[r22] Protecting Hoosier children

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Monday, June 24, 2013

The 2013 legislative session may have ended, and with it some of the excitement surrounding the General Assembly, but the interim provides an opportunity for members and the public to take a more in-depth look at the issues which affect our state the most. Various issues stemming from ISTEP+ to Medicaid to child care will be studied in interim study committees, which will shape future legislation to be discussed next year.

This past session, I worked as a co-sponsor on Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 125, a bill that passed overwhelmingly in the General Assembly and was signed into law by the governor, which establishes a multi-branch Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana. The commission will begin meeting in the coming months and will aim to ensure that all Hoosier children live in an environment which allows them to grow into healthy and productive adults. 
For the first year, the commission will be chaired by Supreme Court Justice, Loretta Rush. Commission members will include representatives of the legislative, judicial and executive branches in collaboration with the Department of Child Services. This is a historic effort for the state in its collaboration to best serve Hoosier children and a demonstration of our state’s steadfast commitment to protecting the most vulnerable among us. 

This commission will give us the chance to build upon some of the great steps we have already taken to keep Hoosier children safe. One of the bills I had the pleasure of overseeing in my role as Chairwoman of the Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee was House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1494. It requires employees and volunteers of certain child care providers to undergo a national criminal history background check. This law will go into effect July 1.

Without these national background checks, offenses committed outside of Indiana could go unnoticed. The current, limited background checks are processed by the State Police and only include crimes within the state, but national background checks cast a wider net, looking at every state, and are processed by the federal government. This is a much more effective way for Hoosiers to know that the person caring for their loved ones doesn’t have a criminal background.

In addition to the work I will be doing at the Statehouse this interim, I also have a project that I am working on back home in the district which will address the issue of teen suicide. This is a problem which, unfortunately, our community has experienced several times.
I will be working with community leaders, including Pastor John B. Lowe of the New Life Christian Church, to design an approach in which we can work with local schools to help troubled teens and hopefully lower the teen suicide rate. I am confident that this collaboration will serve our community well. It is important for faith-based
organizations to have a strong presence in our community and in the lives of our youth.

In order to complete my job to the best of my abilities, I need the continued feedback of community members like you. In particular, as I begin my appointment on the commission, I want to hear what you would like to see us address this summer. More specifically, I’m interested in the top 5 issues of importance to you and your family. 

Please do not hesitate to contact me. I can be reached by email at H22@iga.in.gov or by phone at 317-232-9616. When we put our heads together and collaborate, it is then that we can enact the best public policy. We all have the ability, big or small, to make a positive difference in the lives of children across Indiana and create a culture of communication and collaboration when it comes to the safety and well-being of Hoosier children.