The disappearance of Isabella Kalua and concerns about Hawaii’s struggling child welfare system prompted state lawmakers to move forward on Friday with the most ambitious aid package for the system. for decades, including millions of dollars in new funding to better monitor and support children in foster care. or are awaiting adoption.
A House and Senate conference committee gave preliminary approval on Friday to House Bill 2424which includes $8 million to expand recruitment and training of foster parents and child protective services social workers, as well as to increase wages for experienced CFS workers.
“We want to make sure that we are providing the department with the resources, as well as making sure that our keiki who are in this process of foster care and adoptive care have the necessary and required supervision to keep them safe,” said said House Health, Ryan Yamane, chair of the social services and homelessness committee.
Lawmakers rushed to meet a deadline to position dozens of bills for final votes next week, including putting the finishing touches on a measure to revamp state corrections and enforcement functions of the law. The Legislative Assembly is due to adjourn for the year on Thursday.
Senate Human Services President Joy San Buenaventura described the child welfare bill as “enormous” and said it includes $800,000 to allow the Department of Human Services to contract services to recruit, train and support foster families, as well as to monitor these families. Another million dollars would be used to upgrade CFS computer systems.
The bill also includes $1.2 million to provide a wage differential to try to retain experienced CFS social workers. These workers have extremely stressful and potentially dangerous jobs, and staff turnover is such a chronic problem that CFS now has a vacancy rate of around 20%.
Yamane said the bill also includes provisions requiring the CWS to conduct annual checks on adoptive families if those families are accepting state child support payments and if they have ever been the subject of a complaint. filed against them with the department.
This language was born out of concern over the Kalua case, which shocked the residents of Waimanalo and many others in Hawaii. Six-year-old Isabella, whose birth name was Ariel Sellers, was reported missing from her adoptive parents’ Waimanalo home on September 13.
Her disappearance sparked a search lasting several days, but she was never found. Court records in Isabella’s case allege the child’s adoptive parents kept her in a dog crate, put duct tape over her mouth and refused to feed her. Isaac and Lehua Kalua were charged with second degree murder in his death.
The case drew attention to the fact that the CWS is currently ending its oversight of adoptive families once adoptions are complete. The agency has the power to investigate allegations of abuse in adoptive families — as it can with any family — but the state currently has no special authority to monitor adoptive families.
During a hearing earlier this year, the state attorney general expressed concern that the proposal to monitor adoptive families could be challenged before the court as unconstitutional, but Yamane said he addressed this issue in the final version of the bill.
The measure also provides $250,000 to support the work of a “Malama Ohana” task force tasked with providing a report to lawmakers ahead of the 2024 session of the Legislative Assembly “so that we know whether or not we are on the good way to help CWS social worker and resource caregivers in recruitment, training and services.
“We hope there will never be any deaths,” San Buenaventura said.
New Law Enforcement Department
Lawmakers also approved a bill to create a new statewide police agency.
House Bill 2171 would split the Department of Public Safety in two, creating one department to manage the state’s corrections system and another new Department of Law Enforcement to deal with criminal activity and investigations.
Officers from the state sheriff’s division, narcotics division, attorney general’s investigators and Department of Transportation officers would all report to the new law enforcement department.
A draft HB 2171 approved by a conference committee on Friday delays the department’s implementation until 2024. The new draft also removes much of the funding originally provided for in the bill.
The original bill, proposed by Governor David Ige’s administration, requested more than $4 million for new positions. Instead, lawmakers are giving the new department $900,000 to cover the salaries of senior positions who would be responsible for implementing the new department.
Lawmakers have also advanced another batch of bills to try to reduce recidivism among inmates who are released from Hawaii jails and jails.
House Bill 2309 would provide $800,000 to the Department of Health for an assessment and treatment program for behavioral, mental health and substance abuse issues for ex-convicts, and provide an additional $200,000 to the Hawaii Paroling Authority to provide housing assistance inmates leaving the correctional system.
The same measure would also give the correctional system $100,000 to purchase machines to generate ID cards for outgoing inmates.
In 2017, lawmakers required the Department of Public Safety to provide identification to every inmate leaving the system, as identification allows former inmates to apply for jobs or seek government assistance programs. much more easily.
Another bill agreed to Friday would provide $420,000 to launch a pilot family visitation and resource center at Waiawa Correctional Facility. House Bill 1741 aims to encourage family visits to inmates and to “strengthen and reunite families” with an emphasis on the welfare of inmates’ children.
Lawmakers Thursday gave preliminary approval to measures that mandated and funded a leave program for female inmates and women who were recently released, and established a three-year women’s court pilot program at the Oahu Circuit Court.
House lawmakers have introduced a bill for a final vote next week that would allow the Department of Agriculture to extend leases at state farm parks for an additional 30 years if tenants are under 15. remaining on their current leases.
House Bill 1705 would only apply to farm parks on islands with fewer than 500,000 people – meaning lease extensions would only be allowed on neighboring islands – and only to leases of 25 acres or less.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture has raised concerns about the measure, with Board Chair Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser noting that the state must “review public policy against allowing individual private interests to exclusively occupy, use and benefit from public lands for periods exceeding legal limits or indefinitely.”
Hawaii urgently needs to increase the number of local farmers if the state is to meet its food sustainability goals, she said, and the state should “provide other members of the public with a fair and equal opportunity ” to search for public leases. owned farm park land.
The measure is backed by the Hawaii Farm Bureau and a number of Big Island farmers who say they must have the assurance of long-term leases to invest in infrastructure on state farm park land.
“It’s important that nurseries and nurseries have the peace of mind that comes with renewing their lease, so they can keep growing,” said Eric Tanouye, president of the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association. “We believe the Department of Agriculture has the knowledge to understand which leases for small farms should be extended.”
But Shimabukuro-Geiser stressed in written testimony that “there is nothing to prevent the current tenant from applying for a new lease when the current lease expires.”
Cesspools and geothermal energy
Lawmakers have given tentative approval to House Bill 2195, which would provide $5 million to establish a new grant program to help low-income homeowners deal with failing catch basins. Grants could be used to convert cesspools to septic tanks or connect homes to sewage systems.
Hawaii has some 88,000 cesspools that have been accused of polluting groundwater and ocean resources, and the legislature in 2017 required all homes to be hooked up to sewage systems or upgraded to acceptable sewage systems. ‘by 2050. However, conversion can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and progress has been slow.
Under the new grant program, households with incomes below 140% of the region’s median income could be eligible for grants of up to $20,000 to make the conversions, said the president of House Energy & Environmental. Protection, Nicole Lowen. The sump conversion pilot program would end in 2028, she said.
A House-Senate conference committee also approved Senate Bill 3195which would provide $500,000 in seed funding for the identification and exploration of geothermal resources on Hawaiian lands that could one day be used to generate electricity.
The bill is backed by both the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Hawaii State Energy Office, which said geothermal energy can play an “important role” in the state’s goal of reaching 100 % renewable energy generation, and also provide long-term income. flow for DHL.
All of the measures approved by the conference committee on Thursday and Friday now go to the full House and Senate for votes on the top floor next week.