State lawmakers have settled in for two days of debate on child welfare issues, considered by many to be the top issue this legislative session.
The debate has been long anticipated; something inferred by Sen. Kathy Campbell, chairwoman of the legislative Health and Human Resources Committee as she opened debate by laying out the work ahead.
“And so it begins,” Campbell told colleagues during floor debate. “Today, we begin the process of building a stable foundation and a bridge to the future for the benefit of children and families of the state of Nebraska.”
Campbell brought to the floor LB 821, which would create a Children’s Commission to guide improvements to a child welfare system under harsh criticism both for its lack of quality care for children, but also for its cost overruns and faulty financial documentation. Campbell, though, succeeded in amending the bill with AM 2138, which replaced the underlying bill and added the position of Inspector General. Lawmakers advanced the amended bill before taking a break for lunch.
Campbell told lawmakers the goal of the system should be to provide for the safety and well-being of abused and neglected children who become wards of the state and to find them a permanent home. The courts have taken slightly more than 6,000 children from their homes for various reasons, making them wards of the state.
Lawmakers have spared little in their harsh criticism of the Department of Health and Human Services which sought to privatize the system in 2009 under the banner of Families Matter. A state audit and legislative committee studies have determined costs have jumped nearly 30% under the new program, with little if any appreciable improvements in care.
Campbell urged her colleagues not to criticize the current state of affairs as much as work to improve the system.
“I realize we can dwell on the past, but our job, in these two days, is to plan for the future,” Campbell said.
The Speaker of the Legislature, Mike Flood of Norfolk, has set aside today and tomorrow to consider five bills recommended by the committee to improve the system.
Click here for a link to the Health and Human Services Committee report on the child welfare system.
AUDIO: Sen. Kathy Campbell opens legislative debate on child welfare services bills [10 min.]