All eyes on the Senate of West Virginia as the custody bill continues forward News, sports, work

The seal of the Senate of West Virginia. (Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography)

CHARLESTON – Proponents of improving the state custody system are watching what happens to a bill that establishes the rights of adoptive parents and children and increases the reimbursement rates found in the West Virginia Senate.

House bill 4092, which updates the custody laws, was sent Thursday to the Senate’s judicial and financial commissions. The bill passed the House of Delegates on Tuesday with a 96-1 vote after spending 40 days working through three committees, including 22 days on the House Finance Committee.

Senate majority leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, said Senate Republicans have planned to review the changes made by the House to the original law this weekend.

“Now I have my briefcase”, Takubo said on Friday. “Everyone has a lot of interest in this. We hope that if there are problems with the account, we will improve those problems. I know there is a great tax note linked to it and therefore we want to see where all that money is spent and make sure it is spent. in the right places. “

HB 4092 would have created the adoptive rights charter of the adopted children and the foster charter of the foster parents. The bill attributes duties and responsibilities to foster parents, including not to violate the rights of the adopted child and to provide all children in their care with food, clothing, accommodation, supervision, medical care and adequate educational needs.

According to the bill, adoptive parents must treat all biological families with respect, speak respectfully about the biological family, educate children with age-appropriate life skills and not disclose information about the child’s case or family to anyone. outside an approved list of individuals.

The bill also establishes a reasonable and prudent standard for parents, which gives authority to adoptive parents to make daily decisions about an adoptive child’s extracurricular activities, including sports, art and other activities. The violation of one of these rights would be investigated by the custodial ombudsman.

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Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, was a supporter of a foster parent and a foster child bill in the custody bill adopted by last year’s Legislative Assembly, House Bill 2010. Baldwin said to be satisfied with the House bill. sent and hopes that any changes to the Senate bill will be minor.

“I’m excited to be back at that point now, and we also got additional funding” Baldwin said. “It’s just a matter of how much they want to try to change the account and if this is tax or if they are just some of the legal issues they want to try and resolve. I hope it remains intact.”

Payment rates are updated on the invoice. Child placement agencies will receive a rate of $ 75 per day, per child, with foster parents who receive at least 40 percent of the rate, or a minimum of $ 30 per day. A parenting limit of $ 900 per month per child is set.

A tax note for HB 4092 filed by the Department of Health and Human Resources estimated the state’s share of the cost of the account at $ 16.9 million due to the increase in the repayment rate. The House Finance Committee found additional funding for repayment increases from excess lottery fund items and Medicaid surpluses.

“Money jumped everywhere, so the question is what they were doing,” Takubo said. “What were they taking away? What were they adding? And I really don’t know yet. I need to go in and see what has changed. “

Marissa Sanders, director of West Virginia Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents Network, said that foster and parental families have met with lawmakers since the beginning of the legislative session on January 8 to guide this bill through the process. Sanders said the bill, as amended by the assembly, will provide the necessary support.

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“I think everyone knows it is a crisis and this bill will help us with that crisis” Sanders said. “It certainly won’t solve everything, but it should do a lot to help retain adoptive parents and help us recruit new adoptive parents if implemented properly.”

According to Sanders, the minimum reimbursement for foster and parental families has not increased since 2003. Since then, foster placements have increased by 74 percent between January 2011 and January of this year, from 4,040 placements in 2012 to 7,037 placements on Last month.

Sanders said that the huge growth in foster placement in West Virginia has put a strain on placement agencies and foster families.

“Right now, we have some child placement agencies that need to raise money just to manage their foster care program,” Sanders said. “Of course, families are spending out of their own pockets. In many cases I get news from families who pay for specialists who are not covered by Medicaid. They are paying for specialized equipment. They sometimes drive two hours three times a week to bring a child to therapy. If you live in a rural area of ​​the state, you may be able to drive a bit and some children need different types of therapies. “

The Senate should make changes to the part of the bill and to the part of the bill relating to guardians and litems – lawyers designated to represent the minor’s interests. Democrats and Senate MPs hope that the Senate will leave reimbursement rates unchanged.

“I loved the House bill as it is. What I heard from the people of the House is that they are a little nervous about what can change and how much it can change. “ Baldwin said. “It’s about priorities. I don’t know of a higher priority for anyone in the state of West Virginia, so take care of our adopted children at this point because it’s a crisis point. I really hope we will all be on the same page about it, and we will all make it a priority to move forward. “

HB 4092 has been praised for being an example of a bill supported by republican and democratic legislators. The custody supports the hope that bipartisan cooperation will continue.

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“We greatly appreciate bipartisan support in the House and look forward to receiving the same type of bipartisan support in the Senate,” Sanders said. “This bill seems to get stronger and stronger in the process. We hope we can count on it to continue to happen and that the end result will be the product of many legislators, adoptive parents, DHHR and other stakeholders who will come together to make sure really that our system is as strong as it can be for children. “

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at [email protected]

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