INDIANAPOLIS — House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin, demanded Wednesday the General Assembly conduct its own investigation of the Department of Child Services following last month's surprise resignation of Director Mary Beth Bonaventura.
Goodin declared in the first floor speech of the 2018 legislative session that lawmakers should not rely on the outside DCS review commissioned by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.
Instead, he said legislators have a duty, as a separate branch of government, to independently evaluate the shocking claims in Bonaventura's resignation letter about Holcomb-directed DCS policies and spending decisions that the former Lake County judge said "all but ensure children will die."
"If we as lawmakers simply stand by and let this mess fester without doing anything, then folks, we have failed in our mission," Goodin said.
He pointed out that the current "short session" of the General Assembly, which began Wednesday and is required by law to adjourn no later than March 14, originally was established solely to address "emergency" matters.
"What could be more dire than protecting at-risk children?" he asked.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, agreed there is a role for the Legislature in understanding what is going on at DCS.
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But Bosma said that role will be for House and Senate leaders to review the findings of the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group in April, and then map out any necessary remedies for potential legislative approval during the 2019 session.
The speaker explained that to take action this year would be all but impossible, because until the Holcomb-selected group publishes its report following a top-to-bottom review of DCS policies, practices and spending, lawmakers won't even know all the issues surrounding the agency.
"I think it's best to have these experts dive in, make some recommendations and then we can act on them," Bosma said.
In response, Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody accused Statehouse Republicans of shirking their responsibility for Hoosier children in crisis.
"The buck stops with the Legislature, unless it means crossing Gov. Eric Holcomb, apparently," Zody said.
"It's Statehouse GOP's job to protect abused and neglected children, but they appear ready to push that responsibility off for more than a year. Vulnerable children can't wait."
Aside from the DCS issue, the legislative session began on a generally cordial note as Goodin pledged to work with Republicans wherever possible to advance good policy, and House Majority Floor Leader Matt Lehman, R-Berne, vowed the Republican supermajority will respect the Democrats.