Legislature(1997 - 1998)
05/08/1998 02:45 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 Number 042 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states that today's meeting will be a markup session on HB 375, which the committee heard yesterday. Several people are on teleconference, all of whom have testified at one time or another on this legislation. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR requests that Representative Dyson explain what portions of the legislation are specifically mandated by federal law. REPRESENTATIVE FRED DYSON explains that the first change is to AS 47.10 and it requires that foster parents and relatives get notice of all hearings and the opportunity to be heard. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON states that Susan Wibker could reference the sections for the committee. SUSAN WIBKER, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Law (DOL), states that federal law requires that only foster parents get notice of every hearing, the opportunity to attend, and be allowed to be heard. This is reflected in this bill on page 21, Section 21 which deals with the first hearing, and on page 22, Section 23 which references the prior statute making clear that foster parents can come to subsequent hearings. It is referenced again on page 24, Section 26, making clear that foster parents can come to permanency hearings. MS. WIBKER states permanency hearings may occur more than once. MS. WIBKER states the next federally required change is that in every case where a child is removed from the home, a permanency hearing occur 12 months after removal and every year thereafter. The first reference to permanency hearings is Section 26, AS 47.10.08O(f) on page 24, and again on pages 25 and 26, Section 28, AS47.10.08O(l). There are also specific findings that a judge needs to make that have changed, on the list as Number 3. Findings proposed here were written by the Childrens Court Master in Anchorage to adopt the federal changes so judges make precisely the new findings they need to make. MS. WIBKER references Number 4; the health and safety of the child must now be the paramount concern, in Section 31, page 28. She states that change is made in state law. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON states that this is significant, as it changes the emphasis of current law which states the primary goal is the reunification of the birth family, to the primary goal of the health and safety of the child. MS. WIBKER explains Number 5 as situations where the state is no longer required to offer services to a family to prevent removal and to return a child home. Federal law lists aggravated circumstances and says the state has some flexibility in how to define what's aggravated. If the state can prove the circumstances to the satisfaction of a judge by a preponderance of the evidence, the state is required within 30 days to have a permanent plan for the child. Number 149 MS. WIBKER explains in Section 33, page 29, a new 'reasonable effort' section is added and puts into law this federal change that says the state does not have to return every child home. Children need a new permanent safe home in cases where there's been a homicide of a child, felony assault, sexual abuse or abandonment, torture, chronic abuse or neglect. The state's changes were added in the House version and exceed the scope. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks her to identify the House additions over and above state law. He states that abandonment is a bothersome addition in that the definition is somewhat broad. MS. WIBKER responds that there is a new definition of abandonment in this bill that tightens it up (reference bottom page 29, Section 33 (a), which is existing law). Language on page 30, line 11, spells out the duties of the department and puts them in statute but is not required to make this work. Sections B and C on page 30, is required by federal law and required. An exception occurs at line 25, in that the term "chronic mental injury," is defined in Alaska statute. Language on page 31 through line 10 is federally required. Language on page 31, lines 11-25, is a state change added in the House, that is not in the original version. Language on page 31, lines 26-30, is required by federal law. Language on page 31, line 31 continuing through page 32, line 3 was added by the House. MS. WIBKER continues. On page 32, lines 4-6 are a state inserted change that closely mirrors existing state statute on termination of parental rights. On page 32, lines 7-13 are federally required and explain how to calculate the amount of time a child has been out of the home. On page 32, lines 14-16 are a federal requirement mandating that the department do concurrent planning. MS. WIBKER continues on to Number 6, stating there are changes in the federal law in terminating parental rights beginning on page 33, line 15 (d)(1)-(3). Lines 26-29 are state changes. The lines above line 26 on page 33 are federal changes. Line 15(d)(3) makes a reference to a prior statute. According to lines 19-20, the state must file a petition to terminate parental rights. Line 22 refers to "abandoned infant" which the state defines as younger than six which relates to the finding that children younger than six needing to attach and bond in the Findings Section. Line 15(d)(3) references another statute. The federal law requires that a petition be filed to terminate when siblings of children have been killed by a parent and felony level injuries of children by the parent have occurred. Lines 26-29 are state changes. Language from the bottom of page 33, line 30 through page 34, line 8 contains federally required changes. Language on page 34, lines 9- 13 is a federal requirement on how to calculate time. MS. WIBKER clarifies for Senator Parnell that page 34, lines 1-8 are federal law, and describes situations where the department must present the court with a compelling reason not to proceed to termination. MS. WIBKER continues to explain the bill markup. Page 34, lines 14- 17 contains a state change. Lines 18-20 are current state law. Lines 22-28 are a federally required change relating to concurrent planning. On page 34, lines 29-31 continuing to page 35, line 6 are state-imposed deadlines, or time lines. MS. WIBKER moves on to Section 7 which she states has already been discussed; it requires that states do concurrent planning for children. She referenced those sections in the 'termination' part and the 'reasonable effort' part. MS. WIBKER explains that Number 8 is a requirement that states offer family community-based support services, which used to be called family preservation services, and are required to occur in a community or neighborhood. They are time-limited, a federal change, and found in the bill in the reasonable effort section on the bottom of page 29 through line 11. In these situations the department must make a reasonable effort to return a child home. Terms are also in the definition section on pages 39 and 40. MS. WIBKER states that Number 9 requires the state to give a preference to kinship care with relatives. It was already in state statute; the House added an extra duty on the state when it needs to use relatives that requires the state to look into the criminal background of the relative. Federal law encourages this, it is a permissive federal change that is not required. She references Section 49 beginning on page 43 and continuing to page 44 through line 12. MS. WIBKER explains that in Number 10, states are required to conduct a thorough criminal background check on licensed facilities that care for children, residential facilities, foster homes or a relative that is licensed. She refers to page 50, line 8 through page 53, line 16. Number 11, according to MS. WIBKER, is the federal floor for a state definition for child abuse and neglect: you can give more protection to a child, not less. Based on a recent Supreme Court decision, RJM (indisc), the state had to make changes for compliance. Page 17, lines 13-29 are the amendments to meet the federal requirements that state's address serious emotional harm and the imminent risk of serious emotional harm. The House tightly defined those. She refers to Page 17, lines 13-29. In Number 12, states are required to have expedited procedures for getting permanent placement for abandoned infants. This is in the termination statute, page 33, lines 21-22. The state defines an abandoned infant as a child younger than six. Other changes in federal law didn't prompt changes in state law because the state is already in compliance, either by regulation or statute. There are also permissive federal changes the state may or may not choose to make. MS. WIBKER draws the committee's attention to one permissive change that would cost the state money not to adopt, the medicaid statute on page 15, Section 15, lines 17-25. She reiterates that it's not required but it's costing the state money not to adopt it. She identifies it as the authorization of interstate compact on adoption and medical assistance. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR notes she stopped on Number 13, wherein states are allowed to create child fatality review teams. MS. WIBKER clarifies it's a permissive change that's not required. The review teams are operating already, but putting it in statute overcomes the confidentiality problem, allowing everyone to exchange information in cases. Now they have to get releases and court orders and use subpoenas. Number 435 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks if that would be required when investigating the homicide of a child. MS. WIBKER responds this is a review of an investigation. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states this is for management purposes more than for investigation or criminal purposes. MS. WIBKER responds this would provide a deeper look at deaths that may be from natural causes or accidental, or may really be homicides that need to be prosecuted. She refers to page 6, Section 8 through page 11, line 19. Number 444 MS. WIBKER explains that if this is put in statute, there is a federal requirement for public disclosure if you set up child fatality review teams. She refers to page 10, lines 7-22. SENATOR PARNELL asks if periodic issuance of public reports follows requirements of federal law. MS. WIBKER responds there is a once a year requirement. This is a loosening of a confidentiality restriction but they must once a year issue a report, or release a particular report on request. SENATOR PARNELL asks if it would authorize compliance with federal law. MS. WIBKER responds it requires the release of information and issuance of a once a year report. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR suggests language "shall at least once a year" or "may, but no less than once a year." He states that the committee likes the policy and thinks it's important and would like to see the reports come out. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR brings up Number 14, foster parents for temporary stress relief. MS. WIBKER explains it's a permissive change. Under existing law foster parents can only get respite care for children with a disability or an emergency. This allows the state to give respite care to foster parents for their 24 hours a day, 7 days a week care with no break. She refers to pages 42 and 43, Section 48. SENATOR PARNELL asks if the state already pays for respite care for foster parents with physically or mentally handicapped children. MS. WIBKER responds that is correct. The change is at line 28, which opens it up for all foster kids. She explains the change is intended to keep a child in one home longer so there aren't a lot of moves and "burnout" of foster parents. SENATOR PARNELL questions reimbursing foster parents for respite care when they are already paid for their foster parenting. We're providing day care assistance, essentially. Number 520 SENATOR PARNELL asks if this should be a blanket wide-open policy for all foster parents to have respite services. MS. WIBKER clarifies it is intended for situations where burnout leads to moving the kid out of the home. SENATOR PARNELL asks if it says that, or if it says "every foster parent." She responds it says "every." MR. RUSSELL WEBB, Deputy Commissioner of Health and Social Services, responds to the question. Current definition in state law is restrictive and prevents us from offering respite care to foster parents who may not be caring for a child who meets this specific definition but does have some very special needs. This would allow and expand our ability to determine special needs kids. MR. WEBB clarifies for SENATOR PARNELL that it's not a mandate. Number 538 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR describes what he considers a gross misuse of state funds, under this provision as it existed. He cites the example of Juneau Alliance for the Mentally Ill (JAMI) program that went "belly up" after a woman took 8 or 10 children with disabilities with her to Hawaii for 3 weeks at state expense, charging for almost 20 hours a day. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR does not want to see something like that occur under this proposed expanded definition. MS. WIBKER explains the intent is to decrease the number of moves of kids once they're in custody. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR brings up multi disciplinary teams. MS. WIBKER states it's a permissive federal change, encouraging states to use teams to increase efficiency of investigations. Refers to Page 45, Section 54, line 28 to Page 47 through line 14. The intent is to create more accurate and efficient investigations. Number 566 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks, since teams are operating, if additional state authorization is needed for the teams to operate. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON explains the task force revealed that agency people were meeting but not exchanging information. Feels if it's put into law, will institutionalize this type of cooperation. Teams get together monthly to exchange information. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON asks Ms. Wibker if putting it into law will also eliminate the confidentiality problems that kept the exchange from happening. MS. WIBKER responds that is correct. Number 580 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states that was his main concern - the confidentiality barrier. Feels it's very essential to have something in state law allowing the sharing of information. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON mentions testimony heard yesterday from people interested in evidence being gathered from videotaping. Tape 98-56, SIDE B Number 001 REPRESENTATIVE DYSON asks if this bill helps that process, is there more that we could or should do? MS. WIBKER responds this sets up a team to address needs identified in a particular community, it's pretty flexible. If a team felt there wasn't enough coordination between law enforcement and DFYS, or not enough cases were being prosecuted, the team through its own protocols and agenda can address that. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states that the committee has tried to put it in statute several times but every time this department (DHSS) fights us on it. Until we started using videotaping, we were losing 50% of the DWI cases that went to court. Now, with videotaping you lose 5-7% of the cases that go to court. So many cases of sexually abused children in DFYS - about 60% - are dismissed because of a "lousy job of collecting evidence" and nobody wants to be using video equipment because they may be held accountable. Cost of a video camera is insignificant today. Every time SENATOR MILLER and I want to put this into law, we get a $8-10 million fiscal note out of this department and resistance. "Now I'm incredulous" that someone is actually doing it in Anchorage, and now we should try it across the state. MS. WIBKER clarifies that it is not the social worker doing the interview and taping it, the social worker defers to law enforcement. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states he'd like to tighten up language to "thou shalt audio or videotape the child." Number 536 MR. WEBB states the effort is to use a coordinated approach as frequently as possible statewide, and coordinate interviews so the child is interviewed the fewest times possible. Answering Representative Dyson's question, this allows us to do much better coordination statewide and establish multi-disciplinary teams statewide, which the department supports. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states that as a judge he had to force people to do these things. MR. WEBB responds that he is correct, it resolves confidentiality issues and coordinates people working together. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON explains that this ends the discussion of the sections that are federally required. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks if the rest of the bill contains provisions put in by the House. MS. WIBKER responds that some were in the original bill and some were added by the House. SENATOR PARNELL questions the policy change made in this committee work draft related to best interest of the child versus health and safety, first noted on Page 28,Section 31. Throughout the bill there are references to best interest of the child. Can you tell me when the standard is health and safety versus best interest? How do these work together? MS. WIBKER replies under existing statute you'd just use best interest. Federal law requires us to add that health and safety be paramount in any decision a judge is making in issuing a court order involving a child. The court must still consider best interest; that must be number one. Best interest is much broader and can include attachment or bonding, but health and safety is exactly what it says. SENATOR PARNELL asks when this determination comes up in the process. Number 500 MS. WIBKER responds AS 47.10.082 makes it required in any dispositional order, when a judge issues an order on a plan, an outcome. In a plan to return a child home, or move the child to permanent placement, the health and safety of a child would be paramount. SENATOR PARNELL asks if the terminology "health and safety" is federal standard now. MS. WIBKER responds the federal government will go through and look for it. We felt "best interest" gave a child more protection. They audit files by looking for these buzz words. A good example of where you'd see "best interest" is in a termination of parental rights order; it's a different element a judge can rule on. You're likely to see this with older children who have bonding and attachment and it's not in the best interest of the child to terminate even though you've proved your case. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states his amazement at arrogance of the federal law requiring "the state must conform its laws" or else we will lose funds. If their law forces a change in the state's constitution, is it correct that you would have five years to conform? MR. WEBB replies it is correct. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR and MS. WIBKER are not aware of any part requiring a change in state's constitution. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR requests that REPRESENTATIVE DYSON walk the committee through the House changes in summary. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON clarifies that the next sections are portions of the bill that the Alaska Supreme Court wanted changed. MS. WIBKER refers to Page 2, lines 14-17, which contains a list of Supreme Court decisions that recently interpreted our statute. The phrase that a child is considered abandoned if there's no parent willing or able to care was interpreted by the Supreme Court as meaning they could not decide solely on ability. Subsequent opinions have been issued that "back off" of that. Those are the cases that address Number 1. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks if this was that "ridiculous" decision in the case of a parent who was incarcerated and was willing to care, but because of the incarceration could not care? MS WIBKER replies yes. That decision is reflected on lines 18-20. Our Supreme Court said in that AM case that incarceration is not a willing act by a parent. This bill treats incarceration as a willing act, and when people get themselves incarcerated the consequences to their children are treated as a consequence of the parent's behavior. That's a change from the way our Supreme Court has been viewing incarceration. MS. WIBKER refers to lines 21-23 and the RJM opinion in which the state thought they had jurisdiction over cases of emotional neglect. The RJM decision said the state does not have jurisdiction as the law is currently written; the legislature needs to change the law. The cases listed in Section A, lines 14-17 and in C, lines 21-22 are those where the Supreme Court said change your law unless you want these kinds of results. Section B, lines 18-20 are state initiated cases because of the way the court viewed incarceration of a parent. Number 420 MR. WEBB adds that the Supreme Court opinion in the RJM case urged this legislature to make substantial re-writes to child protection laws simply to aid them and other courts in interpreting the laws, beyond overturning these specific cases. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR brings up 'emotional neglect' and asks where it is referenced in the bill. MS. WIBKER answers Page 17, lines 15-29, and states that she discussed it earlier when something else on the list prompted it. MR. WEBB adds that although the state is required since the RJM opinion to report these cases of emotional neglect, federal law requires this by the state as the basis for intervention. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON states they struggled with the agency, starting with "emotional harm" and ended up with the more conservative "mental injury." They argued over when mental injury raises it to the level of a child in need of aid. MS. WIBKER adds it went through substantial work in the House to tighten and narrow it to very severe situations. MR. WEBB adds this is probably a tighter definition and more restrictive on a jurisdictional basis than virtually all the other states we reviewed. MS. WIBKER offers to the committee a comparison she prepared of state definitions of emotional harm and mental injury. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks if there are further questions. He states the federal law is intermingled throughout the entire bill of over 50 pages and it's difficult to find places where the state is going beyond that to do additional work. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON responds that it's almost mandated because changes are spread throughout our code; we had to modify a lot of different sections of state code. Number 370 SENATOR PARNELL asks the differences in the P.aa version and what was passed by the House. MS. WIBKER answers that P.aa is what the House passed. SENATOR PARNELL asks if the amendments with statutory changes are incorporated in this version. MS. WIBKER responds they are not. The amendment goes to Page 17, the definition of "mental injury," and tightens it up even further. The part that addresses exposure to domestic violence, the House wanted that to be assaultive conduct with another person. The way this is written, it references AS 11.41, which is all the assaultive conduct but, I believe, more than the House intended to put in there. This amendment tightens it up to reflect what the House wanted. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states his intention to move the bill out of committee today. HB 375 has no language regarding the use of the federal parent locator service to assist with the enforcement of child custody or visitation orders. Why is that? This is in the federal law. Number 315 MS. WIBKER responds she hasn't found it in federal law. There was an early draft of federal law saying states may have access to the parent locator service. In the final version that passed, that language is not there. But if the state needs to find a parent, we ask CSED for information they have on their parent locator service; the AGs office uses that. The best and fastest way to find a parent is to check PFD addresses. This was not required to be in statute. SENATOR PARNELL asks, regarding conceptual amendment P.aa, dated 5- 8-98, can you tell us what crimes are excluded? Number 305 MS. WIBKER refers to AS 11.41, which includes reckless endangerment and stalking. The amendment narrows the pertinent crimes to homicide, sexual assault and actual physical assault. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR clarifies that amends Page 17, lines 21-29. SENATOR PARNELL moves the amendment be adopted as Amendment #1, P.aa dated 5-8-98. The text of the amendment follows. Page 17, Lines 21-29 Delete all and replace with: "(ii)exposure to conduct by a household member, as defined in AS 18.66.990, against another household member that is a crime under AS 11.41.100 - 11.41.220, 11.41.230(a)(1)-(a)(2), and 11.41.410 - 11.41.432, an offense under a law or ordinance of another jurisdiction having elements similar to a crime under AS 11.41.100 - 11.41.220, 11.41.230(a)(1) - (a)(2), and 11.41.410-11.41.432, an attempt to commit an offense that is a crime under AS 11.41.100 - 11.41.220 and 11.41.410 - 11.41.432, or an attempt to commit an offense under a law or ordinance of another jurisdiction having elements similar to a crime under AS 11.41.100 - 11.41.220 and 11.41.410 - 11.41.432;or" "(iii)repeated exposure to conduct by a household member, as defined in AS 18.66.990, against another household member that is a crime under 11.41.230(a)(3) and 11.41.250 - 11.41.270 or an offense under a law or ordinance of another jurisdiction having elements similar to a crime under AS 11.41.230(a)(3) and 11.41.250-11.41.270;" CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks if there is any objection to adopting Amendment #1. There being no objection, it is so ordered. SENATOR PARNELL asks if the sponsor has other amendments he would like to see moved. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON answers no, but if we're working off the P document he doesn't believe it has the reporting provision the committee wanted. He doesn't recommend putting it into law, at least not in detail, but it's the committee's call. Yesterday we looked at the Q version. LISA TORKELSON, staff to Representative Dyson, presents a conceptual draft of what it should say. The language was in draft Q but broader regarding reporting. MR. WEBB states it's not necessary in law. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR says he still likes the idea and will put it in a conceptual amendment to be inserted where appropriate: "Department shall report summary of child protection activities carried out during the previous calendar month and the status of children committed to the department's custody, including information on the number and type of reports of child abuse and neglect received, the outcome of investigations completed, placement of children committed to departmental custody, and foster homes licensed. The report shall be made accessible to the public through the Internet." Number 232 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks for discussion of Amendment #2. The text of Amendment #2 follows. Page 15, Line 28 through Page 17, Line 7: Delete all material and replace with: "summarizing child protection activities carried out during the previous calendar month and the status of children committed to the department's custody, including information on the number and type of reports of child abuse and neglect received, the outcome of investigations completed, placement of children committed to department custody, and foster homes licensed. The report shall be made accessible to the public through the Internet." SENATOR PARNELL moves Amendment #2. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states that without objection, the adoption of amendment # 2 is so ordered. Amendment #2 passes, requiring reports by the department. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states it's his understanding that several people waiting on the teleconference network are upset about the testimony received so far. He invites Diana Buffington in Kodiak to comment on today's testimony. DIANA BUFFINGTON, Childrens' Rights Council of Alaska, Kodiak, asserts that our state is misrepresenting the federal law in this bill. If this state wants to continue to qualify for the $200.0 grant, it is required under the CAPTA (Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act) law to appoint no less than 3 citizen review panels - not interagency teams- with broad volunteer community representation and a balance of persons familiar with CPS duties. That touches on the state child fatality team involved in this bill, Sections 9 and 10, which violate CAPTA. Number 150 MS. BUFFINGTON continues testimony, stating the multi-disciplinary task force also violates the federal law by meeting in secret with unlimited immunity and no accountability and members are not compelled to testify in civil or criminal court hearings. She asserts that the bill draft in front of the committee is not in compliance with federal law. The state must adopt kinship care. The child is supposed to be placed with a noncustodial parent or an extended family under kinship care to avoid termination of parental rights. Appointment of extended family member as a legal guardian can avoid termination of parental rights. This definition of legal guardian does not qualify. She cites several sections including 15, 17, 33, 43, 48, 49, and 60 that define and impose duties only on parents, whereas the state and federal constitutions define a scope of duties of care owed to children. Standards must be applied to any home for which the state applies and receives federal funds. MS. BUFFINGTON proceeds to cite the sections in the bill, including Section 17, that are not in compliance with the federal law. She proposes adopting federal language, "nothing in this part shall be construed as precluding the state courts from exercising their discretion to protect the health and safety of children in individual cases." CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks Ms. Buffington to clarify the language she wants before moving on. MS. BUFFINGTON cites the language in federal law, section 677 quoted above. She asserts that the language "liberally construed" would lead to great problems in our courts. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR questions how the language differs, and if she wants the same words except for the word "liberally." MS. BUFFINGTON responds yes. TAPE 98-57, Side A Number 001 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR continues the discussion of language in Section 17 with MS. BUFFINGTON, asking if she's trying to get the courts to narrow their focus on just those words. MS. BUFFINGTON responds that the words "liberally construed" can be misinterpreted by the courts. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR brings up one of her previously stated concerns, citizen review panels,that the state passed into law several years ago but never got funded. Now the federal government is saying we need some type of citizen or peer review panel. MS. BUFFINGTON states the panels are required because the state is accepting grant money under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. The state has failed to comply with the federal law even though it receives the funding. The law clearly states there must be no less than 3 citizen review panels. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR takes this up, asking MS. WIBKER and MR. WEBB to respond. MS. WIBKER responds that MS. BUFFINGTON is "mixing apples and oranges." Under CAPTA of 1996, states that receive over $175.0 are required to set up 3 citizen review panels. Our state has already set that in statute and is in full compliance. Ms. Buffington may be saying that the child fatality review and interdisciplinary teams do not qualify as citizen review panels. They were not set up to meet that requirement. Child fatality review was set up to address a state problem: homicides that were not being prosecuted. The medical examiner helped set that up as a tool to the prosecution, a team of experts. The multi disciplinary team was set up to address problems made in investigations, also a team of experts. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks whether Alaska is in compliance with the 3 panel requirement. MS. WIBKER responds affirmative. Number 111 MS. BUFFINGTON disagrees with Ms. Wibker. A review panel is not supposed to be composed entirely of professionals; it should be citizen-related with a balance, a broad community representation. Staff in Washington state at the regional federal office has told her Alaska is not in compliance. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR responds they're not claiming they did comply. They don't say they're citizen review panels-- they're state panels. MS. BUFFINGTON and CHAIRMAN TAYLOR continue to argue the point. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks Mr. Webb if anyone in his department is claiming to D.C. that the fatality team or multi-disciplinary team complies with CAPTA and is used for that purpose. MR. WEBB responds, not to his knowledge. He's assured the state will meet that requirement by June 30, 1999. There are citizen review panels in the Anchorage area now. Panels in Fairbanks, as presently composed, don't meet that requirement. He's not sure where the third panel would be located. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR clarifies that panels are not operative yet but the department intends that they will be. MS. WIBKER states they must be citizens that are "watchdogs" of DFYS, a different function. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks Ms. Buffington to fax the committee the assurance from the Washington staff person that these panels have tried to qualify, so the department can comment on it. MS. BUFFINGTON asserts that the team members are being made "volunteer caseworkers," which aren't needed. They're officers of the court or mandated reporters of harm, covered by indemnification. She feels there is a problem with using the word "immunity" loosely. She is concerned with secret meetings, and that they "may" publish a report. Number 231 MS. BUFFINGTON refers to Section 9, Page 7, line 9, stating she has a problem with the word "immunity." She also refers to Sections 54 and 55, page 46, line 31, and top of Page 47, line 10. The teams are not required. MS. WIBKER states they are permissive. MS. TORKELSON states that teams need to be able to discuss mental health history and shouldn't be available to civil custody hearings to be used to discredit kids' testimony. They should be protected from being "used" by one parent against the other. Division employees present case evidence because they collected it. This section simply says they'll continue to perform their duties. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR thanks MS. TORKELSON for her explanation but states he shares some of MS. BUFFINGTON's concerns, and asks: at what point do we establish any level of accountability for team members? Misinformation from one person with a grudge would lead to everyone acting on that wrong information. Then it becomes totally confidential and immune from suit. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON responds that nothing here keeps any individual or the agency from being accountable for their actions. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks if a social worker is immune or subject to malpractice when she says it's child sexual assault and then everyone who becomes involved in the case is immune. MR. WEBB responds the state is subject to suit for wrongful actions. If a social worker's actions are not grossly negligent or they haven't engaged in misconduct, they're protected as police officers are. State is periodically sued for wrongful actions on the part of its employees. This provision protects persons who may not be state employees from suit, or having advised the state. State is held accountable. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks how you get to them if the people are immune and their reports cannot be accessed. Number 363 MR. WEBB responds those things are not subject to being used as evidence. Actions are subject to scrutiny, but advice may guide those actions. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks if the standard is one of gross negligence now. Before, you could sue the individual who made the decision. MR. WEBB responds that is correct. MS. WIBKER offers that House HESS took a lot of public testimony on the level of immunity DFYS should have. As a result, she had tort attorneys advise the committee on how to word the statute to keep the level of liability exactly what it had been. Language in this bill reflects what that committee did with advice from tort attorneys. She believes the caller thinks the teams protect DFYS workers, but these are not social workers. A child fatality review team is made up of the state medical examiner, a prosecutor with homicide experience, a trooper or police officer with homicide experience, and a social worker with experience in investigating child homicide. Number 401 MS. WIBKER continues, saying this is a tool for the prosecution to help the state get a murder conviction. The medical examiner is responsible for the determination. The multi-disciplinary team is set up the same way, except the social worker has the responsibility to make the right call. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks if the tort attorneys who helped with the language are the defense attorneys who represent the state in court. MS. WIBKER responds yes. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR says they wrote this in the way that provides us with the greatest level of defense available for the state. MR. WEBB states the committee deliberated at length on these issues. The committee didn't agree and do everything the tort attorneys advised. Number 430 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states he'd rather use the term defense attorneys because they're hired and paid to do nothing but defend us. The same panel gave us 158, the tort reform bill that wiped out joint and several liability, and attempted to wipe out any damages for pain and suffering. This is not a "consumer friendly group." He asserts the playing field ought to be level because we do make mistakes. Number 444 MR. WEBB states the buck stops with the people who make decisions and act, not with people they consult with. Only the decision- maker and the actor are subject to accountability. MS. BUFFINGTON adds that a judge in any court may "liberally construe" immunity to mean immunity, solely, completely and unlimited. She disagrees with the Department of Law which looks out for the state's protection, not the consumers going to court. She reads from the federal law the composition of citizen review committees. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asks again that Ms. Buffington send him her information from the federal staff. He calls for a recess until after floor session. He states the desire of the committee to move this legislation this year. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR reconvenes the meeting at 5:30, stating that a quorum is present comprised of SENATORS PARNELL, ELLIS, PEARCE, AND TAYLOR, CHAIR. He again takes up HB 375. Number 480 SENATOR PEARCE moves SCS for HB 375(Jud) from committee with individual recommendations, and its accompanying fiscal note which will have to be ordered. She states her understanding that it will be zero. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR states that there being no objection, the bill as amended moves from committee.