By Elizabeth Hewitt, VTDigger.org
The Senate gave unanimous preliminary approval to S.9, a hefty child protection reform package, in a roll call vote Wednesday, Feb. 25. The bill has loomed large on the Senate’s agenda since the beginning of the session and followed a lengthy summer study.
“To say that this is an important bill would be a tremendous understatement,” Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said as he introduced the bill, reminding lawmakers that Dezirae Sheldon, a two-year-old who had been in DCF custody before being returned to her mother, died in her home about a year ago. “A child’s life should mean something, Mr. President.”
S.9 aims to address inconsistencies in the child protection system between counties and improve communication around child protection cases. The bill includes a 10-year penalty for the crime of failing to protect a child.
The bill that Sears reported to the Senate on Wednesday is a much-revised version of the bill as originally proposed. Some sections, including one that empowered social workers to remove a child from a home when there is imminent risk of harm and another that established a child protection advocate position, were removed due to budgetary constraints or popular opinion.
The words “illness” and “pain” were also struck from a section of the bill that defined risk of harm after they sparked public outcry that parents that choose not to vaccinate their children could face charges.