Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205
05/02/2005 02:30 PM HEALTH, EDUCATION & SOCIAL SERVICES
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HB 53-CHILDREN IN NEED OF AID/ADOPTION/GUARDIAN CHAIR DYSON announced HB 53 to be up for consideration. RYNNIEVA MOSS, legislative aide to Representative John Coghill, introduced the bill and advised it is a consolidation of four bills that were previously passed by the House. She described the bills and the reasons Representative Coghill feels they should be compiled into a single bill. 2:58:29 PM MS. MOSS advised another aspect of the bill was to strengthen families by seeing that extended family members and family friends are to be first and foremost in the consideration of preference to adopt children in need of aide (CINA). The bill gives an affirmative responsibility in rejecting the placement of children in the homes of their extended family, friends and a licensed foster home respectively. The bill would disallow the termination of parental rights on the basis of poverty alone. It encourages the Office of Children's Services (OCS) to train foster parents to be mentors. 3:02:13 PM House Bill 53 deals with psychotropic drugs and would allow parents to make decisions regarding the administration of the drugs. CHAIR DYSON asked Ms. Moss whether she is referring to birth parents. MS. MOSS said that is correct. CHAIR DYSON asked whether parental permission must be secured for any forms of medical treatment. MS. MOSS said parental permission must be secured for all major medical procedures regarding foster children. The bill would make the process transparent by opening hearings to the public. The hearing could be closed if it might result in stigmatization, if it might interfere with a criminal investigation, or it might violate state law. 3:05:39 PM SENATOR ELTON asked whether it is reasonable to expect a court to keep track of people who violate confidentiality. MS. MOSS replied there would have to be a complaint filed with the court that the aforementioned person violated confidentiality. 3:07:30 PM MS. MOSS continued the bill would establish a grievance process for parents who feel the case is not being handled properly. The bill would also allow the OCS to release confidential information under certain circumstances such as to clear up public misconceptions. SENATOR ELTON said the Open Meeting Act was different than Section 10, which applies to the reasons for closing a court hearing. He asked the reason for the difference in criteria. Ms. Moss advised of a provision in the Open Meetings Act that states, "if a person's reputation could be tarnished by the information being released during a hearing, it could go into executive session." Senator Elton asked whether that would cover stigmatization and inhibit a child's testimony. 3:11:54 PM STACIE KRALY, senior assistant attorney general, Department of Law (DOL), testified the distinction is that a court hearing has a different process and different rules than a public meeting. The exceptions under the Open Meetings Act would allow the DOL to protect the process if there were information of a private nature that had to be discussed. 3:13:40 PM CHAIR DYSON asked whether the DOL was substituting the word "relinquish" for the word "termination." MS. MOSS responded no. The state does not have statutory authority to do voluntary relinquishments and so the bill would establish that statutory authority. It would allow OCS to keep contact rights with children in cases of voluntary relinquishment. Another aspect of the bill would encourage audio and videotaping. The bill also defines 'child advocacy centers', a definition that the DOL, OCS and the child advocacy centers all agree on. CHAIR DYSON advised Ms. Moss of a bill introduced by Senator French, which proposes to allow greater taping ability on the part of OCS. MS. MOSS was unaware of the Senate Bill. HB 53 also establishes criteria for schools to follow when a child is to be interviewed. It directs OCS to work with the Department of Public Safety to set up a procedure for the interview. It would allow the legislative offices to remain non-party participants to the case even when the parental rights have been terminated. 3:18:43 PM SENATOR ELTON asked the reason for the extra step in terms of legislative access. MS. MOSS said when a parent signs a disclosure release they are allowed to ask the Legislature to inquire into a given case. Once parental rights are terminated, that disclosure release is no longer valid. Since the budget of the Ombudsman has been cut so severely, the cases now go to the legislative offices. SENATOR ELTON asked who would have priority in a case in which there is an adult family member and the child wants to stay with someone else. MS. MOSS responded if the child is 14, the child makes the decision. 3:22:05 PM MS. SELINA EVERSON testified she is a grandmother and a great grandmother and she would like the bill to pass because a lot of it has to do with Native children and it is an important part of Tlingit culture to intervene when a mother is not able to fulfill her parental responsibilities. Native people generally believe that Native children should be kept in Native homes unless the child's grandmother is not able to intervene. There are many cases in which children are removed from their homes and placed in non-Native homes. There are cases in Alaska where grandmothers are not given a chance to adopt the children despite a willingness and ability to do so. 3:24:56 PM SENTAOR DYSON held HB 53 in committee. There being no further business to come before the committee, he adjourned the meeting at 3:25:28 PM.