State Senator John Broden describes some of the legislative session’s successes and failures after the adjournment of the 118th Indiana General Assembly. Sen. Broden describes the final versions of his DCS legislation, as well as the failure of not accepting federal funds to expand health care coverage to Hoosiers.
On Wednesday, Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane called for the restoration of funds to the Department of Child Services (DCS) in the closing days of the budget process. Citing a recent DCS annual report on child fatalities showing an influx of child deaths in 2011, Sen. Lanane said the General Assembly should fully implement the recommendations of the Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee that met last summer.
The bipartisan committee endorsed a number of recommendations, including the use of a “hybrid” abuse and neglect hotline system that would allow mandatory reporters – like teachers, police officers and medical personnel – to report instances of abuse directly to local DCS offices. Sen. Lanane said this “hybrid” system of reporting, along with the funding needed to support it, needs to be restored in the closing days of the legislative session to ensure the protection of Hoosier children. He indicated this “hybrid” system would assist the agency in responding in a timely and thorough manner to cases of child abuse or neglect around the state. Lanane noted that the House-approved budget allocated $40 million to DCS, while the Senate version reduces DCS funding by $10 million to $30 million.
SEN. LANANE: “Well the concern that I raised on the floor of the Indiana Senate today, as we’re entering the last couple of days here of the budget process, is the removal of some very important funding for the Department of Child Services…”
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Over a four month period, the Department of Child Service Interim Study Committee took hours of public testimony from stakeholders including child advocates, caseworkers and concerned Hoosiers. The committee held hearings in communities across the state and released a litany of recommendations to be considered during the 2013 legislative session.
Some of the committee’s recommendations have been adopted in the form of separate legislation.
Sen. Broden on 2013 DCS reform legislation:
State Senator John Broden has crafted legislation this session to strengthen the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS). The Commission on Improving the Status of Children created in Senate Bill (SB) 125 will take on numerous responsibilities to better assist vulnerable Hoosier children. In addition to studying these issues, the commission will also create a committee to specifically oversee the Department of Child Services and a child fatality review committee to designate local teams charged with investigating cases of child death. Both chambers have approved SB 125, and it now awaits the governor’s approval.
In February, the Indiana Senate Democrats launched an interactive campaign to learn what you wanted to know about state government. Over 300 constituents weighed in, recording 90 questions and logging more than 5,000 votes.
The three most popular questions and answers straight from Senate Democratic Caucus members are featured below. Thank you to those citizens who participated in this online conversation.
“Citizens United turned corporations into people. One state is even considering a law to allow corporations to vote in elections. It’s time for Indiana to ban corporations from buying our politicians and running (ruining) the Great State of Indiana.” – Brett from Shelbyville, IN
“With all the money that was cut from education, and the new tax credit we are getting, why can’t we try to fight back now to invest in education and get some or most of those funds back? I don’t know any other country that doesn’t recognize that they must invest in the education of their country’s children to survive and to strive forward. Every time there are cuts, it is in education.” – Community member
Benefits for Elected Officials
“Seeing how the rest of the country is struggling, and our debt just keeps increasing with no end in sight, and no help from our politicians, don’t you think that politicians should be the first in line to help cut the deficit by eliminating their endless perks and lifetime benefits?” – Anthony from Munster, IN
On August 22, Senate Democratic members of the Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee joined with their colleagues in the House of Representatives to discuss their concerns about the group’s mission and outline their objectives for future meetings.
In a media availability prior to the review committee’s first meeting, Senate Democratic Assistant Leader Tim Lanane and State Senator John Broden reinforced the importance of protecting Hoosier children and that their intention is to use the study committees as a mechanism to improve the current system.
In the same media availability, Democrats also called for two of the review committee’s meetings to be held in communities outside of Indianapolis. The proposed meetings outside the Statehouse would be in an effort to allow those who would like to participate in these hearings an opportunity to partake.
Hear statements from Sens. Lanane and Broden at today’s media availability:
SEN. LANANE: “The policy of the state of Indiana when it comes to the protection of our children is paramount…”
SEN. LANANE: “We’re not going to cut corners when it comes to protecting our children…”
SEN. LANANE: “We’re not going to hide our head in the sand…”
SEN. BRODEN: “Clearly we know we are falling short in certain areas, and I hope we can use these hearings as an opportunity …”
The Indiana Department of Child Services has recently been criticized for their implementation of a centralized child abuse and neglect hotline staffed by workers in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis call center serves as a single intake point for the entire state and determines which cases are delegated to local officials.
The entire August 22 committee meeting agenda was occupied by a lengthy presentation by DCS explaining the history of the agency from 2005 to present. Limited questioning by committee members was permitted following the four presentation.
The Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee is set to meet again on September 5 to hear further testimony on the child abuse and neglect hotline.
The Indiana Department of Revenue (DOR) announced today that $206 million in state revenue had been mistakenly withheld from Indiana counties, dating back to 2011. The department claimed the hundreds of millions of dollars in oversight was the result of a “programming error” and that immediate action will be taken to repay counties with interest. DOR Commissioner John Eckart also announced he plans to resign from his position and said that an independent audit will be necessary. This most recent “programming error” combined with the discovery of $320 million in misplaced funds in December pushed the total amount of state revenue mishandled by the administration to over half a billion dollars.
Democrat leadership reacts
Indiana Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson and House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer released a joint statement this morning expressing their frustration and disappointment over the avoidable $206 million mishap.
Senator John Broden echoed Leader Bauer and Sen. Simpson’s comments, noting that local governments had to make difficult budgetary decisions and as a result of the misinformation, may have made unneeded cuts to public safety.
SEN. BRODEN: “Several months ago, I along with others called for an independent and bi-partisan audit…”
State’s first mishandling of revenue
The Indiana Senate and House Democrats jointly called for an independent investigation four months prior to today’s incident after the administration announced it had “discovered” $320 million in state revenue that was unaccounted for.
At that time, Sen. Broden believed the only way to guarantee that the mishandled $320 million was in fact a onetime occurrence was to initiate an outside audit. Broden and members of both the House and Senate Democrats’ budgetary committees wrote to State Budget Committee chairmen Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale) and Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) requesting they approve an independent audit.
The independent audit was rejected and the responsibility for a review of the state’s finances fell to the State Board of Accounts, the agency under which the original $320 million error had occurred.