Public Comments for 02/13/2023 Courts of Justice - Subcommittee #2
SB784 - Judicial Retirement System; appearance as counsel.
SB810 - Injunctions; petitions for review.
SB811 - Interlocutory orders, certain; jurisdiction of appeals, immunity.
SB817 - Attorney fees; written notice of lien requirements, validity and amount determinations.
SB835 - Juveniles; prohibited sales and loans, clarifies definition of sexual conduct.
SB845 - Immunity of persons; tort actions, assertion of immunity, attorney fees and costs.
SB895 - Interlocutory decrees or orders, certain; appeals.
SB987 - Guardianship and conservatorship; periodic review hearings.
Attached is a letter explaining why I think SB987 could, at the end of three (3) years, • ADD $1.6 Million to $2.4 Million to expenditures for adult Guardians ad Litem • ADD 2300 hours of Circuit Court Judges time at cost of $127,000 (assuming $55/hour for a judge) • Significantly impact Circuit Court Clerk’s staff time • Seriously harm families who don’t qualify for indigent appointment of attorneys, costing the families upwards of $3000 per year for reviews. -- ross hart, Salem VA
SB1025 - Witnesses; exclusion, governmental agencies and other entities.
SB1031 - Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission; exception to confidentiality.
SB1033 - Guardian ad litem; appointment for minor witness.
SB1089 - Writs of eviction; returns to issuing clerk.
SB1144 - Guardian ad litem; appointment, requested information, records, or reports.
It’s about time we hold guardians accountable! Please pass this bill as soon as possible.
SB1214 - Child abuse and neglect; custody and visitation, possession or consumption of substances.
SB1306 - Twenty-fifth judicial circuit; designation of courtrooms.
SB1314 - Judgment or child support order; pregnancy and delivery expenses.
SB1367 - Child abuse or neglect; definition, child engaging in independent activities without supervision.
My attached documents are one page of talking points on the problems with SB 1367 and a one page fact sheet of the problem with leaving small children in cars alone.
I am unable to attend this afternoon’s Subcommittee meeting due to a personal obligation. I would like to provide my comments to SB 1367. One of my roles as Children’s Ombudsman is to provide some oversight over the Commonwealth’s child welfare system to ensure that it is functionally promoting children’s safety and preserving family integrity. I understand the reasoning behind SB 1367 but am concerned about the proposed amendments to the definition of abused and neglected child in Va. Code §§ 16.1-228 and 63.2-100. I agree that the activities described generally should not be considered as abuse or neglect. However, the bill whittles away our definition of abuse and neglect by creating a vague exception that could be open to misinterpretation and misapplication and lead to harm or a risk of harm to children. Some of the language is problematic as it leaves much to interpretation as to what is “appropriate” without much guidance. Also, it is questionable whether the “willful and wanton” language would cover situations in which parents are under the influence of substances that could lead to a lack of supervision (Can a person who’s high or intoxicated act willfully or wantonly?). Finally, I’m not sure we should be providing specific examples of these independent activities when errors in parental judgment could lead to increased risk of harm. We continue to have children die in hot cars. We should not be sending out the message that it’s sometimes ok to leave kids alone in cars. Moreover, who determines whether the activities are appropriate for the child or whether the lack of supervision was wanton and willful? If this isn’t deemed to be abuse and neglect, CPS would have no authority to assess those circumstances. So when a social services agency receives a CPS complaint alleging abuse or neglect involving a parent allowing their child to engage in these independent activities, the agency is going to have to validate the complaint in order to determine whether the activities were appropriate for the child and whether the lack of supervision was wanton and willful. This may be contrary to the original intent of the bill which was to prevent governmental interference when parents allow their children to engage in such independent activities. More importantly, however, I am concerned that some agencies may screen out cases that pose legitimate safety issues when they do not receive enough information to make that determination. I think there would be some unintended consequences as a result of this well-intentioned bill. Thank you, Eric Reynolds, Director Office of the Children's Ombudsman
There are two main problems with this piece of legislation - whether the law is needed and if enacted what would be the unintended consequences. Currently in Virginia, I believe this bill is unnecessary. Social workers have the power to make decisions about social service interventions that allow parents reasonable latitude. I am not aware of any major cases recently that refute this. In addition, when social services are intervening in cases of this type, generally the cases, if they are actually determined to be actionable, are put in an Assessment Track so that the agency can give services to families rather than sanctions. In addition, with the advent and recent implementation of the federal Family First legislation, fewer children are being taken into foster care when they can be placed with family members instead. What may have been a problem several years ago I do not think it's a problem today. There seem to be many possible unintended consequences with this bill. In helping the parents, we may be hurting the children. For example, the legal interpretation of some of the added the wording in this legislation adds complexity to the process that may delay or negate services being offered to families that really need them. This delay may increase the harm to the children, especially the young vulnerable ones, before the services are implemented. On another note, mistakes in parental judgment can lead to serious injury or death of a child. In Virginia currently, even though it isn't the law, we can say that you should never leave a small child alone in a car. And yet Virginia still sees children dying in hot cars every year. When it becomes okay under certain circumstances to leave young children in cars, I think we can anticipate more children dying as a result. What seems to be reasonable one minute, because of changing circumstances may not be considered reasonable in terms of the child's safety the next minute. I am requesting you to please consider tabling this bill until it can be reviewed further regarding the need for this legislation and its possible unintended consequences.
To develop into socially and emotionally healthy adults, children need age-appropriate independent activities. The kind we adults had when we were children. Walking home from the library or bus stop. Delivering neighborhood newsletters. Playing at the park. Sadly, many parents fear allowing such healthy childhood activity out of fear that an anonymous neighbor will report them to the authorities. This fear is not imagined. Parents and children know this has happened, and this has a profoundly chilling effect on what should be a normal and healthy childhood. I have raised two children and been a teacher for 30 years. I know that it is deeply damaging to a child's socio-emotional development when the adults in their community send them social cues that we do not believe in them. It is unconscionable for adults to allow this kind of psychological harm to children. Virginia's children need the freedom to grow into healthy and resilient problem-solvers and citizens. They need outdoor play, and age-appropriate independent activities are the best way for them to be health and to learn, grow, and become the resilient people that will continue to make our commonwealth great. Please vote YES on SB1367.
SB1443 - Parents Advocacy Commission; recommendations for establishing, report.
As the Children's Ombudsman, I am requesting that that subcommittee support Sen. Deeds' SB 1443. This study was recommended by the Workgroup that was convened last year pursuant to SB 396 in its Report submitted to the House Courts Committee chairman last November. I appreciate Sen. Deeds carrying this Bill on the Workgroup's behalf. (I am unable to attend the subcommittee meeting due to a personal obligation.) Thank you