Legislative committee on child protection services established

Two meetings likely next month, will continue next session

Anthony Bowe

Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, and Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, took steps this week to ensure child welfare as a priority in the General Assembly.

Sen. Linda Newell

At a sit down conference with reporters Monday, Newell and Shaffer announced that a Joint Select Committee on child protection services would begin meeting in April.

Details about the committee’s duties have yet to be released, but Newell, the committee’s chairwoman, said the committee’s main charge would be to educate fellow lawmakers on the issues and challenges in the child welfare system.

“[The system] has been an issue for several years. It’s been underfunded, it’s been overwhelmed, it’s been a very stressed and inconsistent system,” she said.

The committee will mostly likely hold two meetings in April and continue next session, Newell said. All lawmakers are encouraged to attend the hearings where, Newell said, they will be educated on recommendations passed down last year by the Gov. Bill Ritter’s Child Welfare Action Committee.

Appointments for the six-member committee finalized Thursday include Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, and Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, who will serve as committee vice chair.

The senators also discussed Newell’s Child Protection Ombudsman bill, SB-171, which would establish an office responsible for fielding complaints and questions independent of the office of the Division of Child Welfare. Shaffer said the bill, which is pending before a second reading, will pass the Senate.

The bill was amended in appropriations committee last week to assure the ombudsman’s funding would come through gifts, grants and donations for three years, instead of two. Newell was hoping the program could receive funding from the general fund after its second year.

“This is the type of thing that should be funded out of the general fund of our state. A measure of a society is how it protects its kids,” Shaffer said.

Another bill sponsored by Newell concerning child welfare was signed into law by Gov. Ritter Tuesday. House Bill 1059 allows foster kids 15 years old or older to register for drivers education courses without completing an affidavit of liability. An affidavit still must be completed prior to a foster kid receiving a driver’s permit.

“This bill will now allow a 15-year-old foster youth to take the classroom portion of driver’s education without having a signed affidavit of liability, which is difficult to obtain when in the custody of a foster family or the county,” Ritter said.