Legislature(2005 - 2006)

2005-01-26 Senate Journal

Full Journal pdf

2005-01-26                     Senate Journal                      Page 0160
SB 84                                                                                             
SENATE BILL NO. 84 BY THE SENATE RULES COMMITTEE                                                    
BY REQUEST OF THE GOVERNOR, entitled:                                                               
          "An Act relating 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; relating                                    
          to immunity regarding disclosure of information in                                        
          child-in-need-of-aid matters and certain child                                            
          protection matters; amending Rules 3 and 22, Alaska                                       
          Child in Need of Aid Rules of Procedure; and                                              
          providing for an effective date."                                                         
was read the first time and referred to the Health, Education and Social                            
Services, Judiciary and Finance Committees.                                                         

2005-01-26                     Senate Journal                      Page 0161
The following fiscal information was published today:                                               
 Fiscal Note No. 1, Department of Law                                                               
 Fiscal Note No. 2, Department of Health and Social Services                                        
Governor's transmittal letter dated January 25:                                                     
Dear President Stevens:                                                                             
Under the authority of art. III, sec. 18, of the Alaska Constitution, I am                          
transmitting a bill that will provide greater public access to child-in-                            
need-of-aid (CINA) hearings and records and other information that                                  
has been historically closed to the public.                                                         
The issues surrounding public disclosure in CINA matters can quickly                                
become complicated, but the goal of this bill is simple: shed more light                            
on the child protection system and the system will improve.  I believe                              
that public support of the approach taken in the bill will grow when                                
the tragic circumstances affecting so many young lives are more fully                               
understood, along with the daily challenges faced by those who work                                 
so hard to protect children.                                                                        
Concerns have been raised during the past several years about the                                   
state's confidentiality laws in CINA matters.  These confidentiality                                
laws were created to protect the privacy interests of children and their                            
families in CINA matters, but they also have the practical effect of                                
limiting public oversight and understanding of goals and activities of                              
our child protection agencies.  This bill seeks to address these issues                             
by increasing public access in the following ways:                                                  
          Court hearings in CINA cases that are now closed to                                       
          the public would be open to the public, with limited                                      
          exceptions.  For example, the court may close a                                           
          CINA hearing to the public when a parent or child                                         
          has not had an opportunity to obtain legal                                                
          representation; when a child would otherwise be                                           
          emotionally damaged by an open hearing or would be                                        
          inhibited in testifying; or when an open hearing                                          
          would substantially compromise a criminal                                                 

2005-01-26                     Senate Journal                      Page 0162
Information from state agency CINA records would be made available                                  
to the public in three situations: when a parent or guardian in a CINA                              
case makes a public disclosure concerning the Department of Health                                  
and Social Services' involvement with the family; when the alleged                                  
perpetrator named in a report of harm under AS 47.17 has been                                       
charged with a crime arising from the harm; or when there is a report                               
of harm under AS 47.17 that has resulted in a fatality or near fatality                             
of a child.  In such instances, the bill would allow the Department of                              
Health and Social Services to release information about its response to                             
the report of harm.                                                                                 
Other provisions of the bill would allow for the release of information                             
to agencies or individuals when necessary to locate permanent                                       
placements for children in CINA cases, protect the safety of children,                              
or enhance agency review of CINA cases.  Also included is a                                         
provision for immunity for the state and municipalities, and their                                  
agencies, officers, and employees, relating to the disclosure or                                    
nondisclosure of information in CINA cases and certain child                                        
protection matters.                                                                                 
If enacted into law, the substantive changes in the bill would take                                 
effect July 1, 2005.  The bill also would require a report to the public                            
and the Legislature by December 1, 2006.  The report will assess these                              
new procedures in CINA cases and make recommendations to address                                    
any additional statutory changes necessary to improve our CINA                                      
confidentiality laws.                                                                               
I urge your prompt and favorable action on this measure.                                            
Sincerely yours,                                                                                    
Frank H. Murkowski