Briana Heaney Published

Senate Passes Bill To Increase Foster Care Accountability

More than a dozen law books are shown on a bookshelf.Eric Douglas/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Senate passed a bill that adds accountability and transparency to state run foster facilities. 

Senate Bill 474 creates a new incident review team to review an incident or death of a child under the care of the Department of Human Services (DHS) — formerly part of the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) — or in the care of someone who has worked with DHS within the last 12 months. 

One of the sponsors of the bill, Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, said he hopes this is part of a new day for accountability of DHS. 

“So what we’re trying to do is get to best practices,” Woelfel said. “That is, how did this child die? What were the circumstances? And if you look at the bill, we have seven different members on this team with different backgrounds. So I really think it’s a way we can get to best practices.”

He said he is optimistic that after the breaking up of the DHHR and the implementation of new leadership in the system that works with children in foster care and courts will work better than before.

“It’s not a punitive measure. This is a remedial measure,” he said. “I want to make sure that if something does happen to a child, one of our most vulnerable citizens, that we remediate that situation so that it’s not replicated.”

The Senate passed other notable bills to outlaw patient brokering, a bill to protect health care workers privacy, and a law pertaining to Canadian domestic violence offenders. 

Senate Bill 475 seeks to outlaw patient brokering by some drug rehabilitation organizations in the state. Woelfel said that patient brokering can lead to human trafficking in the state and that many patients at recovery facilities can be asked to work for free or have their entitlement programs abused by the facility. 

Patient brokering is — I’ll give you an example,” he said. “Patient brokering is where you drive on a bus from East St. Louis, Illinois, you load it up, and you move it to West Virginia. And you bring all those folks in here convicted felons, and you exploit them. And when the benefits are gone, they’re out on the street with no way home. And obviously, there’s a likelihood of relapse. So we see patient brokering addressed in this bill. And we see human trafficking addressed in the bill, which is real.” 

Many health care workers’ license information is available online and some of that information can contain highly personal information like someone’s personal phone number or home address. 

Senate Bill 477 would remove some of health care workers’ personal information from state websites. 

One of the authors of that bill, Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, said the bill would keep health care workers safer, and reduce the amount of threats doctors in the state receive on their personal phones, or at their homes. 

“I mean, we see it all the time where people are showing up, that have psychiatric illness to the darker tones, and threaten their families or threaten the nurses,” Takubo said. “It just protects their homes. They’ll still have their workplaces and that’s on the list obviously, but not their personal homes.” 

House Bill 4252, or the Uniform Recognition and Enforcement of Canadian Domestic Violence Protective Orders Act, also passed in the Senate with four nay votes and now heads to the governor for his consideration.