Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 120
04/12/2005 08:00 AM JUDICIARY
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 53 - CHILDREN IN NEED OF AID/REVIEW PANELS 9:37:00 AM CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the final order of business would be SPONSOR SUBSTITUTE FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 53, "An Act relating to child-in-need-of-aid proceedings; amending the construction of statutes pertaining to children in need of aid; relating to a duty and standard of care for services to children and families, to the confidentiality of investigations, court hearings, and public agency records and information in child-in-need-of-aid matters and certain child protection matters, to immunity regarding disclosure of information in child-in- need-of-aid matters and certain child protection matters, to the retention of certain privileges of a parent in a relinquishment and termination of a parent and child relationship proceeding, to eligibility for permanent fund dividends for certain children in the custody of the state, and to juvenile delinquency proceedings and placements; establishing a right to a trial by jury in termination of parental rights proceedings; reestablishing and relating to state citizens' review panels for certain child protection and custody matters; amending the duty to disclose information pertaining to a child in need of aid; authorizing additional family members to consent to disclosure of confidential or privileged information about children and families involved with children's services within the Department of Health and Social Services to officials for review or use in official capacities; relating to reports of harm and to adoptions and foster care; mandating reporting of the medication of children in state custody; prescribing the rights of grandparents related to child-in-need-of-aid cases and establishing a grandparent priority for adoption in certain child-in-need-of-aid cases; modifying adoption and placement procedures in certain child-in-need-of-aid cases; amending treatment service requirements for parents involved in child-in- need-of-aid proceedings; amending Rules 9 and 13, Alaska Adoption Rules; amending Rules 3, 18, and 22, Alaska Child in Need of Aid Rules of Procedure; and providing for an effective date." [Before the committee was CSSSHB 53(HES).] REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL, speaking as the sponsor of SSHB 53, said he would like the committee to address some of the legal issues dealing with jury trials, civil liability, and court rules. The bill currently rolls together HB 113, HB 114, HB 17, and HB 53, he explained. "This is dealing with Title 47, child-in-need-of- aid proceedings - everything from who has access to the courts, how the courts act, and procedures on termination of parental rights, and all the way down to how do we brighten the due process line," he said. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL said he rolled the bills together because they all dealt with Title 47, and he wanted to avoid confusion. He likened the legislation to a tractor that may be difficult to get going, but once it goes, "it should go pretty good." He said there are still some areas of contention with regard to the primacy of family and the protection of children. He said he brought an assertion for a jury trial into the bill, regarding the termination proceedings where the state will forever sever the relationship between a parent and child. He said he thinks oversight is important in such a serious matter, and noted that there are provisions for oversight in the bill and so he may be convinced that they are sufficient. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL said he asked the department to change some of the civil liability language. "I am a firm believer that children need to be protected, so this is about asserting family rights, protecting children, and giving good governmental process." He said there are people who are helpful in handling children who've been severely abused, and the children advocacy centers are actually mentioned in the bill; such centers show respect for the child, and he mentioned that he is asking to record some of the interviews that these social workers do. 9:43:59 AM SCOTT T. CALDER said his only child was kidnapped and tortured by state agents in Fairbanks. As a result of complaints to appropriate public officials, "there were cover-ups and reprisals against us, and various secondary crimes on fraud, obstruction - the list goes on," he said. Getting information about what was being done to him and his child was very problematic. He said the original bill was a pretty good first step, but it has been watered down to the point that, for the most part, it is window dressing with a few exceptions. He said he is confused on the different versions of the bill, but surmised that on page 5, line 19, there is language that says the provisions of proposed AS 47.10 shall be construed to mean that the parent possesses inherent individual rights to direct and control the education and upbringing of a child. That is language he has been trying to get introduced for many years, he stated. MR. CALDER offered his belief that the section on citizen review panels was changed to conform to federal language, adding that in 1990, the legislature established, via House Bill 19, the Citizens' Review Panel for Permanency Planning, which provided for a cursory review by people who do not work in the system. The main thing he would like is more openness in the system, he said, adding, "We need a smell test for every single case." It is a human rights problem, he declared, and said, "We are talking about the extent to which state agents have committed grotesque crimes against children and families without due process and [are] then subsequently committing other crimes against people who complain about that mistreatment." He wants frequent and recurring statewide public hearings, he concluded. 9:49:31 AM MARCI SCHMIDT said she is very happy about the bill, but she has two suggestions. She noted that things change, and the department should put it in writing when it denies people visitation. She said she would strongly advise that an audio or video recording be done during interviews at schools because there have been instances where children have objected to being interviewed and the people in authority have then said that the children were lying. She said such recordings would protect both sides. With regard to a citizens' review panel, she strongly recommended that someone look into New Mexico's review panel; it is one of the best, she said, adding, "I hope this bill passes ... and I hope it's enforced." 9:51:50 AM ROBERT B. FLINT, Attorney at Law, Hartig Rhodes Hoge & Lekisch, PC, on behalf of Catholic Social Services, Inc., noted that Section 5, regarding adoptions, would work a radical change in the finality of relinquishments in an agency's adoption process. There is a process of voluntary relinquishment of a child from a birth parent to a licensed agency, and this process does not require a court order or action, he explained. That is followed by a reconsideration period, which is determined in statute. He said the next step in the process is a six-month supervisory period for the adoptive couple, and then the adoption takes place. Subsection (n) on page 4 provides that after the termination and reconsideration period, the court can overturn the relinquishment. The [bill] refers to a birth parent being rehabilitated, but in a voluntary adoption to an agency, rehabilitation is not an issue. So this will extend the reconsideration period to six months, and this change, he opined, was likely unintentional. He offered his belief that no problems exist in the current system, and so it should not be changed. 9:55:43 AM MARILYN MORENO, Director, Pregnancy Support and Adoption Services, Catholic Social Services, Inc., said her organization has been providing adoption services in Alaska since 1967, adding that there are very few private adoption agencies within the state. She said she is concerned with what the bill's impact will be on adoption agencies. For example, when birth mothers come to them asking to relinquish their child privately, the proposed six-month extension will have an emotional impact on adoptive parents, birth parents, and children. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL explained that that provision is something the governor proposed in HB 114, and remarked that the House State Affairs Standing Committee may be working on that issue. 9:58:06 AM EVELYN THOMAS, Vice President, Crooked Creek Tribal Council, said she has three victims of the Office of Children's Services (OCS) with her. Oversight on the OCS is long overdue, she stated, adding, "We have been victims of [the] OCS for many, many years." She said she has recently begun to speak out against the OCS because she no longer has small children that the OCS could take away from her for daring to speak out. She stated that when there is domestic violence, the OCS immediately removes the children, making them and their mothers victims of the state. MS. THOMAS added, "We have no recourse; we cannot disprove what they say because confidentiality is only on the part of OCS, [and] they are the ones who benefit." She said she has seen children removed from families and the mothers were falsely accused of having a criminal record. The children were removed but the "guy who did the violence" was not removed, she related, noting that the children are taken away and put up for adoption, without giving the mother any recourse. "I realize we are only Natives, and we really don't know how your system works; however, right is right," she said. She requested that the victims present with her be able to testify. CHAIR McGUIRE, noting that members were due to go on the House Floor, relayed that [CSSSHB 53(HES)] would be held over to allow for further testimony.