Friday, May 27, 2005

Band-Aids When Intensive Care Is Needed

Before the 79th Legislature began, Gov. Rick Perry declared Child and Adult Protective Services an emergency issue. Today, with a little more than three days left in the session, the House and Senate have come to an agreement on SB 6, the bill that lays out how to fix a system that has spawned countless horror stories of abused children and elderly adults.

First the good:
More than 2,500 additional child protective service workers will be hired.

CPS caseloads will decrease 40 percent.

APS workers will see caseloads drop to an average of 28 per month.
Now the bad:
CPS will only get about a 12 percent increase in funding (combined state and federal).

Caseloads will remain among the highest in the nation.

National best practice standards call for investigative caseloads between 12 and 15 per caseworker.

The bill will phase in over 6 years a total privatization of all case management.
There are several reasons the conference committee has taken more than a month to fashion an agreement. Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) lobbied hard for $9 million for a guardian ad litem system for APS, so that elderly who fell through the cracks would have someone who would advocate on their behalf. Shapleigh says that the governor's office nixed the program because they "don't want another entitlement program." Shapleigh did not sign the conference report.

The privatization proposal was also a sticking point. The conference committee appears to have gone with the more ambitious House proposal on this one. Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin) did manage to get an independent, but nonbinding evaluation, to study how the phased in privatization works so that if it turns into a disaster the Lege can come back and fix it.

Finally, Rep. Robert Talton (R-Pasadena) attached an amendment to the bill on the House side that would make it illegal for gay parents to adopt children from CPS. That amendment was stripped out of the final product. Rumor has it that when the bill comes back to the House for an up or down vote--likely on Sunday--Talton is going to raise a stink. He also apparently did not sign the conference report.