Legislative Focus: 2014 bills affect OCS policy
By Liz Clement, Community Relations Manager
Many bills made it through the legislative process in 2014. Here we focus on three whose passage will directly impact our work in the Office of Children’s Services.
Senate Bill 108 makes confidential certain court records associated with charges that are dismissed, or when a person is formally acquitted by the court. Confidentiality would take effect 120 days from the date charges are dismissed or the person is acquitted. The idea behind SB 108 is that, in the United States, people are innocent until proven guilty — and public access to accusations not affirmed by a court should not forever punish a person who was charged but not ultimately convicted of a crime.
While the general public will no longer have access to this information, OCS staff and certain others who work to protect vulnerable Alaskans will retain the ability to review all the information that has so far been available to us. While OCS works with a wide range of people and does not judge individuals based on accusation alone, this continued access will allow us to keep protecting Alaska’s children to the very best of our ability.
Senate Bill 171 better aligns state statute with the intent of Multidisciplinary Child Protection Teams (MDTs), created to support the children OCS serves. The improved statute will encourage more responsive and collaborative partnerships with state, municipal and tribal agencies, and others with expertise in child abuse or neglect — and will keep them at the table, from creation to implementation. By reducing duplicative interviews and other stresses, this coordinated MDT response is critical to minimizing trauma to children OCS serves.
Senate Bill 187 criminalizes the publication or distribution of sensitive personal information obtained during interviews with children in the course of child protection investigations. Exceptions are made for release to certain medical providers, and where specifically authorized by court action, or federal or state law.
SB 108 was introduced by Sen. Fred Dyson (Eagle River). Both SB 171 and SB 187 were introduced by Sen. John Coghill (North Pole) in response to concerns brought forward by the Children’s Justice Act Task Force. All three await transmittal to Gov. Sean Parnell.