BELFAST — Out of the five bills proposed by Governor Paul LePage as a result of the deaths of two Maine children in Dec. 2017, and Feb. 2018, all but two were “passed to be enacted,” in the Maine Legislature Aug. 30.
A public hearing on the five-bill package was held Monday, Aug. 27, where testimony was taken from both opponents and supporters of the bills.
The December death of Kendall Chick, then four, and Marissa Kennedy, who was 10 at the time of her February death, led to an outcry around the state, with many angry at perceived failings of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
Both girls allegedly died after suffering sustained abuse at the hands of their caregivers, who have all been charged with depraved indifference murder in the unrelated deaths.
The proposed bills tackle a number of issues within the DHHS.
An Act To Criminalize the Failure To Make a Report of Child Abuse, LD 1919, proposes making it a criminal offense for mandated reporters who fail to report suspected abuse. Mandated reporters currently face a civil violation if they are found to have failed to report suspected abuse.
“The bill criminalizes the failure of a person to meet this requirement. Under current law, such a person commits a civil violation. Under the bill, failure to report or cause a report to be made is also a Class E crime, punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for not more than 30 days.
The majority of the Legislature voted 72-53 that LD 1919 “ought not to pass,” while a minimum thought that the bill should pass as amended. The amended version of LD 1919 would add “intentionally or knowingly” as the culpable state of mind to the crime of failure to report.
The second bill, An Act to Modify the Expungement Requirements for Records Under the Child and Family Services and Child Protection Act, LD 1920, was passed to be enacted.
LD 1920 would allow DHHS to “retain all records created under the Child and Family Services and Child Act. The department may not publicly disclose information in an unsubstantiated record, but may allow information in any record to be introduced into evidence in an administrative or judicial proceeding.”
Currently, records of unsubstantiated cases are expunged after 18 months.
LD 1921, An Act to Grant the Department of Health and Human Services Access to Criminal History Information To Achieve the Purposes of the Child and Family Services and Child Protection Act, was also passed to be enacted.
LD 1921 is focused on “establishing a child death and serious injury panel for reviewing deaths and serious injuries to children.” The panel would include “the Chief Medical Examiner, a pediatrician, a public health nurse, forensic and community mental health clinicians, law enforcement officers, departmental child welfare staff, district attorneys and criminal or civil assistant attorneys general.”
According to LD 1921, “the purpose of the panel is to recommend to state and local agencies methods of improving the child protection system, including modifications of statutes, rules, policies, and procedures.”
The majority of the Legislature voted that LD 1922, An Act to Amend the Child and Family Services and Child Protection Act, “ought not to pass.”
LD 1922 would amend “the Child and Family Services and Child Protection Act to require that reasonable efforts be made to rehabilitate and reunify families as a means for protecting the welfare of children.” Current law requires giving family rehabilitation and reunification priority as a means for protecting the welfare of children.
The last bill put forth by Gov. LePage is LD 1923, An Act To Improve the Child Welfare System, which was established as an emergency measure, also passed to be enacted. Since it was an emergency measure, LD 1923 required a two-thirds majority.
This Act will provide increased funding to a number of Health and Human Services departments, including the Foster Care/ Adoption Assistance Program. The funds would be used to increase foster home reimbursement rates with an aim to increase recruitment and retention of foster families in Maine. Out of over $900,000 earmarked for the cause, $386,493 will be taken from the General Fund, while the remaining $579,738 would come from a Federal Expenditures Fund.
Foster home reimbursement rates would also increase, with $2,586,929 from General Funds allocated to the initiative.
An additional $2.25 million would be allocated to State-funded Foster Care/Adoption Assistance, with the initiative of providing increased funding for “procurement of a pilot program for child welfare services to support children in the State’s custody through supportive visitation.”
This would allow “for the supervision of court-ordered visitation with relatives of the children and would provide assessment and evaluation of parental capacity as it relates to the parent’s ability to safely care for the child.”
A $1.2 million initiative for the Office of Child and Family Services would provide “increased funding for the creation of 16 Human Services Casework Supervisor positions within the Office of Child and Family Services, child protective services to increase coaching and oversight of child protective staff.”
Of the $1.2 million, $837,428 would come from the General Fund, while the remaining $189,922 would come from Other Special Revenue Funds.
Funding would also be provided for the creation of two Regional Associate Director for Child Welfare positions, with $206,941 earmarked.
In total under LD 1923, over 40 positions would be added to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Another initiative for the Office of Child and Family Services would provide “funding for the recruitment and retention of employees in Child Protective Services Caseworker positions, Child Protective Services Caseworker Supervisor positions, Child Protective Services Assistant Program Administrator positions, and Child Protective Services Program Administrator positions via a $1 per wage-hour stipend payment for employees holding or obtaining a relevant master’s degree.”
The General Fund would be used for $93,808 of the total $114,400 proposed for this initiative, with the remaining $20,592 to be taken from Other Special Revenue Funds.
Eight million dollars would also be allocated as “one-time funding for the development of a new comprehensive child welfare information system.”
In addition to more workers, pay raises for employees in “Child Protective Services Caseworker positions, Child Protective Services Caseworker Supervisor positions, Child Protective Services Assistant Program Administrator positions and Child Protective Services Program Administrator positions” were proposed. This would be established via a $5 per wage-hour stipend payment.
The total cost of LD 1923 is listed as $21,244,608, with $19,514,913 to be taken from the General Fund. The Federal Expenditures Fund would account for $579,738, with the remaining $1,149,957 coming from Other Special Revenue Funds.
LD 1923 would require the Department of Health and Human Services to “report on the progress of the department in implementing the provisions of the legislation to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over health and human services matters by January 31, 2019.
Erica Thoms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org