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House Committee approves CHINS bill returning power to prosecuting attorneys

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A bill giving prosecuting attorneys the ability to file a Child in Need of Services petition continues to garner strong support in the Indiana General Assembly.

The House of Representatives Committee on Family, Children and Human Affairs unanimously passed Senate Bill 164 at its meeting Wednesday. Authored by Sens. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, and John Broden, D-South Bend, the bill allows prosecuting attorneys to request authorization to file a CHINS petition.

Previously, the Senate approved the measure by a 49 to 0 vote.

Holdman served as co-chair of the Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee which made numerous proposals for legislation addressing growing concerns over the handling of child abuse cases by DCS.

Testifying before the House committee, Holdman said the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council had asked that prosecutors once again be given the power to file CHINS petitions. Prosecuting attorneys had this ability previously, but when DCS was spun off from the Family and Social Services Administration, the state code was changed.

“We asked around and no one really knows why that occurred,” Holdman said.

Prosecuting attorneys told the interim study committee that the ability to file these petitions gives them another tool to use with families and helps keep the pressure on local DCS attorneys where the prosecutor believes a CHINS proceeding would be more appropriate.

Suzanne O’Malley, testifying on behalf of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, echoed Holdman.  

“We do support the bill,” she said. “It gives us an option in the case where we’ve got a child that may be doing some criminal things that we would consider filing charges on but would prefer not to and allow them to go through the CHINS system instead.”

 An amendment has been added to the bill giving the prosecuting attorney an option once the petition has been filed. The prosecuting attorney can follow the case all the way through until it is disposed of by the court, or the attorney can agree to return the matter to the DCS lawyer and let the department follow the case.

“In most cases, I’ll just tell you having been a former prosecutor, you would want to pass that back to the DCS attorney to follow that because they’re going to be involved with the family and those issues, not on a criminal case or probation type of case,” Holdman told the House committee.

After the hearing, Holdman described SB 164 as one of the DCS bills that has been introduced to provide better protection for the children and give families and providers more voice.

“With John Ryan coming on the scene, and I can only hope with our new director coming on in a few weeks, it’s just a new day for DCS,” Holdman said. “We have seen nothing but cooperation from John Ryan. It’s been a breath of fresh air.”  

Ryan was appointed DCS director when former director James Payne stepped down in September 2012. In January, Gov. Mike Pence named Lake County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura to lead the agency.

 

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