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The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
Proposed legislation from the Tennessee General Assembly in this year’s legislative session offers no relief for children says a source that spoke confidentially with The Tennessee Conservative.
“With tortuous reports on DCS flooding news sources, a responsible legislator might look to the functionality of the agency instead of just pumping more dollars into their coffers,” said our source.
In July 2022, Governor Bill Lee replaced his 2019 appointee Jennifer Nichols with current DCS Commissioner Margie Quin.
Both commissioners came to the agency from a background of government prosecution and criminal investigation. Nichols was a West Tennessee prosecutor, and Quin is from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
“The original public policy of family reunification seems to have gotten lost in the metamorphosis of the agency from 1996 to the present,” said our source. “No one in the December 14, 2022, joint committee seemed to catch this.”
While Tennessee children languish in the state’s care, proposed legislation seems to have only one goal, and that is: To focus on Commissioner Quin’s promise of “more for your money.” Under Quin’s new administration, that means a lot more money. The budget for this agency has already reached a billion dollars a year, and her request for an additional $156 million is the largest budget expansion in a single year since its creation.
Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield-District 25) and Representative John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge-District 33) proposed legislation to extend DCS past the Sunset provisions at the end of December and it passed the senate on first consideration on January 10th, 2023. This law, Tennessee Code, Title 4, Chapter 29, was created to eliminate agencies that are ineffective, and to make sure the agency is serving the welfare of Tennessee citizens.
“The senate apparently feels that no committee discussion is needed on this important legislation,” said our source. “Perhaps because they don’t want to hear from those who have been vocal about the abject failures of this agency under twelve years of a Republican administration.”
HB0203 and companion senate bill SB0037 extends the Department of Children’s Services to June 30, 2024, and requires the agency to submit quarterly reports to the chairs of the government operations committees with updates on their progress in addressing the audit findings, and requires DCS to appear before a joint evaluation committee no later than June 30, 2023.
“The public and the children of Tennessee can likely anticipate that DCS will hire (on taxpayer dollars) an expert to flesh out a better way to cover up the misery of children taken into custody by Commissioner Quin,” said our source. “As a historian of DCS, this is the way of the past and likely to continue.”
A Democrat sponsored bill would compel the agency to reduce case levels to a maximum of 20 cases per case manager necessitating an increase in hiring. While Governor Bill Lee was encouraged by the hiring of 52 new caseworkers last week, and claimed that his administration has begun to address the employee turnover problem by increasing pay for DCS staff, the agency remains woefully understaffed and will likely remain so.
“It is hard to imagine that the agency will be able to attract enough newcomers to help DCS meet this quota,” said our source. “And what if they don’t? There is no remedy. The Commissioner doesn’t go to jail or get fined for her failure to comply. It’s just another ho-hum useless piece of legislation.”
Senator Page Walley (R-Savannah-District 26), who once served as commissioner of DCS, proposes that foster parents be reimbursed for car insurance for foster children. There is no fiscal note attached to SB0164, but this expense would certainly be paid for by Tennessee taxpayers since there is no federal reimbursement for foster child car insurance.
Another Democrat bill would institute a pilot program to extend the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over juvenile offenders until the age of 25.
“This bill is a reflection of the staggering increase of a problem that Tennessee seems unable to solve,” said our source. “This bill does not suggest what should happen to those children ages 18 to 25. Nor does it suggest what kind of services these children would need. It is yet another empty promise that offers no real solution.”
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org.