Legislature(1997 - 1998)
05/07/1998 04:10 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CSHB 375(FIN) am - CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN/FOSTER CARE CHAIRMAN TAYLOR announced HB 375 to be up for consideration. MS. SUSAN WIBKER, Assistant Attorney General, explained some changes to the bill. The first change begins on page 18 and goes through page 19, line 14, and concerns the definition of "mental injury." The Committee wanted to specifically address children witnessing physical assault. The definition of physical assault is very broad and would cover many things other than battering. It was the intent of the committee to limit this to violent crimes against people. They also talked about repeated incidents. She said the version that came out of the House is much broader than the House wanted; it cites crimes contained in AS 11.41 such as custodial interference, robbery, and things beyond the scope of the committee's stated intent. The work draft is what they think the committee wanted. MS. LISA TORKELSON, staff to Representative Dyson, explained the two changes to HB 375 are the mental injury modification and the list of reports the Department would provide showing what constitutes harm. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked Ms. Torkelson if she thought it came closer to the intent of both the Judiciary and Finance Committees to limit mental injury to certain specific exposures. MS. TORKELSON replied yes. SENATOR ELLIS moved to adopt the Q/Lauterback/5/7/98 version as the working document. There were no objections and it was so ordered. MR. STEPHEN WALLACE, Assistant Attorney General, said he didn't have anything meaningful to add after Ms. Whitaker's testimony and he supported the bill. Ms. LISA NELSON also supported HB 375. Number 256 MR. HARRY NIEHAUS commented that they were rushing this bill. Most of this language is not required by federal law. Legislative Audit in 1998 made it clear that DFYS has purposely diverted funds appropriated by the legislature for social workers to protect children so their cronies could have sufficient money for their retirement programs. He suggested they read the legislative audit report before going further. He said the State would not lose its Title 4 funds for non-compliance. MR. WALTER GAUTHIER, Guardians of Family Rights, referred the Committee to the Alaska Senate Family Law Review Task Force Report, 1990-1991. It concludes that all agency staff must be accountable for their actions which hasn't been done. The agencies must work to improve public relations and a lot of money has been spent on that. The Division of Family and Youth Services seems to be in a state of crisis and always will be. Mr. GAUTHIER remarked that twice as many social workers graduate from the University of Alaska as in all other professions combined. He noted the bill has no fiscal note. He said Guardians of Family Rights would support this bill if all interviews with minors would be video or audio taped, because the child protection agencies believe it is alright to lie about what went on during interviews if it's in the best interests of the child, an extremely subjective opinion. MR. GAUTHIER said that as a result of the Domestic Violence Act of 1996, the CINA court caseload has jumped 25 percent in one year and 65 percent in Anchorage. Accusations of abuse have become an even more potent weapon in divorce and custody arguments. The Alaska Judicial Council report was funded with $90,000 of federal money and required input from the public, but it only contained input from professionals who were paid by the system. MR. GAUTHIER said this constitutes fraud against the federal grant that was awarded. He noted that child abuse is a business which generates $1 billion per year in Alaska through grants to non-profits, reimbursements, and private foundation grants. MR. GAUTHIER said he was saddened that overwhelming public testimony against this bill can be heard and yet it moves right along in the process. Referring to page 35, Section 34(e), he said that courts should be given a copy of testimony without permission of the parents, because they would not get permission from parents who would be put in the position of defending themselves in a civil trial where they have no rights anyway - not having access to court files for documentation so they know what to refute. MS. MARCI SCHMIDT said she is testifying as a parent. She said she is very disillusioned by the democratic system. She felt this bill is simply not in compliance with federal law. It contains no clear definition of kinship care, no reference to the federal Parent Locator Service, and yet it still gives the illusion that it allows foster parents to obtain information while it only allows them to sit outside the court room if DHSS so chooses. Part of the intent of the federal grant was to allow foster parents to have access to medical records and court proceedings to better promote the care of the children they were given. She expressed concern that Section 51, regarding placement of a blood or marriage relative, has problems because it only allows adoption for blood relations. TAPE 98-55, SIDE A Number 001 SB 272 - CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN/FOSTER CARE MS. SCHMIDT suggested deleting the word "blood" and also noted in Section 62, lines 10 and 11, she didn't really want a social worker acting like a police officer. She is alarmed about a multi-team task force, because it is totally wasteful if the determinations are not admissible in a court or civil proceeding. The immunities provisions do not require accountability for someone who uses his/her job in a manner detrimental to children. Number 68 MS. CAROL PALMER said she opposed HB 375, but she supports intervention in real cases of child abuse where clear, convincing evidence exists. She said this bill requires no accountability for social workers and provides for no recourse for parents who are falsely accused by DFYS. She wanted safeguards in place for innocent parents at the time of the initial investigation by DFYS. MS. JANE BURCHARD, Fairbanks, opposed HB 375. She is a parent who was falsely accused and believes the Legislature should mandate videotaped interviews. MR. SCOTT CALDER supported Mr. Gauthier's testimony. He would like to have someone with Mr. Gauthier's knowledge have equal time to testify as Ms. Wibker who works for the State. He is a parent who has been blocked by the court process. He thought they should put this off until next year so an open examination of DFYS can take place. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR said the changes to the legislation are not related to what Mr. Calder was talking about, but it does add a provision requiring DFYS to report these instances to the legislature and that information would be public.