Senate Unanimously Passes Child Protection Bills

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Senate unanimously approved three bills Thursday modifying the state's child protection laws.

Senate Bill 739, the first to pass, would let administrative hearing officers set aside or change administrative child support decisions. Senate Bill 758 requires the state to investigate any case that triggers three or more hotline calls within a 72-hour span. The bill also prohibits Department of Health and Senior Services personnel from calling ahead of a house visit if doing so would either put a child at risk of harm or create a flight risk.

The last of the three bills to pass, Senate Bill 448, creates Sam Pratt's Law, which prohibits any child care providers from providing child care services if criminal charges are pending. The bill also requires any unlicensed child care provers to disclose their unlicensed status to parents.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, called the bills "a step forward to see whether or not we have sufficient protection for children, and to ensure that we do."

Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, said she thought the bills had good intentions, and believed Sam Pratt's Law would work as intended. However, she said the Department of Health and Senior Services currently faces a backlog of cases and needs serious reform in order to carry out its duties more effectively.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 576, which allows charter schools to be established in any unaccredited school district in the state. It also allows charter schools to be established in accredited school districts, but only if the school board is willing to sponsor such a school. Charter schools are currently restricted to St. Louis and Kansas City by state law. The bill also lets the state auditor audit charter schools like any other state agency.

Wright-Jones, one of two senators who voted against the charter school bill, said money for public education needs to go to public schools, not charter schools, vouchers, and other programs.

Schaefer said he felt the bill's provision for accredited districts was a good compromise for both sides of the issue.