Bills Moving to Protect Abused and Neglected Youth, and Student Opportunity
Dear Friends and Neighbors:
It’s 6:30 am. I’m writing you now because this job sometimes keeps me from sleeping. You try working with 60 politicians every day. 60 politicians who want to improve the state in their own ways, but not all 60 of whom show amazing amounts of warmness and love to each other, at least in ways that I can notice. I know. You’re shocked.
In the final weeks of session, a few of our bills to protect children, and improve our public schools have been moving. Please chime in by writing a short, polite note to legislators if you’d like to help get these bills across the finish line! Your voice makes a difference. Here is a list of legislator e-mail addresses.
Children Deserve A Loving Home: House Bill 151
This comprehensive reform legislation passed the House and has recently advanced to the Senate Finance Committee. It is the most comprehensive foster youth reform bill I’ve ever filed, and it’s needed it we want youth to prosper and not suffer unnecessary life pain and damage. While we’ve passed strong reforms over the years to increase youth success, children deserve a gamechanger that will help them achieve more normal lives, greater opportunity, more love, and a fair shake in life. HB 151 is a long overdue, major fix to our child protection system. When nearly 40% of our foster youth end up homeless at some point in their lives, and 20% end up in criminal trouble, it’s sends a strong signal that we can, and need to do better, and in the long term, for less money, with more respect for youth and families.
Evidence shows that overloaded caseworkers, with overwhelming caseloads: 1) lead to youth who linger too long in expensive foster care; 2) lead to mistakes by workers who bounce from crisis to crisis instead of being able to spend needed time working with youth and families; 3) cause massive new worker burnout and turnover, costing the state to recruit and train workers who then leave, causing greater stress on remaining caseworkers whose caseloads grow, depriving them of the time they need to work with families and youth; and, 4) damage the mental health of innocent youth, whose caseworkers aren’t able to find stable foster and adoptive homes, and who aren’t able to spend the time with biological families who can safely be reunified with their children. One major problem is that excessive caseloads prevent frontline workers from taking the needed time to search for good, loving family members who can be foster parents, which is healthier for displaced youth than placing them in strange homes that often have too many foster youths. Finding families youth know for foster families, statistically leads to less damage to youth and quicker placement with their original families or a permanent, loving family home. Those loving families often become great adoptive parents.
The Simone Biles Effect: Last year I was honored with an award from the largest, most effective national foster care reform non-profit, Casey Family Programs. I met super-Olympians Simone Biles and Torey Bowie there. Both are former foster youth. Instead of lingering in unfamiliar foster homes, their caseworkers were able to find loving grandparents who quickly adopted them.
House Bill 151, among other things, reduces caseloads to a level that allows caseworkers to do real, effective social work; increases training; adds needed caseworker mentors and supervisors; and leads to less frustration by foster parents by letting them make decisions for youth they lovingly bring into their homes. That is, foster parents should not have to wait for a call back from an overworked caseworker to get permission to take a child on vacation or sign them up for sports and school activities. This makes foster parenting easier and lowers the workload of overstressed caseworkers and the frustration of foster parents.
The bill also gets help to families, so their family stresses don’t reach the point that they lose their children to the foster care system, which will save money.
Reversing Public Education Cuts
Student deserve real chances to succeed. A strong public education gives students the opportunity they deserve. Lost student opportunity is often permanent, and you can’t tell a student to come back to second grade when the state eventually gets its act together.
Public education funding has fallen in recent years, and even flat funding (no funding cuts) leaves school funding behind the costs of inflation. That in turn leads to more teacher, guidance counselor, and classroom cuts. In recent years, inadequate funding since 2014 has led to the loss of over 500 teachers, counselors, ESL instructors, and support staff; to the loss of school days in some schools; and to the loss of basic courses like music and yearly chemistry courses in others. Adjusted for inflation, state school funding is down by roughly $90 million since 2015.
House Bill 339 is in the House Finance Committee this week. It updates school funding for inflation, with a roughly 1.7% increase over last year, in the face of warnings from schools across the state that another year of flat funding will lead to more teacher and staff reductions, larger class sizes, and other damaging classroom cutbacks across the state. We can do better.
Bills Addressing Opioid Epidemic and Needed Bipartisanship
We have also passed two other bills from the House Finance Committee.
HB 268 recognizes Alaska’s opioid epidemic. This epidemic is a national and international problem, but unfortunately even worse in Alaska. Opioid prescription deaths in Alaska are twice the national rate. 91 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses. 80% of those who end up addicted to heroin start addicted to prescription drugs, and mostly opioid prescription drugs. The national Centers for Disease Control has found that many medical providers fail to inform patients about the addictive dangers of these drugs, or alternatives to opioid drugs. The CDC asks medical providers to voluntarily give this information to patients. There are many great medical providers in Alaska who do this already. We want all providers to join in, and HB 268 requires medical providers to provide this advice to patients where appropriate. The bill does not interfere with provider-patient relationships, and asks medical provider boards to adopt regulations to make the most important CDC guidelines mandatory as has been done in other states. Informed patients are better able to protect themselves and their families.
While the State Medical Board originally criticized this bill, they now have written that they are considering doing what the bill requires by regulation.
Getting Legislators to Work Together?
House Bill 41 encourages legislators to work together by allowing them to be lead sponsors on the same bill. Currently there can be only one lead sponsor, and rules allowing joint sponsorships were reversed a number of years ago over my objection. Why is this small change needed? It lets legislators from different parties, or different parts of the state, take a lead of bills they can be the joint lead sponsors on, and helps them build relationships with each other as they work on bills where they can find common ground. We want more bi-partisanship, and this is a small step to help legislators work together.
There’s lots going on. I have no intention of letting this session extend into another long summer special session.
As always, call with any questions, or if there’s anything I can do to help!