, or joint physical custody with the perpetrator of the domestic violence rightly shifts the burden of proof onto the domestic violence perpetrator. The perpetrator should be the one who has to justify his ability to parent safely and responsibly as well as his ability to interact safely with the adult victim. Ms. Hugorin continued, men who batter their wives are likely to assault their children. The battering of women who are mothers usually predates the infliction of child abuse. At least half of all battering husbands also batter their children. The more severe the abuse of the mother, the worse the child abuse. The risk of violence directed both toward the child and the battered parent is frequently greater after separation than during cohabitation; this elevated risk often continues after legal interventions. Ms. Hugorin explained that further, research confirms that the post-separation adjustment of a child is assisted by an award of sole custody to a non-abusive parent who offers the child a warm relationship, provides a routine, discipline, and who buffers the child against parental conflict and abuse. She urged the Committee to help protect children of domestic violence by keeping the rebuttable presumptions in HB 375. Ms. Olmsted interjected that the legislation should contain a clause stipulating that mandatory video recording of allegations of child abuse. SCOTT CALDER, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), FAIRBANKS, spoke in opposition to the proposed legislation resulting from a long history of problems he has had with the Division of Family and Youth Services. He emphasized that the bill is unfair and would provide more power for the agency. At this time, laws have not been parent oriented, but instead, parents are discriminated against. Thus concluded the teleconferenced testimony. Representative Kelly MOVED to RESCIND action in adopting Amendment #2. Representative J. Davies OBJECTED. SUSAN G. WIBKER, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF LAW, responded that Amendment #2 would be replaced with Amendment #6. [Copy on File]. She explained that the legislative drafters had recommended that change because Amendment #2 contained a general section stating that the new law would apply to licensing actions and disclosure of information. Amendment #6 is the same as Amendment #2 except that it would be a more specific application to the way in which it would apply to licensing cases. Amendment require finger printing. Additionally, Amendment #6 would require more specific disclosure of the agency records. Representative J. Davies WITHDREW his OBJECTION to rescind previous action taken on Amendment #2. There being NO further OBJECTION, action on Amendment #2 was RESCINDED. Representative Kelly WITHDREW Amendment #2. There being NO OBJECTION, Amendment #2 was withdrawn. Representative Kelly MOVED to adopt Amendment #6. There being NO OBJECTION, Amendment #6 was adopted. Representative Kelly MOVED to adopt Amendment #5. Representative J. Davies OBJECTED. Ms. Wibker explained that there were three sections included in Amendment #5 in which the Department of Health and Social Services would recommend minor changes to. Ms. Wibker explained each line of Amendment #5. (Tape Change HFC 98 - 149, Side 1). Ms. Wibker continued explaining the substance of Amendment (Tape Change HFC 98 - 149, Side 2). Representative Kelly offered to create a new Amendment #5. Representative Kelly WITHDREW Amendment #5. Representative J. Davies recommended dividing the amendment in order that the issues which relate to domestic violence are separated from the other concerns. Representative Kelly MOVED to adopt Amendment #7. [Copy on File]. Representative Mulder OBJECTED. Representative Kelly WITHDREW Amendment #7. Representative Kelly MOVED to adopt Amendment #8. [Copy on File]. Ms. Wibker explained that Amendment #8 would parallel an amendment adopted in the Senate, by removing criminal provisions covered in other bills. There being NO OBJECTION, it was so ordered. Representative Kelly MOVED to adopt Amendment #9. [Copy on File]. Representative Mulder OBJECTED for the purpose of discussion. Ms. Wibker explained that Amendment #9 was proposed by the Alaska Court System. DOUG WOOLIVER, AMINISTRATIVE ATTORNEY, ALASKA COURT SYSTEM, advised that immediate effective dates cause tremendous problems for the Alaska Court System. Amendment #9 would change the effective date to give the Court time to implement the court rule changes. Representative Mulder WITHDREW his OBJECTION. There being NO further OBJECTIONS, Amendment #9 was adopted. Representative Kelly MOVED to adopt Amendment #10. [Copy on File]. LISA TORKELSON, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE FRED DYSON, stated that Amendment #10 had been approved by the Department and would provide for foster parents access to the child's records. Mr. Webb noted that the Department would not have an objection to the foster parents having access to the records or information about children that are in placement within their homes. He questioned if the amendment would give the foster parents access to records to the parent's private information. He feared that the amendment could give foster parents access to the entire court record. Mr. Webb advised all that information would be unnecessary for foster parents to have access to. REPRESENTATIVE FRED DYSON pointed out that it is necessary for foster parents to have access to information which they need to protect the child. Amendment #10 would legitimize foster parents having the right to that information. Mr. Webb suggested that Representative Dyson's concern could be addressed with slight rewording of the amendment. Representative Kelly WITHDREW Amendment #10 in order to more clearly write it. Representative Kelly MOVED to adopt Amendment #7 which would insert a new section when appropriate. Representative Dyson pointed out that audit and practice in the State has recognized the importance of training foster parents. Ms. Torkelson added that the wording of the amendment had been submitted by the Department and that placement in the bill would continue to guarantee that the training occur. Mr. Webb added that foster parent training is required under current regulations. Currently, the Department is meeting these regulations; there would be no fiscal impact. There being NO OBJECTION, Amendment #7 was adopted. Representative J. Davies pointed out that there could be a need for a conceptual title change in passage of the amendment. Representative Mulder noted that would be addressed by Legal Services at the next scheduled meeting. HB 375 was HELD in Committee for further consideration.