Kansas House and Senate negotiators have come up with an amended foster care task force bill but are working against the legislative clock to get it passed.
House Substitute for Senate Bill 126 proposed creating a task force to research problems in the foster care system and recommend possible solutions by the time the Legislature returns in January. The conference committee expanded the task force’s mission to include other parts of the child welfare system, such as family preservation programs and adoption services, and extended the deadline for recommendations to January 2019.
Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat who participated in the negotiations, said Monday that the revised bill adjusts the task force membership to include fewer lawmakers and more people with experience working in child welfare. It also instructs the task force members to form work groups to look deeper into specific issues, she said.
“I think that it was a perfect hybrid” of the House and Senate’s initial proposals, she said.
Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat, said the House negotiators also were satisfied, but he worries the bill could be lost in the rush to pass tax and education funding plans to end the session.
Monday was the 108th day of a planned 100-day legislative session. Lawmakers still need to close a $900 million budget gap projected for the next two fiscal years and appropriate more money for education after the state Supreme Court found schools were underfunded.
“I think we walked away with a better product after the conference committee,” he said. “I’m happy the conference committee met, and I hope it’s not too late.”
The revisor needs to finish compiling the conference committee report and send it for printing before lawmakers can take a vote, Ousley said. The task force has broad support, but it could get lost if both chambers come to a quick agreement on taxes and education funding, he said.
“That’s my fear, that everything else gets done before that gets printed and given the opportunity to come up for a vote,” he said.
Discussion of a “mega bill” that combined tax and education funding plans indicated lawmakers may need more time to come up with solutions, however. That bill failed 32-91 Monday afternoon in the House.
Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican, said she doesn’t think lawmakers will end the session without voting on the foster care task force bill. It has broad support from the public, she said, and lawmakers will have some time on their hands while committees and leadership work on tax and education plans.
“People want to see something done,” she said. “They’re looking for things to be doing while we’re waiting.”
The House Children and Seniors Committee inserted the task force bill into the shell of a Senate bill in March after collecting testimony from law enforcement, lawyers, foster parents and others involved in the child welfare system. The Kansas Department for Children and Families raised concerns that the initial language could jeopardize federal funding, so the Children and Seniors Committee changed the terms used to describe the task force’s report.
The bill passed the House 120-0 but the Senate voted not to concur, sending the bill to conference committee.
Meg Wingerter is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @MegWingerter. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.