FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 26, 2009 Media Contact
Louisiana Legislature Vote in Favor of DSS Legislative Package
Measures help foster children; provide protection from sexual predators, shelters
BATON ROUGE - Louisiana Department of Social Services Secretary (DSS) Kristy Nichols said that the passage of the nine bills in the agency's legislative package by the State Legislature reflects a commitment to Louisiana's families and will help protect children and ensure that children are cared for in safe and nurturing environments.
"The major focus of DSS's package was to ensure that the health and safety of children is protected in child care settings, foster care, residential facilities and at home," said Nichols. "This recently passed legislation also reduces the threat of sexual predators, increases educational stability for foster children and allows the state to use public facilities during emergencies."
Five bills of the approved bills were included in Governor Jindal's Legislative Package, the bulk of which is part of his Cracking Down on Sex Offenders & Protecting Louisiana Children Package.
- HB 476 by Rep. Patrick Connick - Relates to cracking down on sex offenders preying on children in the five following ways:
- Prohibits sexual contact between educators and students up to age 21.
- Amends the 1,000-square-foot radius law for sex offenders to clarify what facilities and areas are off limits.
- Strengthens restrictions and penalties on sex offenders who volunteer for activities involving children.
- Prohibits sexual offenders convicted of a crime with certain aggravating circumstances against a victim under the age of 13 from living near specific facilities, including playgrounds, public swimming pools and video arcades.
- Prohibits sexual offenders who were convicted of a sex offense with a child under the age of 13 from owning or operating a childcare facility or in any way participating in board governance (post probation, parole or suspension of sentence).
- Prohibits and provides penalties for child-care providers who knowingly employ sex offenders and/or knowingly grant them access to the facility; however, the law does not impose civil liability on volunteer organizations.
- HB 703 by Rep. Kay Katz - Criminal Background Checks
Authorizes DSS to conduct national criminal history background checks on department employees with certain duties involving children.
- HB 784 by Rep. Kay Katz - Relates to the hiring of employees by DSS in the following ways:
Authorizes DSS to cross-reference the State Central Registry (SCR) against potential and current employees of the Department whose duties will include: 1) investigating child abuse or neglect, 2) supervising or disciplining children, 3) directly caring for a child; or 4) performing licensing surveys.
- SB 238 by Sen. Willie Mount - Gives DSS sole statutory authority to issue and revoke childcare licenses; Changes the appeal period from 30 to 10 days when a license is revoked.
Eliminates the Louisiana Advisory Committee on Licensing of Childcare Facilities (which regulates Class A facilities) and the Louisiana Committee on Private Child Care (which regulates Class B facilities).
The Governor's Legislative Package also included a bill that will help keep more Louisianians inside the state when evacuating during an emergency. The bill allows the state to use any public facility as a shelter during disasters.
- SB 279 by Rep. Mike Walsworth - Works to increase Louisiana's emergency shelter capacity in following ways:
- Expresses the legislature's intent that all regions of Louisiana have an adequate amount of safe public evacuation shelter space by 2014.
- Allows the director of a parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to request the use of public facilities owned or leased by the state or local governments, including schools and postsecondary education facilities,.to be used as public evacuation shelters during an emergency response.
- Allows the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to select buildings recommended by the local Offices of Emergency Preparedness to be retrofitted or hardened in order to add to the state's stock of potential shelter space.
- Requires that any public facility, other than hospitals and nursing homes, that receives funds for retrofitting or hardening, shall make the facility available for use as a public evacuation shelter at the request of the director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Additionally, Nichols said that some legislation approved this session continues DSS' efforts to realign and streamline the agency's business practices by implementing changes and reforms that are the result of the an internal audit conducted last year.
The Legislature approved two bills that will help DSS realign the way it licenses some facilities by transferring adult residential licensing to DHH and moving Child Residential Licensing from the Office of the Secretary to the Office of Community Services. Both of these changes align licensing with offices with similar programmatic missions.
- SB 137 by Sen. Lydia Jackson - Bureau of Residential License Transfer to the Office of Community Services (OCS)
This legislation transfers the Bureau of Residential Licensing, which licenses child residential facilities, foster care facilities, adoption placing agencies, emergency shelters, maternity homes and transitional living facilities from the DSS Office of the Secretary to the DSS Office of Community Services.
- HB 728 by Rep. John Schroder - Transfer of Adult Residential Licensing
To appropriately align programmatic and policy expertise, this legislation transfers regulatory authority from DSS to the Department of Health and Hospitals for all adult residential care facilities, which includes assisted living facilities, personal care homes and shelter care homes.
Electronic data matching between DSS and health insurance companies will now be provided in order to increase the number of children covered under their parent's insurance.
- SB 230 by Sen. Buddy Shaw - Medical Insurance Data Match & Redirecting Child Support Payments via Income Assignment
Provides for electronic data matching and cooperation between DSS and health insurance companies in Louisiana to facilitate enrollment of children in health insurance policies. The proposed law will help to further the goal of DSS in ensuring that more children have access to health care coverage;
In another measure, foster children will have an easier transition when they are removed from their homes because they will be allowed to remain at their current school even if they move out of that school's district.
- HB 590 by Regina Barrow - Educational Stability
In response to the recently passed federal legislation -- Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 -- this legislation, when in the best interest of the child, will allow children entering foster care to remain in the same school they are attending at the time of the removal from their family regardless of the district or parish boundaries.