Senate Democrats' goals in the realm of human services include:
Preserve and Protect Public Safety. Senate Democrats understand that public safety is government's top job. Over the past 15 years, we have followed a three-part strategy to make Washington the safest state in America: 1) reduce the risk of ever becoming a criminal; 2) expand proven treatments that help offenders solve their underlying problems and lead crime-free lives; 3) end the "life of crime" cycle by preventing second, third or next crimes. This strategy has worked. Washington's crime rate is at a 20-year low, the state has slashed crime rates 10% more than the rest of the country, and our incarceration rate is one-half the national rate. But there is more work to do.
Reform Child Welfare & Child Welfare Finance. Keeping children safe is a top priority for Senate Democrats. We also know that children's life-long health and well-being is improved when we keep families safely together. Unfortunately, child welfare law has long been driven by federal regulations and funding rules that incentivize out-of-home placement of children. This year, we took several actions to change this and to position the state to take advantage of new federal waiver and reform policies.
Sustainable Public Assistance Programs. Senate Democrats are committed to assisting Washington families out of poverty by providing assistance to children; removing barriers to work; and helping parents develop the tools they need to work. The Great Recession placed great stress on our safety net--at times, caseloads were 40% higher than before the recession began. Over the past two years, Senate Democrats have led the way on reviewing and reforming our WorkFirst practices.
Strategic investments and reforms passed in 2012:
Improve Washington's Becca law. This bill requires schools to share school performance information with the court when a truant is under the court's jurisdiction, focuses resource on students who are 16 and under, and clarifies when a judge may issue a bench warrant for a truant. (SSB 6494 - Hargrove)
Ensure accountability for youth who commit crimes. This bill allows a judge to complete a deferred disposition by vacating the conviction at the successful conclusion of the deferral period and enter a separate civil judgment for any unpaid restitution. (SSB 6240 - Regala)
Reform the way we evaluate and treat individuals who are believed to be incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness. This bill sets jails as the default location for competency evaluation, establishes performance targets for the completion of those evaluations, and shortens the time for competency restoration for persons accused of Class C felonies or nonviolent Class B felonies. (SSB 6492 - Hargrove)
Expand child abuse reporting. In response to the Penn State sex abuse case, this bill makes administrative, athletic and academic professionals in higher education mandatory reporters. Other personnel are required to report suspected abuse to a supervisor. (ESSB 5991 -- Kohl-Welles)
Implement Family Assessment Response, a proven practice for keeping families together when abuse or neglect is suspected, but there is not an imminent risk of serious harm to the child. Within defined standards for safety, the bill authorizes a system for delivering specific, time-limited services to families without requiring a legal finding of child abuse or neglect. (ESSB 6555 - Hargrove)
Expand the uses of evidence-based practice in child welfare, juvenile justice and children's mental health. This builds on Washington's successful track record in requiring evidence-based practices in juvenile court, by requiring the agencies that deliver child welfare, juvenile justice and children's mental health to examine their current practices and develop a plan for expansion. (E2SHB 2536)
Expand legislative authority for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This will repeal old language that gave the executive branch control over TANF block grant moneys, programs and policies. (EHB 2262)
Reduce administrative barriers in Working Connections Child Care. This allows for 12-month authorization of benefits and specifies clearly when families must report a change in their lives that affects eligibility. (SB 6226 - Frockt)