Monday, October 3, 2011

Governor Vetoes Conference-Sponsored AB 1147

Assemblymember Yamada
To the great surprise of the bill's sponsors - the CCBA and the Women's Lawyers of Sacramento - and pretty much everyone else, Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Sunday vetoed AB 1147 by Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis). The bill would have specified that, in cases involving teen parents in foster care, the reports social workers already are required to prepare include information regarding what services were being provided to the minor parent to provide a permanent and safe home for the child.

The purpose of AB 1147 was to confirm (or not confirm) that what the Legislature had decided needed to be done in 2004 (SB 1178, Kuehl, the Teen Parents in Foster Care Act) was being done - and to do so in the most cost-effective manner possible, by simply adding another question or two to an already-required report. As noted in CCBA's letter to Governor Brown requesting his signature, AB 1147 provided for the "collection of necessary and valuable information with an absolute minimal investment of time, energy and money."

The bill received strong support from the National Association of Social Workers, California Chapter (NASW-CA), as well as the Children's Law Center of Los Angeles, the Children's Advocacy Institute, California Women Lawyers, the Family Law Section of the State Bar, and other legal and women's groups. Both legislative fiscal committees agreed that the bill had minimal cost. In fact, the only opposition to the bill came very late in the year from the Department of Finance, which posed the interesting theory that, while it would cost very little to comply with the bill's requirements, any bill that changed an existing program that was being realigned in any way could make the entire program again subject to reimbursement claims. The concerns did not persuade the Legislature, both houses of which approved the bill unanimously.

Governor Brown, however, saw things differently from everyone else. In his veto message, the Governor said that while "(n)o one can question the desirability of minor parents in foster care receiving whatever help they need to become good parents," he did not believe AB 1147 would further that goal. Brown argued that the current case plans social workers are required to file every six months "chronicle every aspect of the foster child's life, including whatever is needed to become a good parent. . . Placing in statute one more specific plan element, as this bill does, just adds to the bureaucratic complexity without really assisting the foster your to live a better life. . . The more time adults in the foster care system spend writing and reading reports, the less time they have for the guidance and human caring that make the real difference."

While one can admire Brown's desire to elevate personal caring over insensitive bureaucracy, the veto message misses the point of AB 1147, which is to ensure that teen parents in foster care are receiving the services the Legislature and a former governor decided they should have. Unfortunately, the unequivocal nature of the veto message strongly suggests that another way will have to be found to achieve this goal.

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