A bill to create a 20-member child welfare task force to explore problems in Kansas is headed to the governor after it received House and Senate approval on Friday.
The bill, originally introduced to address foster care issues, expanded throughout the session to become a child welfare task force and to create six working groups that will dig into issues related to the Kansas Department for Children and Families’ administration of child welfare, protective services, family preservation, reintegration, foster care and permanency placement.
“The addition of the working groups will allow more people who are stakeholders in the child welfare system to have input into analyzing the various and many problems within the child welfare system,” said Rep. Linda Gallagher, R-Lenexa. “Working groups are intended to get more into the weeds than the task force itself would have time to, and then report back.”
Gallagher, vice chair of the House’s Children and Seniors Committee, offered passionate support of the bill and changes by the conference committee, saying its time the critical issues in child welfare were addressed. House Substitute for Senate Bill 126 passed the House 105 to 10.
However, sailing wasn’t as smooth in the Senate chambers, where Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, referenced the fact that the House completely gutted the original bill, leaving no time for a Senate committee to consider the bill.
Changes ultimately were made in conference committee on May 15.
Sen. Rob Olson and Sen. Julia Lynn, both Olathe Republicans, were vocal about bills that don’t get the debate they deserve.
“This bill comes to us on the 112th day,” Olson said. “The Senate hasn’t been able to exercise its voice, only in a conference committee. We don’t have the opportunity to amend or change this bill. I think this is a poor way to do business.”
Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, challenged the idea the Senate would delay the task force formation until they could debate the bill in January.
“Not on my watch. I hear children in this state crying out to us saying ‘it’s time,’” she said. “It’s time to do something about the system that’s not functioning properly. In a perfect world, we would have gotten this bill before May 15. I’m not seeing a perfect world. I’m seeing a world of children in our state who need care, who need revision for our system and need us as senators to step up.”
The bill passed the house 33 to 6. Despite her expressed concerns about the bill, Lynn voted to pass it, and expressed her hopes that concrete solutions would come out of the task force.
“I would hope that we never have to bring a task force like this together again on the issue of child welfare,” she said.
The Senate also passed an amended version of the bill that increased oversight on amusement parks operating rides in the state but delayed criminal penalties for operating a ride without a license. Originally scheduled to go into effect July 1, those penalties are delayed until Jan. 1, 2018, giving the Kansas Department of Labor time to develop rules, regulations and permit processes to support the new law.
The House previously passed the bill amended to include the delay.
The bill now moves to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk to await his signature.