JACKSON -- A seven-member committee would be established to help with the creation of the freestanding state Division of Child Protection Services, which is being formed as part of the settlement of a federal lawsuit.
The state House approved legislation Monday by an overwhelming 115-3 margin to establish the new agency.
The creation of the new Division of Child Protection Services is part of the settlement of a federal lawsuit filed against the state for its administration of Mississippi's foster care system. The state, including Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood, has conceded problems with the foster care system and has agreed in a court settlement to many of the changes in the legislation passed Monday by the House.
Currently, the program is administered in the Office of Family and Children's Services of the Department of Human Services.
But under the legislation and the court order, the Division of Child Protection Services will be a free-standing agency by July 1, 2018.
The Housed passed the legislation and multiple other bills Monday in its normal manner. There were no demands that bills be read to slow the process as occurred last week when members of House Republican leadership and the Legislative Black Caucus battled over redistricting of the three state Supreme Court districts.
The Black Caucus said the change pushed through by the Republican leadership could make it more difficult to elect African-Americans to the nine-member Supreme Court, which currently has only one black justice.
While not spoken, it is presumed that the Supreme Court legislation might be killed in the Senate, where it is currently located.
An agreement was allegedly reached by both sides before representatives left for the weekend.
At any rate, legislation was taken up Monday in the House with regular, sometimes heated debate, but no procedural delays.
Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, said the bill establishing the freestanding Division of Child Protection Services is a good start in fixing the state's embattled foster care system.
"This is just the beginning of a long transition process," Barker said.
The key, Barker said, will be garnering an additional $34 million in the appropriations process to hire more social workers and other personnel to help with the foster care system. The hope is that state funds can be garnered to hire an additional 200 social workers and family protection specialists.
Bryant already has named former Northern District Supreme Court Justice David Chandler to administer the new agency. Under the legislation, Chandler would face Senate confirmation.
The legislation now goes to the Senate.
Pending in the Senate already is a proposal by Senate Appropriations Chair Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, that would break out the children's services agency, but merge the Division of Medicaid and the Department of Rehabilitation Services with the Department of Human Services, which administers various federal services, such as the Temporary Aid for Needy Families program.
It has been estimated the administrative costs for the three agencies is a little less than $250 million per year, though, mostly in federal funds.
Many people involved with Rehabilitation Services have expressed concerns that programs for the disabled would not be a priority in the new agency since Medicaid and Human Services are such massive agencies with large budgets.