Texas legislators from both chambers unanimously passed bills on Wednesday that would change how the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services cares for vulnerable children.
The simultaneous debates in both chambers came as advocates have pushed for months for lawmakers to take drastic measures to fix the state’s broken child welfare system. Gov. Greg Abbott announced the issue as one of four emergency items during his State of the State address in January.
House members passed House Bill 4 with a vote of 145-0 to allow monthly payments for relatives caring for children in their families who have been abused. The chamber also passed House Bill 5, which would make the Department a standalone agency, with a vote of 144-0.
“Today the House showed that improving child protection is among our highest priorities,” House Speaker Joe Straus said in a statement. “We have taken a couple of very important steps toward providing better protection and care for children in terrible circumstances, with more to come in the weeks ahead."
Meanwhile, the Senate voted 31-0 on Senate Bill 11, a far-reaching bill from the upper chamber.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted to send SB 11 for a floor vote last week. State Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s Workgroup on Child Protection, is the bill’s lead author.
The bill would create a so-called community based care program in which the Department contracts with local non-profit organizations to handle casework. Other provisions include a pilot program for non-profit organizations to handle behavioral health care for children, requiring managed care organizations be notified of a child’s placement change within 24 hours and requiring children under conservatorship to have medical exams within three days of entering into the system. The bill would also require the Department to retain abuse and neglect records for longer periods of time.
“Today’s actions by the House and Senate are a significant first step toward reforming the child welfare system and creating a culture that gives every child a chance to not only survive, but thrive in Texas," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement.
Julian Aguilar, Morgan Smith and Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.