The Georgia General Assembly convenes on Monday, January 9, 2012, for the 2012 legislative session, which is the second year of the 2011-2012 biennial session.
The Barton Center's 2011 legislative priorities fall into three areas: Legislative Advocacy, Budget Advocacy, and Agency Advocacy. Summaries of the priorities are listed below or you can read a PDF document with a more detailed description of the Barton Center 2011 Legislative Priorities.
JUSTGeorgia Juvenile Code Revision
The Child Protection and Public Safety Act will help thousands of children and families across Georgia. The Act is the product of years of study and collaboration by the State Bar of Georgia, Georgia’s child advocacy community, juvenile courts, agencies, universities, and other child welfare and juvenile justice professionals. If enacted, the Act would
- Enhance public safety;
- Help abused and neglected children transition from foster care to successful adulthood;
- Promote accountability in juvenile court proceedings;
- Prohibit the use of juvenile jails and prisons for children who have not committed a crime;
- Protect millions of dollars in federal funding by ensuring compliance with federal laws related to abused, neglected, and other at-risk children.
Revising Georgia’s Human Trafficking Statute
Human trafficking is a human rights violation, and when it is perpetrated against a child it is also child abuse. By conforming Georgia's recently enacted anti-trafficking statute to more closely conform to the State Model Law and learning from the examples of other states, Georgia can more effectively prosecute all those who exploit children and create a framework for providing services and compensation to all their victims. Specifically, Georgia should adopt clearer definitions and incorporate forfeiture, restitution, and victim protections.
The Runaway Youth Safety Act
Youth who run away from home are vulnerable to exploitation, as well as increased risk of diseases, substance abuse, and suicide. They need a safe place to go where they can be protected from these risks in critical early hours on the street. Unfortunately, Georgia law criminalizes the provision of short-term, emergency services to runaways. Georgia needs to follow the lead of the majority of states and adopt a limited exception to allow emergency stabilization services to runaway youth.
Designated Felony Reform
One of the benefits of juvenile court is its individualized rehabilitative focus. Current law related to designated felonies does not provide the flexibility to individualize responses to youth charged with these offenses. Designated felony reform that provides greater ability to tailor responses to individual children’s needs and progress will help Georgia strike a better balance between community safety, offender accountability, and brighter futures for children.
Involvement in 2020 Georgia
Georgia is in the midst of a budget crisis of historic proportions. We need a balanced approach to budgeting that takes into account both revenues and cost cutting to ensure that Georgia can continue to provide its citizens with critical services. 2020 Georgia’s common goal is to promote budget and revenue solutions that meet the short and long-term needs of our state and its people. 2020 Georgia advocates for reform guided by three basic principles:
- Balanced approach. For a faster, more sustainable recovery and future prosperity, innovative funding and revenue solutions are needed instead of relying solely on cuts to public services as available resources fall far short of need.
- Address the immediate crisis and plan for the future. More than ever we need long-term strategies and lasting solutions that thoughtfully invest in education, public safety, health, the environment, and our state’s natural and cultural resources to ensure Georgia’s prosperity.
- Promote competitiveness. Georgia can’t meet the demands of a growing population while collecting the same amount of revenue in 2010 as 2005. We must reform our outdated revenue system to both meet current needs and position our state for further growth.
Creating a Comprehensive Home Visitation System in Georgia to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect and Improve Health Outcomes for Young Children from Birth to Five
Under the recently passed federal health care reform, there is now federal money to increase funding for home visitation programs. Delivering these services requires a state infrastructure that does not currently exist in Georgia. The Barton Center is working with the Home Visitation Working Group of the Birth to Five Coalition to develop strategies to maximize the impact of these dollars, particularly with regard to promoting child health and well-being through the prevention of child abuse and neglect.
Psychotropic Medicine Oversight
Children in the foster care system are more likely than other children to need and receive mental health services, in part because of the abuse and neglect they have suffered. Children enrolled in Medicaid are more likely to be prescribed psychotropic medication than children with private insurance, and children in foster care are more than three times as likely as other children with Medicaid to be prescribed psychotropic medication. A recent study published in Pediatrics found that over 40% of children in care who receive psychotropic drugs are prescribed three or more different types of medication, and that “concomitant psychotropic medication treatment is frequent for youth in foster care and lacks substantive evidence as to its effectiveness and safety.”
Georgia is responsible for the safety and well-being of the children in its care and, therefore, has a special duty to ensure that foster children are only being medicated when it is truly necessary and that their medications are carefully monitored to avoid unhealthy side effects or drug interactions. Though Georgia’s juvenile courts provide excellent oversight in most areas, judges lack the medical expertise to determine the appropriateness of a child’s mental health treatment.
Other states that have addressed this issue provide useful models for how Georgia can fulfill its duty to ensure children in foster care are only prescribed medication when absolutely necessary. The most common approach is to provide for independent review of the medications a child is given by a licensed physician experienced with psychotropic medications at the request of the juvenile court or one of the other parties to the civil abuse and neglect proceedings. Georgia needs to create a mechanism for independent review of foster children’s medication in order to promote optimal mental and physical health for the children in Georgia’s care.