Senate Judiciary

Feb. 8, 2023


Sen Stubblefield Call this meeting of the Senate Judiciary to order. First item of business. Senator Clark, you have someone that you’d like to introduce.


Sen Clark I do. Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have with me today shadowing me. Doc Washburn was on the KRN for years and has a national podcast now.


Sen Stubblefield Good morning, Doc. Good to have you here.


Washburn Good to be here. Thank you very much.


Sen Stubblefield All right. We are waiting, I think Senator Irvin said she’d be here in 15 seconds. So I’m counting down. Isn’t there’s song about waiting on a woman? That’s what I thought. Yeah, I guess I better be careful. 


Sen Stubblefield Senator Irvin, when you get to the end of the desk, if you want to identify yourself, you’re recognized.


Sen Irvin Thank you. Members of the committee, I apologize. Busy Health committee upstairs. So appreciate your indulgence.


Sen Stubblefield Do you have your button on?


Sen Irvin I do, yes. Senator Missy Irvin, District 24.


Sen Stubblefield Yeah, we can hear you.


Sen Irvin Okay. Members, this is an update to our Safe Haven Act. I just want to acknowledge the good work done on this legislation by former Senator Cecile Bledsoe. She has been a really a champion that started this legislation with a lot of us. So I think this update is a is a great update to the law. And I’m going to let Rose Mims from Arkansas Right to Life come up to the table and just really talk about the bill so that we can just be respectful of your time if that’s allowed. Mr. Chair?


Sen Stubblefield Yes, Miss Mims If you want to come to the table and state your name for the record, you’re recognized to speak.


Mims ARL Good morning. It’s Rose Mims, Arkansas Right to Life. And this, like Senator Irvin said, is an amendment to the bill that we passed in 2019 that allows for volunteer fire departments or actually any fire department if they are staffed 24-7 to have a safety device, a safe haven baby box installed in a fire department for the anonymous surrender of an infant from a parent who could not parent that child and wanted to make sure it was in a safe place. So what  Representative Mayberry discovered, though, that her own fire department in Hensley, Arkansas, was a volunteer fire department, so it did not qualify to get a safety device, but that there was an EMS station right near it that was staffed 24-7. So she wanted to see if possibly we could come back and amend the law to allow any fire department in Arkansas that would have emergency services nearby that could meet the response time, which is, you know, less than 5 minutes if a child is put in the box for them to be, you know, taken care of and checked out medically and then got custody by DHS. So that is the the the reason that Representative Mayberry came with this amendment to safe haven. But then we also understood that there was a need for any woman who delivered a baby in a hospital to be able to invoke the Safe Haven Law if she wanted to surrender her baby after birth. So this law, this bill also includes that so that she can surrender her her baby right there, not have to leave the hospital, come back in and deliver her baby under the Safe Haven Act. So that’s it in a nutshell. I’d be happy to answer any questions that you may have.


Sen Stubblefield Alright committee, you’ve heard the explanation of the bill. Are there any questions from committee? Senator Gilmore?


Sen Clark Have a motion at the proper time.


Sen Stubblefield Alright we have a motion at the proper time. We have one more individual who would like to speak for the male. You still want to speak for the bill? Cindy Miller?


Sen Stubblefield If you would state your name for the record.


Miller MFD Cindy Miller.


Sen Stubblefield You’re recognized speak, ma’am.


Miller MFD Thank you. I just wanted to say I am the office manager at the Maumelle Fire department, and we have a safe haven box, and we have had a surrender, So with putting them in volunteer departments that have close medical services, especially in the rural areas would be, the bill would be wonderful. I mean, it needs to have the availability for the boxes to be in other areas other than cities or just in town.


Sen Stubblefield Okay. All right. Any question for members? Seeing none, would you like to close for your bill?


Sen Irvin Yes, thank you and I appreciate the work that these first responders all across the state of Arkansas are doing to step up to save babies lives. I mean, it’s really commendable to hear these stories of these babies who are being, you know, taken care of by our first responders out in the field. And I think, you know, coming from a rural part of the state of Arkansas and being able to have the availability of this, I think is important. But also, I think the language that she referred to, which is on page 2 to where a mother can surrender that baby in the hospital after she delivers the baby versus walking outside and then walking back in with the baby. I think that’s just a safer approach and I think it’s really being able to invoke the Safe Haven Act at the point of of impact. And I think for a young mother who is overwhelmed and, you know, doesn’t know where to go and how to take care of this baby in those circumstances, you know, to be able to have the ability to do that, I think is incredibly important for us to support her in that decision that she’s making at that moment. So thank you. And with that, I’m closed for the bill and I appreciate a good vote.


Sen Stubblefield Okay, Senator Irvin is closed for the bill we have a motion on the floor do pass. Senator Gilmore and have a second, Senator Magie, any discussion? All those in favor say aye. All opposed? Congratulations your bill passes. 


Sen Flowers Chair recognizes Senator Stubblefield to present House Bill 1144. Senator Stubblefield, you can proceed.


Sen Stubblefield Okay.


Sen Flowers Ms. Clark, you can recognize yourself. Turn on the mic.


Clark AOC Hello, Committee. Thank you for allowing me to join you all today. I’m Kristen Clark with the Administrative Office of the Courts. And do you want to present the bill and I’ll just answer questions?


Sen Stubblefield Yeah, I’m going to tell just a brief story before I start this won’t take just a second. Most of you in this room know me. You know how I grew up. We grew up very poor. When I was a little boy and there were families all around us that were poor also. But one day, I’ll never forget as long as I live, there was a daddy, three kids and his wife. And one morning he just got up and left. And he left and never came back. And the mother was very sick and those little kids roamed the roads, those country roads, for weeks and weeks, asking people for food. I know, because we supplied them food. And I’ve always wondered about when you keep the family together. It’s one of the greatest things we could do for society, not just for the kids, but economically. Keeping a father at home and keeping that family together. And that’s what this bill does. It’s a specialty court bill. I don’t think there’s that many of them. It’s voluntary. And with that said, I will let..


Clark AOC So this is a bill to propose a family treatment specialty court that is established actually in the juvenile division of circuit court. This bill is a result of the work of the Specialty Court Program Advisory Committee, which is actually a committee that was created legislatively and has a mix of membership from various stakeholders. And with that, I’ll be happy to answer any questions that you all have about the specifics of the bill.


Sen Flowers Thank you, Ms. Clark. My practice has been centered in large part around in juvenile court and the dependent neglect cases that I’ve worked on, at least in before 2018, when I kind of limited my practice, I saw more multidisciplinary groups that the judge in juvenile court would assign for these families to deal with whatever issues they had. How is that different from what you’re proposing in this bill?


Clark AOC So, Senator Flowers, thank you for the question. In many ways, this bill is going to allow for some additional supplemental services in addition to what normally happens in a dependency neglect case. This takes those out of the normal review process and allows for intensive supervision with the families who’ve agreed to participate in this. But that’s really the primary difference, is it’s a little more intensive look at these cases. Supplemental services with the consent of DHS and of course, the other stakeholders it, too. And as you know, many times when you have the staffing in a normal dependency neglect case, those family centered meetings don’t always include all of the stakeholders. In this particular tract. All of those stakeholders are members of the team and would be allowed to participate.


Sen Flowers Well, I’m a little confused because I look at the services that can be ordered by this family treatment specialty court. And you say it shall be supplemental to the services provided by DHS. Also, the services that are listed here are things that I’ve seen judges order. So, I mean, do we not have consistency in juvenile courts across the state? Is that why this is needed?


Clark AOC Well, as you know, again, since you’re a practitioner in this area, one of the issues with DHS is– let me back up. I don’t want to say that the issues with DHS. But we know that the resources that are available to families who find themselves in dependency neglect proceedings vary a great deal from location to location. So while DHS may be able to provide services in an area like Pulaski County, the services that are available, say, in Desha or Chico County, are are different. And so, again, many of these programs have grant funding that come to them. And the grant funding also allows for the judges and the teams to work with additional treatment providers to try to get treatment or behavioral health services to these families a little bit easier than just when a DHS worker makes that typical referral.


Sen Flowers But the caseworker would be involved from DHS.


Clark AOC Yes, absolutely. Caseworker would be a member of the team.


Sen Flowers One of the things that I notice when I think had close to the last case on dependent neglect, they didn’t allow the lawyer into these sessions. And that was concerning to me. When you represent a client that’s been alleged to be a person that has neglected their dependants. So is there anything in here that allows a person before the court to have their attorney present?


Clark AOC There is. So when you look at the members of the team, it’s very clear that an attorney who’s acting as counsel for a parent, a guardian.


Sen Flowers What pager are you on?


Clark AOC This is on page four of the bill, and this begins with line 20 and 21. So we’ve, in the drafting of this legislation, those rights of the parent have specifically been protected. And not only does this allow an attorney for a parent from whom custody has been removed, but in many instances the mother and the father may not be together. So it allows the an attorney for a parent from whom custody may not have been removed to participate as well in this. It also includes some procedures, some safeguards, because this is a more informal process to ensure that there are certain topics that do not get discussed during the staffing, for example, changes to custody or changes to visitation. Those issues should be resolved actually during a hearing so that due process is given to both parents in that situation. And even if you have a parent who has not opted to participate in this particular specialty court program, the other parent is still allowed to attend so that they are present and can hear and be involved in not only the family centered meetings that DHS is required to provide, but also the staffings that would happen in the specialty court setting.


Sen Flowers Thank you and I appreciate that. I have two other inquiries and one is, the fiscal impact of this and whether this specialty court is voluntarily set up by the different judicial districts across the state or what.


Clark AOC So, yes, it is a voluntary program. Currently, there are three of these family treatment courts that are being piloted. There’s one in Jefferson County. There’s one in Lawrence County, and there’s one in Benton County. The funding for these treatment courts typically initiates with grant funding, and at some point, local entities have to decide whether or not they want to step up and continue funding those programs. But the the money that comes from the grants, again, funds the staffing positions for this of the specialty treatment coordinator and then also for some of those supplemental services.


Sen Clark Ms. Clark, is this type court in place somewhere else in other states?


Clark AOC So, yes, it is based on the model treatment that we have for national standards with all specialty courts. So it is in place in other states. If you want to know the specifics of all of those states, I don’t have that information with me today, but I’d be happy to get it for you.


Sen Clark Are there any states that you know of close to us?


Clark AOC I don’t have that information today, but I’ll be happy to get it for you, Senator Clark.


Sen Clark Okay. I don’t see any of these people in the room. Do you know where DCFS is on this?


Clark AOC So I do. When the bill was initially filed, there was a stakeholder meeting that involved DHS. It involved parent counsel, it involved COSSA and Ad litems and the amendments to the bill that were presented by Representative Dalby are as a result of that work with all of the stakeholders coming together. So it’s my understanding that they are all supportive of this particular bill.


Sen Clark I don’t see them here to testify for it.


Clark AOC They’re not here to testify against it.


Sen Clark Yeah, I see that.


Sen Flowers You have another question, Senator Clark?


Sen Clark I do have. Do you have locations in mind?


Clark AOC So as I was sharing with Senator Flowers, currently they’re being piloted in Benton County, Lawrence County and Jefferson County. At this point, since you all haven’t authorized this wide, wide scale, we don’t know where the circuit judges would want to actually try to establish these. The other check in this process is the circuit judge would have to include this in the administrative plan and provide all of the detailed information that’s required by the Supreme Court’s administrative order number 14. We know that administrative plans will come due again for the circuit courts and the district courts on July one. So I think that if this goes into effect and it has an effective date of sometime this summer, that we would anticipate seeing more of these being established across the state.


Sen Clark And if I may, Madam Chair? Walk me through, make it simple for me, what you see as the difference in happening in a case between normal court and this court.


Clark AOC So I will tell you, as someone who has practiced in juvenile court before and has served as parent counsel and an ad litem, I, too had that question when we initially started talking about this. And it’s my understanding that what this does is it provides an opportunity to have grant funding come in and support, provide additional support. It also allows for there to be a coordinator come in and who is going to help facilitate and coordinate those services. So in some instances, you have a DCFS caseworker who’s going to make referrals out based on what the court has ordered, and that may be the end of it. They are, they’ve done what their part is and they’re just waiting for the provider side to schedule the drug and alcohol assessment or the substance abuse assessment or to get them in for individual or family counseling. One of the advantages of having a family treatment court is you’ve got another person who does not have that same caseload as the DCFS worker, and that’s the treatment coordinator who can in turn follow up with these referrals, make sure that services are actually being offered, not just referred, that are actually being received. And then this person also is going to coordinate with the different parties for these staffings, which are a separate type of staffing than the family centered meeting that happens according to DHS guidelines and their policy. So it’s a little more intensive look and help with these families, particularly if they’ve got substance abuse or behavioral health issues, you’ve got another set of eyes who can help coordinate this treatment so that it’s not entirely dependent on a DCFS worker who has a significant caseload in addition to this. And then, of course, you’ve also got supplemental funding that might be available.


Sen Clark Okay. If I may ask one more question, Madam Chair?


Sen Flowers Go ahead.


Sen Clark The, if, well, mind went blank.


Sen Flowers Senator Tucker. You’re recognized. His mind went blank, he said.


Sen Clark Thank you, Madam Chair. I just want to take a moment and thank you, Senator Stubblefield and Representative Dalby and Ms. Clark for bringing this. This is very admirable work to keep families together, but it’s also very effective because it lowers future crime rates or if someone’s already committed a crime, it lowers recidivism. Families have better financial outcomes and just better across the board. So this is a type of program that is both it makes us feel good, but it’s also the smart policy for us to have as a state. And I just want to thank you for for bringing this bill and creating these courts. Would you agree?


Sen Flowers Senator Gilmore.


Sen Gilmore Thank you, Madam Chair. And I, too, would just like to echo that. And I want to thank the chair for for bringing this bill, the chair on both ends, actually, of this building for doing this. Because to echo my colleague Clarke Tucker’s point, this is good legislation. This is the kind of stuff we want to see come through here that helps families. And obviously, you know, we want to try to mitigate long term effects of of the breakdown of the family. And I think this bill certainly will help mitigate some of that. So wouldn’t you agree, Senator Stubblefield, that this bill would do that?


Sen Stubblefield (Inaudible)


Sen Flowers Turn your mic on.


Sen Stubblefield This will do exactly that. The ultimate goal of this bill is to keep families together, and that’s the best thing for society.


Sen Gilmore Thank you for bringing the bill.


Sen Flowers One last thing. Ms. Clark, can you tell us a little bit about the results of these model specialty courts that have been set up in these areas that you mentioned? And I thought I heard you say Pulaski when you first started identifying where they are.


Clark AOC So Pulaski does not have one currently. They are piloted in Jefferson County, Lawrence County and Benton County. 


Sen Flowers For how long?


Clark AOC For about one year. And I will tell you that in some ways, these are similar to the the initiative that DHS led. It was the safe baby courts, like 0 to 3 courts. You may be familiar with the work in some of those. So in some ways they’re similar to that work, but they’re still new. And so although we do collect data in our skills application that’s specific to specialty courts, they’re new enough that we don’t have a great deal of data available.


Sen Flowers Is there a plan to gather the data and present it to the General Assembly?


Clark AOC Yes, ma’am. So as you all are aware, there is a requirement that’s in the specialty court program, subchapter of the code that requires us to collect that data and to provide that information to you all upon request. And I believe there’s actually an annual reporting requirement too that we have to comply with. So, yes, that data will be collected and shared.


Sen Flowers Thank you. Senator Clark, you have another question?


Sen Clark Madam Chair, that was my question was about reporting. And so I would hope that we would see reporting on this particular court to the Children and Youth.


Clark AOC I will make sure it happens.


Sen Clark Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.


Sen Flowers Any other questions from the committee? If not, is there someone in the audience signed up to speak for or against? Seeing no, Senator Stubblefield, would you like to close for your bill?


Sen Stubblefield Yes, Madam Chair. I’m closed.


Sen Flowers What’s the will of the committee? Motion from Senator Tucker and second, Senator Gilmore. All those in favor? Opposed like sign. Bill passes. Congratulations. Thank you, Miss Clark.


Sen Stubblefield Well, seeing no other bills on the agenda. Anyone have any discussion? Seeing none, we are adjourned.