Legislators: Amendment could bog down emancipation extension bill

Some legislators and others worry a bill aimed at extending the emancipation age for foster children to 21 may get bogged down because the Senate Finance Committee wants to add new provisions.

State Sen. Bill Coley, vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said he wants to attach language from the Foundation for Government Accountability for a program called “Safe Families” to the emancipation extension bill. The Liberty Twp. Republican said the bill is designed to protect families who have fallen on hard times from losing their children.

Coley said the bill would provide community support, such as church groups or neighbors, who can care for the children until the parents can get back on their feet, without the parents losing custody.

“It allows a loving caring family to wrap their arms around a family in need and help out,” he said. “There is little or no government involvement other than maybe running background checks for people. But other than that, we stay out it, and the state, ODJFS, cannot use participation in this program to claim mom surrendered custody because that’s not what this is about.”

State Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, R-Marysville, said Coley it trying to attach the new language that involves giving temporary care-givers power of attorney over the children, either to House Bill 50 or Senate Bill 240. Her bill has already cleared the House, but passage there dragged a bit in part because it included language that pertains to guardianships. Pelanda said she sees those two topics as aligned. She is studying Coley’s amendment, but said at first blush, it doesn’t appear to be germane.

“House Bill 50 addresses children and adults who have been adjudicated abused, neglected, dependent or incompetent. So the thrust of House Bill 50 is an attempt to address some of the inequities in the court system,” she said. “So I certainly want any amendment that would be considered for House Bill 50 to be germane to inequities in the court process.”

When House Bill 50 was first introduced, the appropriation to extend foster care emancipation to age 21 was $300,000 this year to plan and $4.5 million worth of state and federal funds to implement in 2017. In the version that passed 28 to 3 in the House Finance Committee, the new price tag was $550,000 for planning purposes and $24.5 million — $9.7 million state share — for implementation.

Pelanda said the bill stipulated that the emancipation extension must be funded by the state, but the fund allocations were removed.

The federal government passed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act in 2008 that allows the use of federal dollars to expand foster care. There are 26 other states that have adopted similar legislation.

Sen. John Eklund authored Senate Bill 240, a bill that virtually mirrors House Bill 50 last November. The only real differences are the funding amounts and this bill does not have any guardianship components. The new senate bill includes $550,000 for planning but only $12.4 million to put the plan in action. Eklund is concerned about Coley’s add-ons.

“I have some trepidation about it frankly. Not that the idea is not a good one, but Senate Bill 240 is not going to have an easy go of it I’m afraid,” he said. “When you start adding more stuff on top of it that could further encumber the process. So I’ll have to further consult with Sen. Coley and the members of the finance committee before I would agree to do that.”

State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Green Twp. in Cincinnati, was a co-sponsor for Eklund’s bill. He hadn’t heard about Coley’s amendment but said it sounds like it is germane to the emancipation issue, but the sponsors have to be on-board.

“Typically if the sponsor of the bill says I’m okay with it unless it upsets my bill, that would be the direction it would go,” he said. “You’d run it up the flag pole. You see if it threatens to upset the bill. If it does threaten to upset the bill then Bill Coley would likely withdraw it.”

Coley said he doesn’t think his amendment will bog down the bill at all and in fact he said he thinks it will be quickly passed.

Eklund wasn’t so sure. He said if HB 50 is the vehicle chosen to move the issue there are concerns over separation of powers because judges would be required to pass out pamphlets published by the Ohio Attorney General on guardianships and other problems with the guardianship nugget. With his bill, the appropriation he thinks will give his colleagues pause.

“The policy behind Senate Bill 240 and the house bill are very much aligned and I think very appropriate and I support them 150 percent,” he said. “I’m just waiting for somebody to start raising their hand and say we don’t have the $8 million we need to do this and where are we going to get the money not just this year but in years going forward. Those mechanical, pesky little details give me some need to be careful with Senate Bill 240.”

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