Legislature(1997 - 1998)

03/12/1998 03:02 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
HB 375 - CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN/FOSTER CARE                                   
                                                                               
Number 0490                                                                    
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE announced the next item on the agenda was House                 
Bill 375.  He noted that Dean Guaneli from the Department of Law               
was available to speak to the criminal section of HB 375.                      
                                                                               
Number 0536                                                                    
                                                                               
DEAN GUANELI, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division,             
Department of Law, said he would address three areas of criminal               
law under HB 375: First, being the changes to the homicide laws;               
second, the changes to the endangering the welfare of minor laws;              
and third was the child support laws.  He said as a result of a                
couple of highly publicized homicides of infants in the last year,             
the Department of Law was asked to look at the homicide laws and               
the application with respect to the deaths of children.  In doing              
so, it was determined that some changes could certainly be made.               
Essentially, those changes would, in many instances, elevate                   
homicide offenses that are lower level homicide offenses to a high             
level.  In some instances, crimes that would now be second degree              
murder have been elevated to first degree murder, particularly if              
a felony is being committed and the child dies or if the child has             
previously suffered serious physical injury at the hands of the                
same perpetrator and then dies in the second instance.                         
                                                                               
MR. GUANELI stressed these are not easy cases to prove.                        
Oftentimes, what happens is that when a child dies, the autopsy                
reveals broken bones or other injuries that had been previously                
inflicted, and if it can be proven those injuries were committed by            
the same person, then this in the department's view would serve to             
elevate that from a lower level offense to first degree murder.  In            
other instances, things that would be manslaughter (indisc.)                   
homicide have been elevated to second degree murder if there is a              
history of physical violence with the person who had been                      
previously convicted of an assault on the child.  With respect to              
manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, the bill elevates              
the sentencing provisions so the presumptive term would go from                
five years to seven years for manslaughter involving a child.  He              
noted the sentence is seven years for seriously injuring a child               
under first degree assault and only five years for committing                  
manslaughter.  It's an anomaly in the statutes, but at least with              
respect to children, HB 375 corrects that.  With respect to                    
criminal negligent homicide,  the legislation makes a C felony a B             
felony and does some minor tempering with the sentencing provisions            
so the judges have a greater range of sentences that can be                    
imposed.  He said that oftentimes with homicide offenses, the                  
differences between criminal  negligent homicide and manslaughter              
and second degree murder often turn on some fine gradations of how             
the law defines the mental state a person has to have in committing            
those offenses.  It's very easy sometimes for juries to give                   
someone the benefit of the doubt and convict them of a lesser                  
offense.                                                                       
                                                                               
Number 0687                                                                    
                                                                               
MR. GUANELI said with respect to the laws regarding endangering the            
welfare of minors, after the incident of the infant dying in                   
Fairbanks, there was a lot of soul searching by the Department of              
the Health & Social Services.  Social workers were commenting that             
the District Attorney's Office never prosecutes cases involving                
criminal neglect of children.  He believed that reflected in some              
ways, a misunderstanding about the criminal laws and there really              
is nothing in current law that reflects criminal neglect of                    
children.  There is endangering the welfare of a minor which is                
intentionally deserting a child under circumstances where the child            
can be injured, but really nothing else.  In looking at those                  
statutes, it seemed appropriate to create a statute that would                 
address some of the more egregious situations.  A couple that came             
to mind was leaving a child with a known sex offender when there's             
no one else present and leaving a child with someone who has                   
previously physically assaulted the child.  Oftentimes there are               
cases where a mother knows or has reason to believe that a                     
boyfriend or the father of the child has been abusing the child,               
and leaves the child in that person's care and the child ends up               
dead.  The boyfriend or the husband is prosecuted, but isn't there             
some culpability on the mother's part as well.                                 
                                                                               
Number 0776                                                                    
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE gave an example where a mother and her children are             
in an abusive relationship, the mother leaves and comes back, then             
one of the children is abused to the point of death.  He asked                 
would the mother, by coming back and living with the abusive                   
father, be chargeable under these statutes.                                    
                                                                               
MR. GUANELI responded if the person had been previously physically             
assaulting the children, yes the mother would be chargeable if she             
went back to that relationship and left the children.  The idea is             
leaving the children with the person with no one else available.               
                                                                               
Number 0825                                                                    
                                                                               
MR. GUANELI explained there was another area of neglect that social            
workers often find in cases; that is parents who use drugs and                 
parents who are incapacitated by alcohol to the point of being                 
passed out in the house and there are infants in the home - parents            
who simply leave their infants alone for periods of time.  The                 
issue was should we criminalize that, should that be made criminal             
behavior, is that a criminal justice issue.  This legislation makes            
that a violation; not a crime that a person could go to jail for               
but it's something where if relatives know what's going on, they               
can call the police and the police can take some action.  It                   
essentially brings a person into court who can be cited for the                
offense, the person can be fined, put on probation, ordered to seek            
drug or alcohol counseling, et cetera.  It doesn't put the person              
in jail but it establishes a track record of conduct that's                    
dangerous to the welfare of children; conduct by parents that's                
neglectful.  He noted this is a significant change in the law and              
could potentially have a significant impact on the workload of some            
police agencies.                                                               
                                                                               
Number 0928                                                                    
                                                                               
MR. GUANELI said with respect to child support, in this day of                 
welfare reform and cutting off welfare benefits, the department                
believes an important aspect of child care is having an adequate               
source of income for many single parents and there should be                   
stronger penalties associated with the most egregious cases of                 
criminal nonsupport.  This legislation proposes to make a felony               
level criminal nonsupport for those people who owe an amount in                
excess of $10,000 and fail to pay child support.  He said, "Now a              
couple of things I want to note about this.  First of all, if you              
stole $500 from somebody, that would be a felony offense.  Yet                 
under current law, if you owe your ex-wife $10,000, $20,000 or                 
$50,000 or in the most serious case I've been told of, $200,000+;              
that's not a felony offense.  I think that that is wrong.                      
Secondly, I don't want anyone to get the idea that someone who                 
perhaps is -- an action is filed in an administrative agency that              
makes these determinations or an action is filed in court and they             
calculate back arrearages and let's say the person owes $15,000 --             
I don't want anyone to think that all of a sudden they're a felony             
at that point.  The offense would be committed if they owe that                
amount of money and they are not currently paying child support,               
having currently had a payment schedule that they are trying to                
meet.  That's an important aspect.  The other important aspect is              
in any child support criminal action, the state bears the burden of            
showing not only that the person isn't paying, but the person has              
the ability to pay.  Either they have the assets and they aren't               
paying or they're able to work but they intentionally are not going            
to work.  So we have a fairly high burden; we have to prove that               
the person isn't paying and that they have the ability to pay."                
                                                                               
Number 1035                                                                    
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE commented this legislation is about child protection            
and wondered if this portion about criminal child support would                
better fit in other child support legislation.                                 
                                                                               
MR. GUANELI said from a legal standpoint, it certainly complies                
with the single subject requirements under the law and                         
constitution; in other words, he believes this is a legal and                  
proper subject for this bill.  With respect to single parents                  
having the ability to care for their children; i.e., being able to             
get medical care, being able to get a babysitter if needed, he                 
believes that child support really is germane to protection of                 
children.                                                                      
                                                                               
Number 1195                                                                    
                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE GREEN said, "You also covered the $10,000 in                    
arrears.  There's another bill working its way through that                    
indicates that if the ower [obligor] was not properly notified or              
timely notified, that there could be a significant amount of money             
built up and then all of a sudden that amount of money is due.  Are            
you saying that there is in essentially all cases, an ability to               
work that out instead of just suddenly being confronted with this?"            
                                                                               
MR. GUANELI responded that's what the department envisions.  The               
offense is for individuals who intentionally stop making payments              
and have the ability to make payments.                                         
                                                                               
Number 1238                                                                    
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked if he was correct in that there's a difference            
between failing to pay child support and criminal failure to pay               
child support.  He understands that criminal failure to pay is                 
where a person is intentionally hiding assets or ....  In other                
words, a person who suddenly lost their job and is behind in child             
support is not liable to a charge of criminally failing to pay                 
child support.                                                                 
                                                                               
MR. GUANELI said that was correct.  The state bears the burden of              
proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a person has the ability to             
pay and is refusing to pay.                                                    
                                                                               
Number 1357                                                                    
                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE PORTER recalled a constituent who had been paying               
child support directly to the obligee for some time was challenged             
about two weeks before the support would end and was required to               
produce payment records.  In that case, the burden of proof was on             
the obligor, not the obligee, to prove that payments had been made             
over a number of years.  He was unable to produce all the records              
and ended up being stuck for the amount he was unable to verify.               
He asked Mr. Guaneli if this type of situation would constitute a              
felony.                                                                        
                                                                               
MR. GUANELI said he believed the state would have the burden of                
proof of proving that the amount of arrearages is in excess of                 
$10,000. It is, however, a different situation than the                        
administrative proceedings.                                                    
                                                                               
Number 1357                                                                    
                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE PORTER presumed that the provision that would make              
it a crime for a parent to leave a child with a known sex offender             
is offset if the child is left with a babysitter who is over 12                
years old.  He suggested raising the age level.                                
                                                                               
MR. GUANELI responded it was the legislature's job to draw lines;              
the department drew the line at age 12 because that seemed a                   
reasonable age at which people get sitters and it's difficult to               
find sitters who are 15- or 16-years of age.                                   
                                                                               
Number 1410                                                                    
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE announced the committee would begin taking testimony            
via teleconference.                                                            
                                                                               
Number 1448                                                                    
                                                                               
KAREN LEONARD testifying via teleconference from Anchorage,                    
recognized that HB 375 attempts to resolve issues everyone is                  
concerned about, but she said it is too broad.  It goes beyond any             
new federal requirements and it essentially ends up "throwing the              
baby out with the bath water."  She suggested that additional input            
is needed from the private sector, not just the attorney general's             
office and that the minimum requirements of the new federal                    
regulations be determined and then a balanced bill be drafted over             
the next year so it's done right.  She noted over the past year,               
the public has made it very clear that it wants more accountability            
from the Division of Family and Youth Services (DFYS); however,                
HB 375 does not increase accountability, but rather reduces the                
existing accountability to zero with immunity.  If the number of               
children coming into the system is expanded, which HB 375 will do,             
where are the funds going to come from?  She suggested that the                
next year be used to review what the Lower 48 has done to                      
accomplish phenomenal safety records for their children and the                
same be done for Alaska's children.                                            
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Leonard for her comments and asked                  
Yolanda Boma to testify next.                                                  
                                                                               
Number 1579                                                                    
                                                                               
YOLANDA BOMA testified via teleconference from Anchorage regarding             
the immunity issue.  She said under HB 375, the DFYS would not                 
longer be accountable for obeying sections of regulations and                  
procedures.  This legislation makes the DFYS immune.  She urged the            
committee not to pass HB 375.                                                  
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Boma for her testimony and asked Harry              
Niehaus to present his comments.                                               
                                                                               
Number 1645                                                                    
                                                                               
HARRY NIEHAUS testified via teleconference from Fairbanks.  He said            
there were two things he didn't like about the legislation;                    
specifically, page 2, line 13 and page 2, line 25 through page 3,              
line 2. He said this legislation is vague and gives broad                      
discretionary powers to social workers.                                        
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Gene Altig to present his comments next.                  
                                                                               
Number 1789                                                                    
                                                                               
GENE ALTIG testified via teleconference from Fairbanks in                      
opposition to HB 375.  In his opinion, the legislation is too                  
complex, it endangers the family and children, it's too vague and              
it shows no accountability.  Children are this country's greatest              
asset and their well-being is of utmost importance.  The importance            
of bonding children to their parents before age 6 is (indisc.) out             
in this bill.  It is his opinion that wrongly removing a child from            
the parents would do terrible damage to the child and would do more            
to cause anti-social behavior than minor abuse.  He believed there             
is a need for accountability, not immunity from liability.                     
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Michael Coons to testify.                                 
                                                                               
MICHAEL COONS testified via teleconference from Mat-Su in                      
opposition to HB 375.  His concerns are with the child fatality                
review and the multidisciplinary teams.  He urged the committee to             
read his written comments that had been faxed to the committee.                
With respect to funding, he said that correcting the problems will             
require good programs, as well as money, in order to operate                   
effectively.  He's not opposed to funding programs that work, but              
he is opposed to funding a program without a history of quality                
results, such as the case of the DFYS.                                         
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Cathy Baldwin-Johnson to present her comments.            
                                                                               
Number 2140                                                                    
                                                                               
CATHY BALDWIN-JOHNSON testified from Mat-Su via teleconference in              
support of HB 375 and said the problems are of enormous magnitude              
and major steps are required to correct it.  She said Alaska's rate            
of substantiated child abuse is three times the national average.              
Child sexual abuse reports in the Mat-Su Borough more than doubled             
from 1993 to 1996 and currently, the local law enforcement agencies            
receive at least one to two reports daily of a child being                     
molested.  Fatal child abuse in this state is on the rise with                 
homicide now the third leading cause of death for Alaskan children             
ages 1-9.  In the Mat-Su Borough, 11 percent of child deaths are               
due to assault or homicide and 8 percent of Alaskan infants who                
died (indisc.-coughing) die because of abuse or neglect.  She said             
that child abuse is a significant risk factor for juvenile crime               
and substance abuse. The local office of the DFYS is currently able            
to investigate about one-third of its over 1400 reports of child               
abuse and neglect each year due to lack of staff.  She stressed the            
importance of local multidisciplinary teams to better investigate,             
evaluate and treat victims and their families.  Better prosecution             
of offenders is needed in addition to better programs to prevent               
child abuse in the first place.                                                
                                                                               
TAPE 98-24, SIDE A                                                             
Number 0002                                                                    
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Douglas Stuart to present his comments.                   
                                                                               
Number 0013                                                                    
                                                                               
DOUGLAS STUART testified via teleconference from Homer and said                
House Bill 375 is a comprehensive, well-researched and very                    
necessary piece of legislation and he supports the intent.  When               
adults do not take responsibility for protecting their children or             
their children's rights, the social service agencies must step in              
to protect those endangered.  Children are this generation's legacy            
and that legacy must be protected from neglect, abuse, violence and            
sexual predators.  House Bill 375 empowers the agencies, foster                
parents, birth and adoptive parents with better ability to take                
over when others fail.  Today's society is one of lost values,                 
family values, neglected children, acts of violence.  The                      
inevitable result of all this is what is seen in the breakdown of              
family and family values.  He said that House Bill 375 is the                  
necessary answer to this situation and requested the committee to              
support this legislation.                                                      
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. Stuart for his testimony and called on              
John Street to testify next.                                                   
                                                                               
Number 0110                                                                    
                                                                               
JOHN STREET testified via teleconference from Kenai.  He said                  
there's a lot of fighting going on involving issues that do not                
affect our children.  The main thing that needs to be addressed                
today with this legislation is what's good for the children and                
this is the best thing he's seen to date because the bottom line               
says "best for the child."  The best place for normal children is              
with normal loving parents, all other situations belong to the                 
child, all choices that are out of the ordinary are for the child.             
He asked committee members to consider the good this bill could do             
and even though it's not perfect, it's the best thing so far.  He              
urged the committee to pass HB 375 now as time is everything to                
some children; in some homes there is no tomorrow.                             
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Rick Krueger for his comments at this time.               
                                                                               
Number 0308                                                                    
                                                                               
RICK KRUEGER testified from Ketchikan via teleconference expressing            
concern with Section 11.51.115 regarding criminal nonsupport in the            
first degree.  He had provided Chairman Bunde with a copy of the               
Ombudsman's investigation on his case with the Child Support                   
Enforcement Division and as he understands this section, his assets            
could have been seized without him even being aware this debt was              
accumulating by aid to families with dependent children (AFDC)                 
payments.  He reiterated his opposition to this section.                       
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Nancy Seamount to come forward to testify.                
                                                                               
Number 0413                                                                    
                                                                               
NANCY SEAMOUNT said she had worked with children's services                    
agencies and education continuously since 1981.  During the 1980s              
she spent five years as an elementary counselor in Juneau schools              
and it was during this time she encountered most closely the                   
problems in Alaska in terms of child protection.  She began to tell            
anyone who would listen that no one should go to bed at night                  
assuming that children were being protected.  She called the DFYS              
daily to advocate with little to no effect for the children.  The              
laws and programs that existed were, and are today, a flimsy cover             
for what actually exists; children living in terror and utter                  
loneliness every day of their lives and an ineffective system that             
keeps mandatory reporters reporting with little to no results for              
children.  In fact, she had vivid memories of reassuring these                 
children after revealing abuse to her, that she would need to                  
report it, but someone would come to help them feel safe and help              
their family get better.  This was essentially a lie.  The feeling             
of great powerlessness and the inability to tell this lie anymore,             
was one of the key reasons she chose to leave elementary counseling            
and work with kids at the high school as a teacher.  Being in the              
small town of Juneau, she has watched these very children she was              
unable to protect grow up and for the most part, lead miserable and            
unhealthy lives.  She looked for some of these adult survivors to              
testify and all of them she contacted were unable to come due to a             
variety of personal reasons including suicidal depression, active              
alcoholism, incarceration, et cetera.                                          
                                                                               
Number 0523                                                                    
                                                                               
MS. SEAMOUNT said after reading House Bill 375, it is her belief               
that it addresses many of the key issues that have undermined the              
child protection system; in particular, the 12-month time limit for            
parents to get their act together before permanent placement                   
occurs, the intervention and treatment in child abuse cases                    
occurring earlier in the family's history, placements for children             
after extreme levels of family violence and that the DFYS would be             
held more accountable.                                                         
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Seamount for her testimony and asked Ms.            
Largents to present her testimony.                                             
                                                                               
Number 0643                                                                    
                                                                               
KAREN LARGENTS, Representative, Anchorage Center for Families,                 
testified from Anchorage via teleconference.  She is the director              
of the home-based services.  The family support and preservation               
support provided by this agency are based on values and philosophy             
that the best place for children to grow up is with their family               
when safety and permanence can be assured.  She said when the state            
intervenes in a family's life because of risks to a child's safety,            
the state also has a responsibility to parents to make clear what              
needs to be different in order for the child to return, the time               
frame for the changes and then a system in receiving the services              
needed to make those changes.  It has been the personal                        
responsibility of the parent to make the choice to utilize those               
services and make the changes and to do so in a time frame that's              
consistent with the child's well-being.  One of the greatest                   
tragedies for a child is to lose their home and then left to drift             
in the foster care system.  The agency believes that HB 375 and                
companion measure SB 272 appropriately hold both the state and the             
parent responsible and accountable for their respective parts in               
this process.  There's a limit to how long a child can wait for a              
parent to change; the parent's time frame may be too long for  a               
child.  The agency supports this proposed legislation because it               
offers changes in the whole system of child protection and because             
it values the life of the child.                                               
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Dino Allen to testify at this time.                       
                                                                               
Number 0682                                                                    
                                                                               
DINO ALLEN, Chair, Citizens Foster Care Review Board, testified via            
teleconference from Anchorage.  He said part of their mission                  
aligns with this legislation, which is the independent review of               
children in foster care.  The agency believes this legislation goes            
beyond that of any other legislation to help children who linger in            
out of home placement get back where they should be.  Resources                
should be combined as much as possible to prevent child abuse and              
neglect and to move toward permanency for children to ensure they              
have a good start at becoming productive citizens.                             
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE called on Andy Harrington to comment next.                      
                                                                               
Number 0760                                                                    
                                                                               
ANDY HARRINGTON testified via teleconference from Fairbanks in                 
general support of HB 375 and encouraged favorable committee                   
action.  His one concern was with Section 40; the requirement for              
the department to make reasonable effort in a timely manner to                 
prevent the need for removing a child from the child's home, or to             
make it possible for the child to return safely to the child's home            
following removal.  He said under current law, these efforts are               
required in virtually all cases which he believed was a wasted                 
effort in some cases.  This legislation substitutes a blanket rule             
to the opposite effect based on a finding by a preponderance of the            
evidence that certain offenses have been committed, and the                    
offenses would include, for example, indecent exposure.  He did not            
agree that an incident of indecent exposure proven by (indisc.)                
preponderance of the evidence should suffice to relieve the state's            
obligation to make reasonable effort.  He said this is a minor                 
criticism and overall, the bill makes some very needed changes in              
the child in need of aid system, but he thought the legislation                
would be a hollow promise if it's not backed up by sufficient                  
resources to make sure the DFYS, the Attorney General's Office and             
other agencies involved are able to carry out the responsibilities             
this bill places on them.                                                      
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. Harrington for his comments and next                
called on Karre Fisher to testify.                                             
                                                                               
Number 0867                                                                    
                                                                               
KARRE FISHER testified that she is a student at Juneau Douglas High            
School and would like to see the provisions of HB 375 adopted.                 
She's been frustrated with the reluctance on the part of the DFYS              
to remove endangered children from volatile situations.  She  had              
a friend living in an alcoholic home environment who suffered                  
repeated abuse such as cigarette burns and bruises.  A report was              
filed but the only result was counseling and anger management                  
classes for the parents.  Her friend remained in the home but                  
nothing changed in the home environment and the case was closed.               
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Fisher for sharing her comments with the            
committee and asked Norm Blakely to testify.                                   
                                                                               
Number 0995                                                                    
                                                                               
NORM BLAKELY testified from Kenai via teleconference in opposition             
to HB 375.  He said there were probably some good things in the                
bill, but he suggested that additional time be spent re-evaluating             
and redrafting the legislation.  He expressed concern about a                  
person being accused of sexual abuse of a child but is innocent and            
hasn't been able to see the child for years.                                   
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE called on Larry Erickson to testify next.                       
                                                                               
Number 1085                                                                    
                                                                               
LARRY ERICKSON testified via teleconference from Kenai.  He                    
referenced page 3, line 11 - 28, and said this seems to set the                
philosophy of this legislation and while our children are                      
important, he believed the studies referred to on page 11 should be            
identified.  He expressed concern about the criminal nonsupport                
aspects of the legislature.  In general, he's opposed to HB 375.               
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Lt. Bill Grifford to testify next.                        
                                                                               
Number 1144                                                                    
                                                                               
LT. BILL GRIFFORD, Anchorage Police Department, testified via                  
teleconference from Anchorage and said he has seen more abuse and              
neglect than he cared to remember.  Children abandoned, starved,               
slapped, kicked, beaten with belts, burned and branded, caged in               
dog kennels, tied up in bed, broken arms, legs and skulls; killed              
because they would not pick up their toys, cried too much or would             
not stand on their under-developed legs.  He said these are the                
injuries we can see and feel; what cannot be seen and felt is the              
long term emotional harm done to children.  He said this bill                  
allows us, the protectors of the children to act in a quicker                  
manner, to stop the violence, and move to terminate parental rights            
when necessary.  Reducing the time to closure puts the child on the            
road to recovery quicker, demonstrates they can trust adults and               
allows the workers to get on to the next case.  This bill will also            
allow investigative information to be shared and the ability to                
work more closely as a team.  Combining investigative resources                
allows for a more efficient investigation in both time and money,              
reduces the duplication of effort and allows agencies to better                
understand the needs of each other.  This bill will reduce crime in            
the future.  He referred to the long term emotional effects of                 
abuse and said today's abuse victims far too often become                      
tomorrow's criminals.  Many murder suspects describe a childhood               
filled with abuse; children learn what they are taught.  This                  
legislation is a comprehensive package and will help to protect our            
children and be a benefit to our children.                                     
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Lt. Grifford for testifying and asked Jay               
Blair to testify next.                                                         
                                                                               
Number 1265                                                                    
                                                                               
JAY BLAIR testified in support of HB 375.  He told the committee of            
an incident where he was visiting at a friend's house and witnessed            
the grandfather throw one of the younger children across the room              
because he didn't eat his dinner.  While he is no longer a friend              
of this individual, he has observed that the grandfather's abuse               
has rubbed off on the children.  He urged the committee to support             
HB 375.                                                                        
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. Blair for his comments and asked Deidre             
Phayer to testify.                                                             
                                                                               
Number 1418                                                                    
                                                                               
DEIDRE PHAYER, Executive Director, Covenant House, thanked the                 
committee for the opportunity to testify on behalf of children who             
are at risk.  As a professional who sees on a daily basis the                  
victimization of kids she is in support of HB 375.  She said this              
bill promotes zero tolerance for the continuing victimization of               
kids.  These are kids who are vulnerable because the very people               
who are supposed to protect them are often the ones who are putting            
them at great risk and the abuse that she sees all too often                   
continues without consequence.  She is hopeful the resources will              
be attached to make this a piece of legislation that will truly                
improve the quality of life for our children.  She said as we all              
know, children need to be the number one priority because their                
voices are silent and they are very vulnerable.  She concluded,                
"And also please remember, as our elected officials, you are the               
voice of these children and they are dependent upon your wisdom and            
good judgment."                                                                
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Phayer for her comments and asked Pam               
Karalunas to testify.                                                          
                                                                               
Number 1499                                                                    
                                                                               
PAM KARALUNAS testified via teleconference from Fairbanks.  She                
supports the intent of HB 375 and expressed her appreciation to the            
drafters.  She works with families in which children have been                 
molested (indisc.-child talking).  She has had personal experience             
with the DFYS in that her daughter was taken custody of by the                 
state.  Her primary concern with HB 375 had already been expressed             
by Andy Harrington  on Section 40 on reasonable efforts relating to            
child sexual abuse.  She said what's not acknowledged in the                   
legislation is that with incest cases, part of the reason incest is            
so damaging to children is because they love the perpetrator.  This            
legislation does not allow for that; in fact if anything, it gives             
the perpetrator a bit more ammunition when advising the child not              
to tell; e.g., if you tell, I will no longer get to be your daddy.             
It eliminates any possibility for successful reunification or the              
therapy support for the child as far as the responsibility section             
in hearing the person they love taking responsibility for what                 
happened and the role they had.  She supported increased                       
accountability for both parents and the DFYS.  She encouraged the              
committee to take swift action.                                                
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Karalunas for testifying and called on              
Linda Haim to testify.                                                         
                                                                               
Number 1636                                                                    
                                                                               
LINDA HAIM testified via teleconference from Anchorage.  She's a               
volunteer working as a court appointed special advocate and said               
in the last year and a half she's been involved in the life of a               
baby who was taken into custody shortly after birth.  She said                 
there are two proposed changes to the law that would directly                  
impact this child in a very positive way.  Those are the changes               
involving the termination of parental rights and the requirement               
that efforts to find a permanent home for children in custody be               
documented.  The child she represents was born with cocaine in her             
system and the mother had also been using alcohol throughout her               
pregnancy, so it is likely the child will suffer from fetal alcohol            
effect.  She was abandoned in the hospital and her mother has made             
no effort to see her since.  This is a woman who has more than a               
13-year history with the state; she had four other children - one              
supposedly died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, two were taken                
into custody and subsequently adopted and the other, who is now a              
teenager, is so severely emotionally disturbed that finding a                  
placement for her is next to impossible.  This mother has a history            
of chronic mental health illnesses, substance abuse and has been               
arrested for child abuse.  Termination of parental rights should               
never be done without very serious consideration; however, there               
are times when it is crystal clear that termination is (indisc.-               
coughing); this is such a case.  Why then has it taken over a year             
and a half to file the paperwork - she believed the system was                 
simply overwhelmed and the law does not give clear guidelines.  It             
was obvious from the outset that this mother was an unfit parent               
and since the child is a Native Alaskan, it was clear that Indian              
Child Welfare Act (ICWA) procedures will need to be followed in                
finding a placement for her, which meant the father needed to be               
located.  If he was not found to be a suitable parent, then other              
relatives would be pursued, followed by tribal members, et cetera,             
until a permanent placement could be found.  Initially, she was                
surprised that she was the only one involved in the case making any            
effort to find the father and other relatives; now she's simply                
appalled that after a year and a half she's still the only person              
trying to find a permanent placement.  In her opinion, the proposed            
changes to the law will create accountability which is sadly                   
lacking now.                                                                   
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Haim for her comments and asked Deborah             
Honea to present her testimony.                                                
                                                                               
Number 1740                                                                    
                                                                               
DEBORAH HONEA testified from Fairbanks via teleconference.  She and            
her husband are foster parents specializing in children from birth             
up to the age of three that have been drug and alcohol exposed or              
affected before birth.  She agreed with the comments of the                    
previous testifiers who supported  this legislation, but in her                
opinion it doesn't go far enough.                                              
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Honea for her testimony and asked David             
Leone to present his comments.                                                 
                                                                               
Number 1767                                                                    
                                                                               
DAVID LEONE, Executive Director, Resource Center for Parents and               
Children, testified from Fairbanks via teleconference in support of            
HB 375.  He thanked everyone for their effort in putting the needed            
changes in legislation that protects our most precious resource in             
the state.  He agreed with the previous speaker that children need             
to be our priority because they are the future.  He referred to                
page 8, line 6, and suggested the language read, " .... knowing                
that a person at least 12 years old is not present, and knowing the            
other person ...."  He expressed concerned with the verbiage in                
Section 11.51.100 in that he, as a parent or family member in                  
crisis, needs to go to the sex offender registry to ensure that                
he's not leaving his child in an agency or with a group where there            
is a registered offender.  Also, with respect to Section 20, he                
suggested verbiage be added to mandate that agencies partially or              
fully funded by the state do a better job of checking the                      
background of hirees to prevent the hiring of an individual who is             
a registered sex offender.  He referred to page 24, line 18, and               
suggested that "immunization" be added after medical attention.  He            
concluded this is a very strong bill and something that's needed to            
protect the children.  He stressed the need for consistent,                    
continual support for prevention so these issues won't have to be              
revisited in the future.                                                       
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. Leone for his comments and asked                    
Patricia George to present her testimony at this time.                         
                                                                               
Number 1922                                                                    
                                                                               
PATRICIA GEORGE testified that she has been a school teacher for 22            
years; 20 of which have been in Juneau and she wanted to share with            
the committee the reality of the classroom.  She hears stories from            
children of auto accidents because the parents were drunk but the              
children are blamed because they screamed in fear; stories of                  
moving to the AWARE Shelter the previous night and that mom is                 
going to pick up the child up after school, but no one comes, and              
then the boyfriend calls and says send the child home.  Since the              
boyfriend is not listed on the attendance records, the child cannot            
be released.  Calls to the DFYS are unsuccessful; calls are made to            
the police; calls to the AWARE Shelter are unsuccessful because of             
confidentiality; three and a half hours after school is over, the              
mother shows up and is taking the child back to the house.  She                
said there has definitely been an increase in these incidents                  
during the last five years.  One year she had 24 students; 4 of the            
10 little girls had been molested and 6 of the kids had parents in             
jail at various times during the year.  During the last two years,             
she's been advised by the DFYS staff that an investigation will not            
even be done unless the child is in imminent danger, or if the                 
child is not in imminent danger, the dangerousness of the situation            
is evaluated on a scale and may be investigate within 72 hours or              
a week.  She expressed the importance of proper funding for this               
legislation.                                                                   
                                                                               
Number 2042                                                                    
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE remarked the agency may need more money and that's              
what the committee is trying to determine, but there also needs to             
be a better management tool so these children don't get lost in the            
system.                                                                        
                                                                               
Number 2085                                                                    
                                                                               
BARBARA MALCHICK, Child Advocate, Office of Public Advocacy, (OPA)             
testified via teleconference from Anchorage.  She has represented              
hundreds of children during her 13 years with the Office of Public             
Advocacy.  She reminded committee members it was the OPA that                  
originally brought to the public's eye that the state's child                  
protection system had not been doing a very good job of protecting             
Alaska's children.  The OPA believes the government system, as well            
as the abusive and neglectful parents, need to be held accountable.            
She expressed support for HB 375 because it strikes a better                   
balance between parents' rights to raise their children as they see            
fit and children's rights to live in safe and permanent homes.                 
Although everyone gives lip service to the best interest of the                
child, the proposed law actually spells out in black and white that            
it's the child's best interests that are of primary concern.  She              
said one of the most important aspects of the legislation is that              
it establishes time lines that are based more on the child's sense             
of time rather than the adult's sense of time.  To a young child,              
six months to a year is virtually a lifetime to them.  The time                
lines give a clear (indisc.) to all the participants in the child              
protection system; i.e., the DFYS, parents and the courts, that                
quicker action must be taken to ensure the child is either returned            
home or placed permanently with a relative or another adoptive                 
home.  This legislation tells the DFYS that timely services must be            
provided to families to either keep the family together or to                  
promote unification and if those services fail, timely efforts must            
be made to find a permanent home for the child and document those              
efforts.                                                                       
                                                                               
MS. MALCHICK continued that to parents, this legislation, while                
preserving all their legal safeguards, gives them one year to get              
into treatment and make the changes necessary to allow them to take            
care of their child.  No longer can they wait for years or until               
the eve of the termination trial to start treatment.  To the courts            
this legislation says that hearings must be conducted in a timely              
manner, decisions made in a timely manner and appellate decisions              
must be made timely.  But most importantly, to children this                   
legislation says no longer will the system make you wait years and             
years in foster care, while your parents get chance after chance to            
make changes.  In conclusion, she read a poem that had been written            
by a child who had been in foster care.                                        
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Malchick for her testimony and asked                
Marion Hallum to present her remarks.                                          
                                                                               
Number 2210                                                                    
                                                                               
MARION HALLUM, Guardian Ad litem, Office of Public Advocacy,                   
Department of Administration, testified via teleconference from                
Anchorage.  She has worked with children and families for the past             
15 years; the last five advocating in court for abusive and                    
neglected children.  She said research clearly indicates that                  
exposure to domestic violence is harmful to children and that                  
children in violent homes are much more likely to be victims of                
child physical abuse themselves.  These children are more likely to            
end up in the delinquency system or involved in abusive                        
relationships as adults.  Last December she was one of 96 Alaskans             
who attended the Governor's Summit on Domestic Violent.                        
Overwhelmingly, delegates ranging from law enforcement to domestic             
violence shelter staff were contending that exposure to domestic               
violence should be considered child abuse.  She urged committee                
members to pass HB 375.                                                        
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Hallum for testifying and asked Janice              
Barta to testify.                                                              
                                                                               
Number 2303                                                                    
                                                                               
JANICE BARTA, Guardian Ad litem, Office of Public Advocacy,                    
Department of Administration, testified via teleconference from                
Anchorage.  She has 14 years experience working with the child                 
protection system in Alaska and is currently on maternity leave.               
It is her opinion the proposed law will protect the children.  She             
had spent the previous day helping her replacement worker coping               
with a family which has been in the child protection system off and            
on since the late 1980s.  The mother's substance abuse problem has             
resulted in the removal of her children ten times or more over the             
years, usually late at night by the police.  In each case the                  
children have been returned and a new case plan begins.  Three                 
times the DFYS has tried to terminate this parent's parental rights            
and in each instance, the parent has been given another chance;                
most recently, she entered treatment at the last minute.  This week            
she learned the children's mother is ....                                      
                                                                               
TAPE 98-24, SIDE B                                                             
Number 0001                                                                    
                                                                               
MS. BARTA ... program.  These four children, ages 7 - 11 have few              
options for permanency at this late stage.  She believes the                   
proposed changes to the law may have prevented this tragedy and can            
provide a brighter future for other children once it is passed.  In            
conclusion, she said children grow up too fast to give these issues            
more time and study.  She's seen the current law fail children for             
14 years and the time to act is now.                                           
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Barta for testifying and asked Dave                 
Bartels to present his testimony.                                              
                                                                               
Number 0034                                                                    
                                                                               
DAVE BARTELS testified via teleconference from Anchorage on issues             
not pertaining to HB 375.                                                      
                                                                               
Number 0073                                                                    
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN BUNDE closed public testimony on HB 375.  He announced the            
committee would again consider HB 375 on Wednesday, March 20.                  

Document Name Date/Time Subjects