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Commonwealth's Counties

Update on health and human resources legislation

The General Assembly considered some significant policy changes in the health and human services arena this session, including major changes to the foster care system and efforts to enhance care in local and regional jails.  Below is an update on human services-related bills of interest to local governments.

Foster care

Changes to the state’s foster care system under consideration in this session have been driven by two major factors:  the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s (JLARC) December 2018 report, which was critical of local departments’ ability to meet requirements for children in foster care as well as the Virginia Department of Social Services’ (VDSS) capacity to support local departments, and the major changes to federal funding for foster care enacted in February 2018.

SB 1339 (Reeves), which was co-sponsored by the entire Senate and passed the House unanimously (with an amendment removing the Senate’s funding contingency clause that the Senate will need to consider today), incorporates many of JLARC’s recommendations for improvements to the foster care system, notably allowing the Commissioner of Social Services to develop a corrective action plan for a local department that fails to provide foster care services in accordance with law and to temporarily assume control over the local foster care services and associated funds if the local board failed to comply with the corrective action plan and establishing a caseload standard for foster care caseworkers.  The Senate budget includes a series of budget amendments that would provide additional funds for the proposed caseload standard, direct VDSS to develop a foster care recruitment and retention strategic plan, and direct VDSS to review all cases of children in congregate care and help local departments to find family placements.

Legislation to align the Code of Virginia with the provisions of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 (FFPSA) (HB 2014 (Peace)/SB 1678 and SB 1679 (Mason)) has passed the General Assembly and awaits action by the Governor.  The legislative, executive, and judicial branches of state government have been working since last summer to implement changes to the Title IV-E program which were enacted in FFPSA; VACo is a participant in this workgroup along with many other stakeholders.  Both the House and Senate budgets also include funding (in differing amounts) to assist service providers with compliance with new requirements for services in order to qualify for federal reimbursement.

Local supervision over parks and recreation programs for children

HB 2280 (Head), a bill VACo supported, failed to report in Senate Finance on February 18.  The bill, which was introduced at the request of Roanoke County, would have preserved the current status of child day programs operated by local parks and recreation programs with respect to state oversight by placing them in the category of programs that are not considered to be child care.  The parks and recreation programs would remain subject to safety and supervisory standards established by the local government, as they are today.  Legislation that was enacted in 2018 after a previous attempt was vetoed in 2017 categorizes these programs as exempt from licensure but subject to certain requirements, and potentially subject to additional regulation by the Virginia Department of Social Services in the future.  The 2018 legislation takes effect July 1, 2019, and some legislators felt that changes to its structure in this session were premature.

Bonuses for staff in local departments of social services

HB 2188 (Kilgore) would have allowed a local department of social services to provide bonuses to its staff upon approval by the local board of social services, without requiring that the governing body adopt an ordinance authorizing the bonuses, as is currently required in statute.  The bill was intended to assist with staff retention in local departments.  After VACo expressed concerns about bypassing the governing body in these compensation decisions, the patron agreed to table the bill and work on the issue in the off-season.

Standards for care in local and regional jails

HB 1942 (Bell, R.B.), which has passed the General Assembly, authorizes the state Board of Corrections to set minimum standards for behavioral health services in local and regional jails, including screening and assessment and discharge planning.  VACo and other stakeholders worked with the patron to add an enactment clause providing that affected parties will develop a cost estimate for implementation of the new proposed standards.  This helpful language will allow an opportunity to have further discussions about the resources needed to provide a higher level of care in jails.

HB 1918 (Stolle)/SB 1598 (Dunnavant) began as companion bills that authorized the Board of Corrections to set minimum standards for health care services in local and regional jails, an issue discussed in 2018 by the Joint Commission on Health Care.  SB 1598 was amended in Senate Finance, after being reported by Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services, to add screening for intellectual or developmental disabilities and associated service needs as a component of the standards to be developed.  The House has preferred to retain the original version of the legislation, and this approach ultimately prevailed in conference.  VACo and other affected parties have expressed concern about the inclusion of intellectual and developmental disability screening in the standards, as diagnoses of these conditions often requires more in-depth evaluation than can easily be provided by jail staff, and the services for individuals with these disabilities are more appropriately provided in a community setting than in a jail.

SB 1040 (Peake) would have provided additional resources to jails by requiring the state to compensate local jails for the actual costs of housing state-responsible inmates in accordance with the Compensation Board’s annual report, rather than compensating local jails in accordance with the funding levels provided in the Appropriations Act.  VACo spoke in support of the bill in Senate Finance, suggesting that it presented an opportunity to improve state funding levels and help meet the state’s policy goal of enhancing care for local and regional jail inmates.  The Senate passed the bill after attaching funding contingency language that made its effectiveness subject to an appropriation being included in the Appropriations Act.  No funding was included in the Senate budget for the bill, so the House Appropriations Public Safety Subcommittee, which typically defeats bills that are not funded in either budget, passed the bill by indefinitely last week.

Human Trafficking

The Virginia State Crime Commission released a report in fall 2018 on its study of sex trafficking in Virginia, and a package of bills has been introduced as recommendations of that study, including the following:

  • HB 2597 (Herrring), as approved by the House on Monday, requires a local department of social services to conduct a sex trafficking assessment if a local department receives a report or complaint that a child is a victim of sex trafficking or other types of trafficking addressed in federal law. The bill allows a local department to take a child into custody for up to 72 hours when responding to a complaint of abuse and neglect related to trafficking and sets out requirements for parental notification.  The provisions of SB 1661 (Peake) are similar; the bill is in conference.
  • HB 2576 (Krizek)/SB 1669 (Vogel) establish the position of Sex Trafficking Response Coordinator and task the Coordinator with creating a statewide plan for local and state agencies to identify and respond to victims of sex trafficking, and making a list of programs providing treatment or services to victims of trafficking available to law enforcement agencies, other state agencies, and school divisions, among other duties. SB 1699 has passed the General Assembly; HB 2576 is in conference to resolve the inclusion of funding contingency language.  Funds are included in both the House and Senate budgets for the position.
  • HB 2651 (Yancey), which awaits action by the Governor, establishes a Virginia Prevention of Sex Trafficking Fund, which will be used for promoting awareness of sex trafficking and making preventative training and education available to agencies of state and local government. Funds will be generated by an additional fee levied on individuals convicted of certain prostitution-related offenses.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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