Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

March 15, 2012

DHS Reforms Advance

Rep. Lisa Billy
Oklahoma House of Representatives

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — This week was the last one for House bills to be considered in their chamber of origin, and we took up several major issues.

Among the most important were measures reforming the Department of Human Services.

House Bills 3133, 3134, 3135, and 3137 are the framework for the DHS reform package the House DHS working group has been working on since the fall of 2011.

House Bill 3133 authorizes the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth to employ administrative law judges to preside over hearings of the Department of Human Services’ Office of Child Advocacy.

House Bill 3134 directs DHS to change its organizational structure to make personnel responsible for the development of policy also accountable for the implementation of that policy.

House Bill 3135 states that DHS is not prohibited from providing a summary of an individual’s child welfare history to a person who has applied to be a foster or adoptive placement resource or legal guardian with a federally recognized Indian tribe. The bill also provides that DHS is not prohibited from disclosing information concerning alleged child abuse or neglect that has been made public by a law enforcement agency when the disclosure is limited to confirmation of the child’s safety and whether the child has been taken into custody.

House Bill 3136 directs DHS to create a certification process for child welfare workers.

House Bill 3137 gives the Legislature statutory authority to oversee the Commission on Human Services if an amendment to the state constitution giving the Legislature such authority is passed by voters.

All of these measures could change as they move through the process. However, given the unacceptable number of children who have died in state custody, it is clear that major reform of DHS is necessary.

Another bill receiving strong support from both lawmakers and Oklahoma citizens would require welfare recipients to submit to drug testing as a condition of eligibility.

House Bill 2388 would require applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to submit to, and pay for, a drug test. 

Individuals who test positive for drugs would be ineligible benefits for one year unless they successfully complete a substance abuse program within six months.

It is estimated that Oklahoma could save $582,203 if this measure becomes law.

Even more important than potential savings, however, is the ability to identify and assist families with addiction issues. By increasing pressure on those families to get treatment, we can improve their lives and ultimately benefit the entire community.

As always, feel free to contact me at (405)557-7365 or write me at State Capitol Office 302A, 2300 North Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73105.