Capitol Update: Ousley says bill extending welfare payments would save state money spent on foster care

Rep. Jarrod Ousley introducing HB 2631. Photo courtesy Rep. Ousley.

Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley and Sen. Barbara Bollier are scheduled to send updates this week. Here’s Rep. Ousley’s filing:

The bills I have introduced this session primarily have dealt with changes to systems involving children at risk. The Foster Care Task Force is still meeting. While its formal recommendations are not due to be released until next December, there are improvements that can be made now.

On Tuesday, February 6, I introduced HB 2631 to the Judiciary Committee. This bill clarifies when reports of abuse, neglect, or exploitation are sent to both the Department of Children and Families and an appropriate law enforcement agency. I worked with District Attorneys in Johnson, Sedgwick, and Wyandotte Counties on the bill, which basically requires that when two mandated reporters make a report on the same child, local law enforcement is made aware of the situation. During the hearing on February 15, Mark Dupree, the DA from Wyandotte County, referenced the Adrain Jones case, and how outcomes could perhaps be altered if law enforcement is made aware of a situation of abuse happening within their jurisdiction.

On Wednesday, February 7, Rep. Linda Gallagher and I cosponsored HB 2666, which was referred to the committee of Health and Human Services. This bill deals with public assistance, specifically Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and repeals a restriction on how many months families in Kansas can receive that assistance. Currently Kansas restrictions on this assistance are much stricter then those implemented at the federal level, and research from KU have determined that when access to TANF was restricted, a large increase in the need for foster services immediately followed. This is problematic for many reasons, including that TANF for a family of three is less than $400 a month, while foster services cost the state upwards of $3,000 a month. There is no need to traumatize a child by removing him from a family who could care for him, if they have the temporary emergency assistance they need. As the ranking Democrat on Children and Seniors and as a member of the Task Force, and as Rep. Gallagher is the Vice Chair on Children and Seniors and also a member of the Task Force, we felt it was best to present a united, bi-partisan front for this bill.

On Thursday, February 15, I introduced HB 2751, establishing the Office of the Child Advocate, in the Fed and State committee. This bill basically separates the child advocate position from within the Department of Children and Families, and creates a separate office for the position. The Advocate will have the ability to oversee the needs and harms facing children in foster care, and advocate for them separately outside of the chain of command of whomever is the sitting secretary of DCF. This outside oversight will help both in providing testimony in legislative committees, advocating for children directly to DCF, and provide a voice for children who do not have a direct voice in the capitol at this time.

Last week, the Children and Seniors committee voted out to the House HB 2530, which added emergency services personnel to the list of mandatory reporters. I worked with the EMS lobby, who ultimately brought the bill to the committee, and then once in committee, Rep. Deere added an amendment to include animal control officers as mandatory reporters. Emergency personal and animal control officers both come in contact with homes and may see activity not seen by others, and the bill will assist in making sure what they see is communicated to the appropriate agencies.

In addition, I spoke in the Senate Election committee this session on my Election Audits Act bill, HB 2333. It was passed out of the Senate committee and awaits being called for a vote by the Senate President. In education, we passed HB 2578 requiring school districts to have anti-bullying policy, and amended it to include due process for educators. That bill now sits and waits to be called for a vote by the House Speaker.

Finally, this past week, I was happy to co-host with Sen. Dinah Sykes (R) (sponsorship of the group’s meeting at the capitol was bi-partisan and bicameral), the Kansas’ Moms Demand Action chapter. They joined us on Valentine’s Day, to spread the message of the need for sensible gun reform, and as they were wrapping up, the tragedy in Florida occurred. I will continue to support sensible safety measures to keep Kansans safe.

Moms Demand Action has a new member meet up on Feb. 22.

Ousley speaking at a Moms Demand Action action meeting last week.