INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
The two most powerful Republicans in the Indiana Legislature said they do
not plan to take major action to address a growing crisis in the Department
of Child Services during this year’s session, which kicked off Wednesday.
The move by House
Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate leader David Long will help shield Gov. Eric
Holcomb while his administration regroups from the first major criticism the
Republican has received since taking office roughly a year ago.
festering at the child welfare agency erupted into public view last month
when director Mary Beth Bonaventura penned a scathing resignation letter.
She accused Holcomb’s administration of management changes and service cuts
that “all but ensure children will die” at a time when the opioid epidemic
has made number of child welfare cases skyrocket.
braced for fallout Wednesday when they gaveled in the 10-week session. They
acknowledged Indiana faces a systemic “crisis,” with at least twice the
number of kids in the child welfare system than other nearby states with
But while Democrats
called for hearings and suggested lawmakers play an important oversight
role, Long questioned whether they were “equipped” to do so.
“I don’t think the
Legislature should be out there with major hearings going on until the end
of session,” said Long, of Fort Wayne. “I don’t think we’re effective at
Instead, he and
Bosma, of Indianapolis, argued that a group brought in by Holcomb to conduct
a review should be given time to finish their work, which is not expected to
be done until the session is over. That will likely postpone any action by
the Legislature until the 2019 session.
questioned that wisdom.
“We have a duty to
know before we leave this session, are the children of this state being
adequately protected or not?” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tim
Lanane, of Anderson.
In an emailed
statement, Holcomb spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson said the governor plans to
“work closely” with lawmakers.
“There is no higher
priority for our state than ensuring Hoosier children are healthy and safe,
and it’s a priority shared by both Indiana’s lawmakers and the governor,”
For the first time
in years, the Republican supermajorities do not have an overarching goal
they plan to accomplish this year. Still, Bosma said lawmakers face too
tight of a turnaround to do much to address DCS this session, which is
shorter than in years when a new state budget is approved.
“It doesn’t matter
that this is a short session,” said Democratic House Minority Leader Terry
Goodin, of Austin. “As I recall, the purpose of a short session is to
address emergency matters. What could be more dire than protecting at-risk
cases shot up across Indiana more than sixfold between 2000 and 2015.
Evansville’s Vanderburgh County, with a population of 179,000, had more
children of drug users enter foster care than major cities including
Seattle, Miami and Las Vegas. And in Marion County, cases involving drugs
went from about 20 percent of foster children in 2010 to 50 percent five
DCS’ recent annual
report paints a bleak picture: The agency would need to hire 180 new
caseworkers in order to meet a case minimum requirement set in state law. It
also has trouble retaining those who are hired for the demanding job, which
pays about $33,000 to $35,000 a year.
parents portray an agency in perpetual triage, with a staff stretched so
thin that they often have little choice but to cut corners.
In many ways, it
seems like a repeat of the past, lawmakers say.
“The same stories
that we all heard from case workers in the past, I’m still hearing,” Long
said. “It’s not Gov. Holcomb’s fault - it’s a systemic issue.”