How safe are Texas children?

Lawmakers to address foster/adoption care reform, abortion practices, religious protections
Texas capitol building image

AUSTIN—A month into the 85th Texas Legislative session, lawmakers continue to press for passage of legislation protecting religious liberties and the lives of Texas’s most vulnerable citizens—pre-born babies and children put into the care of a child protective services system undergoing significant reform.

Senate Bill 6 (SB 6), the Texas Privacy Act, which sets statewide standards for public restroom usage in all government-owned buildings, garnered national attention days before the Jan. 10 opening of the session, but legislators and faith-based public policy leaders are championing bills they hope won’t get lost in an SB 6 public relations battle. Bills regulating abortion and protecting religious liberty continue to divide the legislature along party lines, but overhauling a legally challenged foster and adoption care system has become a bipartisan effort.

“The legislation is extremely active in reform,” Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney told the TEXAN. “Foster Care Redesign, a bipartisan work, is something we agree on.”

Foster Care Redesign is an initiative by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), the agency responsible for overseeing kinship care, foster care and adoption. Sanford said due to short-sighted regulations and legislation over the years the Child Protective Services agency has become a patchwork of piecemeal repairs that do not serve well the needs of children in state care or the employees tasked with overseeing their care.

Sanford plans to file two bills in February that offer relief in the foster and adoption care system. The Home Act would provide legal protection to the state’s faith-based adoption and foster care organizations that make up 25 percent of those agencies. Without the legislation, which failed in the 2015 session, faith-based organizations can be sued for refusing to place children in the homes of same-sex couples. Since 2015 Sanford said the Home Act has gained political and financial support.

And drawing from his own experience, Sanford wants to establish “fostel care,” combining the practices of foster care with hostel accommodations (Hostels, popular in Europe, are sleeping accommodations for travelers seeking an inexpensive alternative to hotels). The bill would provide emergency short-term care—up to two weeks—for children removed from their homes by CPS.

Reports of children sleeping in CPS offices, hotel rooms, or with foster families miles away from their own homes prompted Sanford’s legislation. Three children Sanford had been mentoring were removed from the care of their recently widowed mother and moved out of the region miles away from their schools, friends and community because no foster families in their immediate vicinity were available to take them in.

Had they been certified by the state at the time, Sanford said he and his wife would have gladly taken the children into their home. The siblings, grade-school twins and an autistic teenage brother, were reunited with their mother a week later.

“Fostel care” would create a network of short-term foster homes within a child’s community where children could stay while awaiting reunion with their parents or placement in a more permanent foster home in the area. The program would also reduce the time CPS caseworkers spend travelling to the far-flung homes where children in their care are placed.

Pro-life legislation that recognizes the dignity of all humans—before and after birth—would end dismemberment abortions, the disposal of aborted babies as medical waste, the sale of aborted baby body parts, abortions based on disability, and “wrongful birth” civil lawsuits.

Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit challenging the newly established state regulation requiring abortionists either bury or cremate aborted babies has drawn media attention away from more pressing legislation that actually saves lives, said John Seago, Texas Right to Life legislative director.

House Bill 201, filed by Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, would codify the regulation as law.

“We don’t think [HB 201] is the most pressing legislative issue,” Seago told the TEXAN. “It is only life promoting not lifesaving. … It would be an embarrassment if Texas only debated what to do with the abortion victim’s body this year instead of passing laws that will actually stop the injustice from occurring in the first place.”

Texas Right to Life is focusing its efforts on saving the lives of the unborn, Seago said. The Dismemberment Abortion Ban (SB 415) authored by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and HB 844 authored by Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, would end the procedure by which abortionists cut up the pre-born baby inside the mother’s uterus before extracting the remains.

Pro-life organizations also want to end the sale of aborted baby parts. The practice was brought to light in the undercover videos made public in 2014 by pro-life activists David Daleiden. SB 8, filed by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Bryan, would make the practice illegal in Texas.

Seago said Texas Right to Life hopes to close a loophole left in the 2013 HB 2 legislation that allows abortions past the 20-week ban if a disability is discovered. The Pre-Natal Nondiscrimination Act, or PRENDA, has not been filed but would end all abortions based on disability or sex.

Another bill ascribing human dignity to all people is HB 434 authored by Rep. Ron Simmons, R- Carrollton. The companion bill, SB 25, was filed by Sen. Brandon Creighton,

“Currently in the State of Texas, parents of a child born with a disability may sue medical providers through a claim of ‘wrongful birth’ for failing to inform them that their child would be born with a disability,” Simmons told the TEXAN.

Simmons said a 1975 Texas Supreme Court decision, not state statute, allows the civil action. Simmons said the lawsuits suggest the child and parents would have been better off if the child had not been born. Also problematic, medical providers may be more inclined to promote abortion in order to avoid “wrongful birth” lawsuits.

“These practices are akin to eugenic abortions, and Texas should take every step to discourage the practice,” he said.

Pushback from liberals is expected on most of the life-affirming legislation. Only one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, has consistently broken ranks with his party to support pro-life legislation.

Democrats have filed legislation, HB 165, that counters the anticipated filing of bills that offer religious protections, including the Home Act; legal protections for county clerks and magistrates for deferring same-sex marriage licensure to another county representative; protection for student-operated religious groups from forced membership rules; protection from civil liability for counselors to speak according to their faith.

Covering all of the proceedings in prayer will be the work of the newly established Texas Prayer Caucus, the state affiliate of the National Prayer Caucus. Sanford and Simmons will chair and co-chair, respectively, the organization that Sanford believes will draw Christians from both sides of the aisle “encouraging us to act well.”

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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