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STATEHOUSE REPORT FROM REP. NANCY DEMBOWSKI

May 31, 2012
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06/01/12  A legislative session draws most of the public’s attention, but it is during the interim when most of the detail work is done by members of the Indiana General Assembly.

From now through the end of the summer, lawmakers will begin meeting in interim study committees to look at some of the more pressing issues facing the people of Indiana. These months between sessions give us the time we need to determine if a particular matter deserves consideration as legislation.

Study committees usually come in two forms:

There are groups that meet every interim to study issues under a broad umbrella. For example, legal issues are generally examined by the Commission on Courts and the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee, while the Commission on State Tax and Financing Policy regularly looks at our state’s tax code.

Then there are groups that are formed to study topics that have gained attention through the media and public concern. This summer, there will be a committee to look at the numbers of specialized license plates that are issued by the state of Indiana, another committee to examine outdoor stage equipment safety, and a third group to study recent policies enacted by the state Department of Education regarding such areas as teacher licensing and grades for school improvement.

From my perspective, there is one issue set to be studied this interim that demands full public examination: the sorry record of the state’s Department of Child Services (DCS) in protecting abused and neglected children across Indiana.

There is a Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee that has the general charge of reviewing the progress and improvements made by DCS since Gov. Daniels formed it in 2005.

Has there been progress or improvement? The answer is a simple and emphatic no.

Since 2007, at least 25 Hoosier children have died in incidents that share one thing in common: the failure of DCS to take action when officials were advised by concerned citizens that these children were being abused or neglected. DCS has become the living embodiment of a bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to care about the people it is supposed to protect.

These facts have gained statewide attention since the start of this year, but the only actions taken by the administration to protect children have included hiring a private firm to improve DCS’ public relations. Indiana has been lauded for the Legislature’s efforts to pass laws to improve the transparency of reporting the deaths of children, but given failing grades in legal protections for those children.

The interim study committee is supposed to conduct a thorough look at DCS and recommend changes. The fact is that this study should have started back when the 2012 legislative session finished last March. Committee members already should be traveling Indiana and talking to the people who have seen the failings of DCS and know what has to be done to re-affirm our commitment to our most vulnerable Hoosiers.

I will keep you posted on this committee’s progress in the months to come.

One other point about interim study committees must be made.

Look over the list of topics to be studied and you will notice one glaring omission:

Job creation.

It appears the powers in charge of the Indiana General Assembly do not feel that economic development is an issue worthy of consideration this interim.

To take such a position when so many Hoosiers are still looking for work is an embarrassment.

Here’s how you can stay in touch if you have any questions, comments or concerns:

Call my office toll-free at 1-800-382-9842;

Write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204; or

E-mail me at H17@in.gov.

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