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"Our legislative package aims to improve our services, streamline our agency and allow us to work more efficiently for Louisiana's children and families," said DSS Secretary Kristy Nichols. "The bills that will be introduced are focused on our core services -- those services that keep children safe and help families become self-sufficient."
The 15 bills in the DSS Legislative Package address issues such as restructuring the agency's organizational operations, the transfer of certain functions to other state agencies, protecting children in DSS-licensed child care facilities, training of child welfare workers, fostering relationships between non-custodial parents and children and increasing collections of unpaid child support.
The following bills are included in the DSS Legislative Package:
- HB 1198 by Rep. Kay Katz
Streamlining Recommendations and Transfers
This bill transfers to the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) and the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) the components of Louisiana Rehabilitation Services that align with the long-term, strategic goals of those agencies. For example, Vocational Rehabilitation Services will transfer to LWC and the Independent Living Program will transfer to DHH. Individuals with disabilities will benefit from LWC's focus on assisting people to find jobs. These individuals also will have greater access to support services administered by DHH.
- HB 615 by Rep. Kay Katz
The purpose of this legislation is to re-create DSS and all statutory operations, which are set to terminate on June 30, 2010, as a result of the Sunset law. It recreates the department by extending its cessation date to July 1, 2015, allowing the department to continue to be responsible for the development and provision of social services and the improvement of social conditions for citizens of Louisiana.
- SB 257 by Sen. Willie Mount
DSS Reorganization and Redesign
This measure reorganizes the individual offices in the Department of Children & Family Services and changes the name to the Department of Children and Family Services. Reorganizing DSS by function rather than by funding streams will create a more efficient, effective agency that will serve the holistic needs of clients. The department will be realigned as one agency able to leverages all sources of funding and organized in a way that is centered on the customer needs with the goal of expediting service delivery and improving efficiencies to enhance client contact. Workflow and processes will be realigned to create greater collaboration, expedite services, improve efficiencies and reduce associated costs throughout the agency.
- SB 634 by Sen. Lydia Jackson
This bill protects children in child care centers and other facilities licensed by DSS by allowing the agency to fine entities that do not comply with licensing standards. It gives DSS non-compliance sanction authority for licensing. Currently, DSS is limited to denying applications, non-renewal of licenses, license revocation or continuing to cite non-compliance.
- SB 196 by Sen. Willie Mount
Child Care Licensing/Establishment of Residences for Transitional Youth
This legislation removes the requirement that OCS be licensed as a child placing agency. Because DSS already has statutory authority to place youth, the language which requires this should be removed.
- SB 644 by Sen. Sharon Weston Broome
Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC)
The purpose of this bill is to ensure the same quality of protections and services for children requiring parental, relative, foster or adoptive placement across state lines as would be provided if they were placed in Louisiana. The bill provides for the adoption of a revised Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children, which originally was drafted in 1960. The revised compact will ensure timely and appropriate placement of children by providing structure and enforcement provisions and provide governance regarding the placement of children across state lines.
- SB 467 by Sen. Gerald Long
New Child Welfare Case Workers
This measure is aimed at increasing the pool of qualified and trained child welfare workers to ensure the safety of children in Louisiana. This bill give DSS the statutory authority to hire child welfare staff who have successfully completed course work in the core competencies of effective child welfare practice as adopted by the Louisiana Child Welfare University Alliance. New hires that have fulfilled this requirement of 32 hours of specialized child welfare training will be able to begin exercising responsibility for cases under appropriate supervision.
Support Enforcement Services
- SB 53 by Sen. Nick Gautreaux
The passage of this measure will assist the department in collecting child support arrears that currently exceed $1 billion by allowing the interception of gaming winnings of $1,200 or more when the winner has a child support case with arrears. The collection of child support arrears will help those children and families who are in most need of support. Several states including Mississippi, Indiana, New Jersey, New Mexico and West Virginia have enacted or introduced similar legislation. The State of Colorado collected more than $500,000 in one year with a similar law.
- SB 130 by Sen. Jean Paul Morrell
Private Collections Agencies
This bill protects consumers and children from unfair and unethical practices utilized by some private child care support collect agencies that do business in the state. The bill caps the percentage that can be withheld, prohibits wage garnishment through employers unless ordered by a court and prohibits the collection of fees from collections by a state agency or current child support collections. The bill makes violating the law a criminal offense and enacts a harassment punishment clause.
- HB 964 by Rep. Robert Johnson
Medical Support Definitions
This measure provides for health and medical coverage for children by their parents and makes appropriate changes to state law to comply with federal mandate. The bill defines the terms "cash medical support" and "health insurance." It sets five percent of gross income as a reasonable cost for medical insurance and defines accessible insurance as services no more than 50 miles from the domicile of the child.
- SB 322 by Sen. Julie Quinn
Disestablishment Procedures/Paternity Acknowledgement
The purpose of this bill is to ensure that paternity establishment is available and that children are supported by their biological parents. It provides for the proper establishment and disestablishment of paternity using genetic testing. This bill will bring Louisiana in compliance with federal law by requiring the notarized signatures of both parents on an acknowledgement of paternity. It provides clear instructions regarding the appropriate process to disestablish judgment of paternity.
- HB 222 by Rep. Tim Burns
The bill will ensure that Louisiana children are supported by their biological parents by simplifying the income assignment process for employers. The measure will require that all child support payments made through an employer by way of an income assignment order be made payable to DSS' state disbursement unit in compliance with federal mandate. Employers will be able to send payments to only one address, and DSS will forward payments to the proper custodial parent and keep records of all payments.
- HB 741 by Rep. Robert Johnson
The purpose of this bill is to allow DSS' Support Enforcement Services to focus on collections of child support for Louisiana citizens by allowing other states to directly place liens against property located in Louisiana without having to request the assistance of SES. This new law is similar to laws in Georgia, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina and 11 other states that allow states with judgments to seize bank accounts or place liens on property in other states without the involvement of the state's child support staff.
- SB 323 by Sen. Julie Quinn
This bill will enable DSS' Support Enforcement Services to provide services through the federal Access and Visitation grant program including legal actions. The Access and Visitation Program has been shown to help bring the families together emotionally and financially. Research has shown that the more involved the parents are in the lives of their children, the more likely they are to pay full and consistent child support.
- HB 221 by Rep. Tim Burns
This bill corrects citations and names and removes references to repealed laws in the statutes related to DSS' Support Enforcement Services Program. The changes will be useful to all who work in the child support field to better identify relevant laws. Currently, incorrect information makes existing laws unclear; changes are necessary to correct references and properly identify state departments referenced in law.