INDIANAPOLIS | Two more proposals intended to protect Hoosier children and improve the Department of Child Services have cleared a Senate committee.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-0 for Senate Bill 125 establishing the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana.
Indiana Supreme Court Justice Loretta Rush, who is expected to lead the panel, told senators the 16-member commission would bring together leaders from the judicial, legislative and executive branches to review data and research on Hoosier children and "actually work toward better outcomes for kids in our state."
"Right now we don't have that central group that gathers the information so we can use the information to drive policy," said Rush, a former juvenile court judge in Tippecanoe County.
Mary Beth Bonaventura, Lake County's juvenile court judge who was named director of DCS today, also would serve on the commission.
The other proposal approved by the Senate committee, Senate Bill 164, restores the power of county prosecutors to file a Child In Need of Services petition without the consent of DCS. Prosecutors lost that authority in a 2008 rewrite of the DCS statutes.
David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said allowing prosecutors to file CHINS petitions gives them a way to get an endangered or mentally ill child the help he or she needs if DCS doesn't want to act — and without having to resort to charging the child with a crime.
"We don't want to replace DCS," Powell said. "If nothing else, it just provides a fail-safe."
Both measures were recommended by the Legislature's DCS study committee that met throughout the summer and fall. They now go to the full Senate for possible amendment and a final vote to send them to the House.
The committee action follows Tuesday's 47-0 Senate vote for Senate Bill 105, another study committee recommendation, that allows child abuse or neglect reports by employees of schools, medical facilities, courts or law enforcement to bypass the state's centralized abuse hotline and be referred directly to a local investigator.