Legislature(1997 - 1998)

05/07/1998 04:10 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
                                                                               
     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.                                              

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