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Relating to investigations of child abuse and neglect and the procedures for adding names to or removing names from the central registry of child abuse and neglect.
Estimated Two-year Net Impact to General Revenue Related Funds for HB 2055, Committee Report 1st House, Substituted : a negative impact of ($2,435,163) through the biennium ending August 31, 2023.
The bill would make no appropriation but could provide the legal basis for an appropriation of funds to implement the provisions of the bill.
HB 2055 is intended to overhaul the procedures for adding or removing names from the central registry of child abuse and neglect. The bill provides for a process of categorizing the severity of offenses that get a person's name put into the registry, places statutes of limitations for inclusion in the registry based on the level of severity or the person's age at the time of the offense, and establish an expungement review panel. Many significant provisions of the bill are explored in more detail below.
HB 2055 would require the Department of Family Protective Services to assign a severity code to each substantiated finding of abuse or neglect made by the department in an investigation. These would include "low, moderate, serious, severe, near-fatal, and fatal." The department would be allowed to retain records related to an investigation after a person has been removed from the central registry in order to perform background checks and conduct risk and safety assessments.
HB 2055 would require the department to maintain the person's name in the central registry for child abuse and neglect until the fifth anniversary for "moderate" cases, the 15th anniversary for "Serious" cases, the 30th anniversary for "Severe" cases, and the 99th anniversary for "Near Fatal" or "Fatal" cases. "Low" level cases would not be not placed in the registry. If the department's finding of abuse or neglect is sustained by an administrative law judge, the department must maintain the person's name in the central registry until the 20th anniversary or the designated date, whichever is longer.
HB 2055 would require the department to remove from the central registry the name of any person whom the department made a finding of abuse or neglect when the person was younger than 18 years of age if two years have passed, the department has not made any subsequent finding of abuse or neglect, the person has not had a juvenile offender adjudication for any act other than the same incident, and the person has not had any criminal adjudications for an offenses involving child abuse or neglect.
HB 2055 would require the Department to provide written notice to a person before their name is placed on the central registry with a clear statement of what the registry is and an explanation of the consequences of being listed in the central registry.
HB 2055 would establish an Expungement Review Panel, which does not apply to persons alleged to have abused or neglected a child in a child-care facility, or to school investigations. The department would be required to establish an expungement review panel to review requests to have a person's name removed from the central registry. This panel would be composed of department employees and a representative of the public appointed by the commissioner. Members would serve two-year terms and may serve for not more than three terms. Persons convicted, indicted, determined by the department, or under investigation for child abuse or neglect are not eligible to serve on the expungement review panel. These members would be considered department volunteers and are immune from civil or criminal liability for any act or omission that relates to their duty or responsibility.
HB 2055 would require individuals who want to remove their name from the registry to submit a written request to the commissioner including a letter describing the reason for the request. Only parents, guardians, or managing or possessory conservator of the child, a member of the child's family or household, and a person with whom the child's parent cohabits would be allowed to make a request to have the person's name removed. This would not be allowed to be done before the third anniversary of the finding. If the panel denies the request, then the individual may not submit another request until the first anniversary.
Individuals found guilty of child-fatality or near fatality, a court order termination of the parent-child relationship as a result of the abuse or neglect, or following the date of the determination, the department makes another substantiated finding of abuse and neglect are not eligible for a review from this panel. After receiving the request, the panel would be required to hold a hearing not later than the 60th day after the request is received. The person at this hearing would be allowed present evidence including the completion of treatment services, letters of support, evidence of activities that reflect upon the person's changed behavior or circumstances, and any other relevant evidence. The regional office that conducted the original investigation may present evidence in support of opposition to the request, and make a recommendation regarding the request.
HB 2055 would require the panel, not later than the 45th day after the hearing, to render a written decision on the request, which is rendered by majority vote. HB 2055 would further require the panel to consider the nature and severity of the allegations, the number of findings of abuse or neglect, whether the person was a child at the time of the finding, whether the contributing circumstances exist, actions taken by the person since the incident, and any other relevant information. HB 2055 would then limit the number of these panel hearings to four.
HB 2055 represents an attempt to curb the excesses present within the Department of Family and Protective Services which all to often infringe on the rights of Texans without proper due process. However, there are several problems with this bill.
The expungement panel this would be composed of members of the organization who are considered volunteers along with a token member of the public. At best this would be a kangaroo court unlikely to do anything other than rubberstamp department polices. This represents a denial of due process that would result in a serious loss of civil liberties (being branded a child abuser). Families such as the Pardos would not have been helped by this bill.
In addition, the bill does not allow any individual located on the registry to apply to get off, but only those who were related to or cohabitated with the child who was abused.
Overall HB 2055 is a less than ideal response to the very serious problems at DFPS, however to the extent that the bill represents a modest improvement over the status quo, Texas Action remains neutral on HB 2055. This bill could be vastly improved by amending it to add the language of HB 1190 which would require a final conviction by a court before a person's name could be included in the registry.