The Counsel for Kids campaign rang in the New Year with the melody of multi-state legislative action to advance children’s right to counsel. Three states have made children’s legal representation a priority area for policy development.
In Florida, Senator Lauren Book sponsored SB 948 in a renewed effort to establish a Statewide Office of Child Representation and guarantee counsel for children in licensed foster care homes. Unlike last year’s bill (which did not pass), SB 948 is accompanied by companion bill House Bill (HB) 1549. On January 11th, the first hearing was held before the Children, Family, and Elders Committee. Lived experience experts and child welfare law practitioners testified in support of the bill—which passed unanimously. The bill drew significant interest from multiple media outlets. It now awaits hearing by the Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. Mirroring HB 1549 was referred to Children, Families, and Seniors, Health and Human Services, Judiciary, and Appropriations House committees and has not yet been scheduled for public hearing at the time of this writing. NACC submitted a letter of support for SB 948.
In Indiana, SB 180 was filed in January, initially proposing a guaranteed right to counsel for children in child welfare proceedings. During a January 10th public hearing on this bipartisan proposal, testimony was taken from a number of stakeholders including attorneys, foster parents, and judges. Consideration was also given to an expert affidavit offered by Professor Emeritus Don Duquette regarding cost savings linked to children’s right to counsel. The committee voted unanimously in favor of passing the bill on to the Appropriations committee. The media response was swift. On January 20th, while assigned to the Appropriations committee, the bill was amended to request that an interim study committee consider the implications of this potential reform. This amendment passed unanimously. As a state with a biennium budget, Indiana generally passes legislation with fiscal impact every other year. NACC is optimistic about continued momentum on this issue in 2023. View NACC’s letters of support for original SB 180 and its amendment.
Colorado is also using legislative reform to align its children’s legal representation statute with nationally-recognized best practices. In Colorado, children in child welfare proceedings must be appointed an attorney guardian ad litem. New legislation, HB 22-1038, would require the appointment of a client-directed attorney for any child age 12 and older. The bill would also establish the party status of the child in court proceedings. Media attention and support from lived experience experts for the proposal began before the bill was formally filed. The bill is committed to the House Judiciary committee, but will go to Appropriations if a fiscal note is assessed.