Legislature(1997 - 1998)
03/12/1998 03:02 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
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.