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DSS Legislative Package Aims to Increase Protections from Sexual Predators, Realign Business Practices

Reducing the threat of sexual predators, increasing educational stability for foster children and allowing the state to use public facilities during an emergency are part of the nine bills that make up the Department of Children & Family Services (DSS) Legislative Package that Louisiana lawmakers will consider during the current legislative session.

"These bills reflect DSS' commitment to Louisiana's families," said Department of Children & Family Services Secretary Kristy Nichols. "Specifically, the DSS Legislative Package focuses on protecting children and providing that all children are cared for in safe and nurturing environments. DSS' goal is to ensure that Louisiana's children and families are safe, thriving and self-sufficient."

The nine bills in the DSS Legislative Package focus on issues such as protecting children's health and safety while in child care settings, foster care, residential facilities and at home, deal with sheltering residents during times of emergencies and continue DSS' efforts to realign and streamline the agency's business practices.

One of the bills that is part of the DSS Legislative Package will help make sure more children are covered under their parent's insurance plan by providing for electronic data matching between DSS and health insurance companies.
  • SB 230 by Sen. Buddy Shaw - Medical Insurance Data Match & Redirecting Child Support Payments via Income Assignment
    This legislation provides for two important changes to child support enforcement. It provides for electronic data matching and cooperation between DSS and health insurance companies in Louisiana to facilitate enrollment of children in health insurance policies. This bill also provides a process for administrative correction of income assignment orders so that child support payments may be redirected to the centralized collection unit without having DSS or the parent to incur additional legal and court costs
Another bill seeks to make transitions for foster children easier by allowing them to remain at their current school when moving to a home outside of the school 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.
Two bills help DSS realign its business practices in regards to licensing 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)
    To provide for continuity of services and alignment with the functions and mission of the OCS, this legislation transfers the Bureau of Residential Licensing responsibilities and duties to license child residential facilities, foster care, adoption placing agencies, emergency shelters, maternity homes and transitional living facilities form 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.
Five of the bills are included in Governor Jindal's Legislative Package, four of which are 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 Contract 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 who were convicted of a sex offense with a child under the age of 13 from owning a day care 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 criminal background checks on certain department employees; Requires DSS to execute a survey to assess the impact and cost of conducting national criminal history records checks on potential owners, operators, employees and volunteers of a child care or child residency facilities.
  • HB 784 by Rep. Kay Katz - Relates to the hiring of employees by DSS in the following three specific ways:
    • Authorizes DSS to cross-reference the State Central Registry against Louisiana's child abuse cases prior to hiring Department employees who will: 1) deal with investigation of child abuse or neglect, 2) have supervisory or disciplinary authority over children, 3) direct care of a child or perform licensing surveys.
    • Establishes an internal administrative appeal process for determinations made by DSS.
    • Mandates that DSS conduct an assessment of the impact and cost of utilizing SCR information to prohibit individuals from owning, operating, being employed by or volunteering at a child care or child residential facilities licensed by DSS.
  • SB 238 by Sen. Willie Mount - Provides sole statutory authority authorization to DSS 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); Eliminates the Louisiana Committee on Private Child Care (which regulates Class B facilities).
"The sexual predator package strengthens Louisiana's sexual predator laws," said Nichols. "Currently, there is no law prohibiting a convicted sex offender from owning or governing a child care facility. The lack of such a law could put children at risk. Additionally, these bills increase the criteria that DSS uses when hiring employees who work with children. As the state's authority on child protection, we must hold our own employees to the highest standards."

The other bill in the Governor's Legislative Package 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 Louisiana not have a deficit of safe public evacuation shelter space in any region of the state by 2014.
    • Provides that public facilities owned or leased by the state or local governments, including schools and postsecondary education facilities, which are suitable for use as public evacuation shelters will be made available at the request of the local Office of Emergency Preparedness.
    • Provides that each local Office of Emergency Preparedness complete an annual inventory, assess all local public facilities, and identify those public facilities suitable for use as an emergency evacuation shelter as well as those public facilities requiring retrofitting or hardening to meet the criteria of a facility suitable for use as an emergency evacuation shelter.
    • Provides that the committee select from the inventory those facilities recommended by the local Office of Emergency Preparedness or retrofitting that, with reasonable hardening or retrofitting modifications, would accelerate the state and local efforts to reduce the deficit in shelter space.
    • Any such public facility that is the recipient of retrofitting construction funded from monies appropriated by the state for such costs shall make the facility available for use as a public evacuation shelter at the request of the local office of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.