The Legislature is half way through the 2011 Legislative Session, and public hearings for this session's legislation will wrap up this Thursday, March 17. Moreover, last Wednesday and Thursday were the deadlines on Speaker Priority Bill designations and Senator and Committee Priority Bill designations. I chose LB 648 for my priority bill this session.
Legislative Bill 648 provides changes to notification requirements within foster care proceedings along with other practical changes that I believe will be beneficial to the foster care system as a whole.
More than a dozen bills were introduced this session to address a wide variety of foster care issues that constituents from all across Nebraska have expressed to their elected officials.
The Health and Human Services Committee has decided to study the issue more, but the Judiciary Committee has decided to advance LB 648 with some changes.
Specifically, LB 648 would address the problems conveyed to me regarding the lack of updated contact information given to the courts for all the interested parties in a foster child's case. Currently, in section 43-1314, the court is required to give notice to all parties and interested parties of a court review for any child in a foster care placement. Sometimes the courts have not been notified of changes in contact information and their information could be months old. Obviously, this lack of communication results in people not knowing of the review and missing it.
LB 648 would require that the Department of Health and Human Services and any contract agency have one phone number where up-to-date contact information is available to the courts, and that all changes would be entered within 72 hours of the change.
The second change in the bill would require that any notice of a review or hearing be mailed or delivered five full days prior to any review or hearing. This would provide more time for parties to prepare for reviews and hearings, to make any needed adjustments to their schedule, allowing better due process for all involved.
In addition, a committee amendment to LB 648 is being worked out which shall allow foster parents to have standing as interested parties in the context of a hearing regarding removal of a foster child from the foster parent's home to another foster parent's home, and the foster parents would be entitled to call and cross-examine witnesses at the hearing and appeal an adverse decision.
Finally, the bill would require the court to inquire of any willing foster parent, preadoptive parent, or relative about the well-being of the foster child when such care givers are present at a review or hearing. Currently, the law says that the court may inquire into the well-being of the foster child.
I am thankful that the Judiciary saw the need for these practical communication changes to help some of the inner workings of our foster care system.
If you have comments, concerns, or questions about this bill or any other issue, please, call my office at 402-471-2805 or for more information you can view my legislative website at http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist44/.