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Legislative Update - March 3, 2017
This week was a big week for child welfare legislation, and the Senate Business & Commerce Committee also heard three important government transparency bills.
On Wednesday, March 1, both the House and the Senate unanimously sent major child welfare legislation to the other chamber. The House passed HB 4 by Rep. Burkett (funding for kinship care) and HB 5 by Rep. Frank (DFPS as a stand alone agency), and the Senate passed SB 11 by Sen. Schwertner (regionalization of foster care service delivery). See video from the House discussion here. Read previous coverage of the House and Senate bills in past updates: Senate | House of Representatives.
Also this week, the House Human Service Committee heard HB 249 by Rep. Hernandez which brings up the definitions of "abuse" and "neglect" that apply to providers to the standard to which the state holds parents. In December of 2015, a federal judge ruled that DFPS found no abuse and neglect was found in 96% of investigations, but had a 75% error rate in those investigations, which led children to underreport abuse and neglect. Watch the full committee hearing here.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard SB 497 by Sen. Uresti which creates an Office of Workforce and Data Analytics within DFPS. In December of 2015, a federal judge found that turnover rates for first year caseworkers was almost 40%. In addition to salary, the cost to the state to train one caseworker is $54,000. More importantly, the instability in workforce means that a child's caseworker is constantly changing. A child never develops a bond of trust, and the caseworker barely knows the child, which leads to abuse and neglect within the foster care system. Watch video highlights from the committee hearing here.
The Senate Business & Commerce Committee heard SB 347, SB 407, and SB 408 all by Senator Watson. SB 347 clarifies that that Open Meetings and Public Information Acts apply to regional water planning groups. As Texas Impact staff have experienced, often meetings are rescheduled with insufficient notice to the public. SB 407 restores the competition or bidding exception to the Public Information Act. Recently, the Texas Supreme Court vastly expanded what corporations doing business with the state could keep concealed from the public. SB 408 restores the definition of a "governmental body" in the Public Information Act. Recently, the Texas Supreme Court constricted the definition so private entities receiving public funds could keep information concealed from the public. Watch Sen. Watson lay out the bills here.