MT senator announces child protection bill while visiting Missoula children’s shelter

U.S. Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., was in town yesterday and stopped by Watson Children’s Shelter.

While there, he learned about the shelter’s operations from Director Fran Albrecht, talked to some of the kids staying there, and announced a new bill – the Protecting Children from Interstate Child Endangerment Act.

The Missoulian article provides a good synopsis. Here’s the full press release from Walsh’s office:

Walsh sponsors legislation

to strengthen federal law to protect children

Senator announces legislation

during tour of Watson Children’s Shelter in Missoula

(US SENATE)—During a tour of the Watson Children’s Shelter in Missoula, Senator John Walsh today announced legislation to protect children by strengthening federal child endangerment laws.

The Protecting Children from Interstate Child Endangerment Act corrects the inconsistencies across state child abuse laws and creates a uniform federal law for prosecutors to federally prosecute child abusers.  Currently, laws vary from state to state making it difficult to prosecute offenders who cross state lines.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

“This bill gives law enforcement the tools they need to keep our children safe from negligence and abuse,” Walsh said.  “Having a uniform child endangerment law across the country will ensure every child will have equal access to justice, and it will make our communities a safer place to raise our families.”

During Walsh’s time as Lieutenant Governor, Governor Steve Bullock signed into law legislation expanding Montana’s child protection laws, creating a new offense of criminal endangerment to prevent child abuse in the state.

Walsh’s bill uses the Montana state law as a model for federal policy and creates offenses for the following forms of child endangerment, which currently do not carry a federal penalty:

  • Placing children up to age 14 in the physical custody of individuals who are known to have purposely or knowingly caused bodily injury to a child.
  • Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance, in violation of the law of the State in which the motor vehicle is being operated, while the child is in the motor vehicle.

The federal law would establish a penalty of $50,000 and/or 10 years in prison.

What Montanans are saying about Walsh’s bill:

“Working with over 1,000 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault ever year, we see very clearly the devastating effects of child abuse on victims and their families,” said Melinda Reed, Executive Director of the Friendship Center in Helena.  “This new law will provide much needed protection to children across the country, and hold abusers accountable with tough new penalties.”

“Thank you Senator Walsh for sponsoring a bill that will create consistency across state child abuse laws,” said Paula Samms,  Director of the Lewis and Clark Child Advocacy Center of AWARE Inc. “Hundreds of children a year tell us the details of the abuse they have suffered at the hands of the adults they have trusted. These adults need to be prosecuted and these children need to be protected.”

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Montana senator, representative: Let our kids ride lead!

Within a half-hour of each other I received two press releases on the same topic: kids and lead in ATVs. One release is from the office of Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester; the other is from Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg.

I’ve posted them both below, in their entirety, so you can make of them what you will, free from Missoula Mom’s editorial judgment.

Voila!

Tester’s ‘common sense’ Dirt Bike proposal in line to pass Senate this week

Measure will allow children to use smaller, safer dirt bikes and ATVs

(U.S. SENATE) – As the Senate finalizes plans for a bipartisan debt deal this week, lawmakers are also expected to pass a proposal by Sen. Jon Tester allowing motorsports dealers to again sell safer dirt-bikes and all-terrain vehicles for use by children.

Tester has long pushed for using “some Montana common-sense” to amend the Consumer Product Safety Act of 2008.

The law was designed to keep dangerous products, like toys with lead, out of the hands of young children.  But the law has forced many motorsports dealers and repair shops to stop selling and repairing dirt bikes and ATVs for use by children because the vehicles contain internal lead parts.

As a result, some parents are allowing their children to ride unsafe, adult-sized vehicles.

“Toys containing lead that kids can put in their mouths pose a real danger for young children,” Tester said.  “But dirt bikes are different than toy dinosaurs, and I’m pleased that the Senate finally corrected this overreach because in Montana and rural America, riding motorized vehicles is part of our outdoor heritage.”

The Senate bill also protects second-hand sellers like thrift stores and flea markets from being liable for selling products that contain lead.  As of Monday afternoon, the bill was awaiting approval by Senate Republicans so that the bill could be approved on a voice vote.

Tester originally introduced his Dirt Bike Bill in March of 2009.  He has continued to push for its passage.

Rehberg’s ‘Kids Just Want To Ride’ Act Passes House

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Montana’s Congressman, Denny Rehberg, today praised the House Passage of legislation regarding the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) which included his legislation to end enforcement of an overreaching prohibition of lead in youth-sized ATVs, off-highway motorcycles and snowmobiles.  Rehberg’s bipartisan Kids Just Want to Ride Act was added to a larger piece of legislation sponsored by Rep. Mary Bono Mack (CA-45).  It ensures federal regulators won’t force children to ride more dangerous adult-size off-road vehicles.  It also protects jobs throughout the country by allowing dealers to continue selling and repairing the safer youth-sized ATVs, motorcycles and snowmobiles.

“Today, we took a critical step to permanently correct a regulation that was putting our kids at risk and destroying jobs,” said Rehberg, a rancher from Montana.  “Whether it’s riding a 4-wheeler on a ranch in Jordan, a weekend snowmobile adventure with the family in Cooke City or a youth motocross race in Helena, kids are safer riding youth-size machines.  Ending this regulation lets dealers sell and service these safer machines just makes sense, and it creates jobs, too.”

In 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in response to public alarm over the lack of production standards in children’s products.  Unfortunately, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is responsible for enforcing the CPSIA, refused to exclude ATV, motorcycle and snowmobile engines, brakes, wheels and suspension parts from the CPSIA despite the fact that it’s very difficult for children to physically handle these parts.

In response to concerns that children were going to be forced to ride more dangerous off-road vehicles intended only for adults, Rehberg fought for and succeeded in getting a temporary delay of enforcement from the CPSC.  But the year-long stay of enforcement is not enough, so Rehberg introduced the bipartisan Kids Just Want to Ride Act to solve the problem legislatively.

“This is wonderful news for families around the nation who enjoy responsible motorized recreation,” said Rob Dingman, president and CEO of the American Motorcyclist Association. “It is vital that legislation clear the full Congress and be signed into law by President Obama not only because it will allow families to enjoy riding together, but also so that children aren’t forced to ride adult-sized machines that they may not be able to ride safely.”

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Underwear not fun to wear if bought secondhand

Connie Schultz has a column up today about a proposal from Michigan state Sen. Bruce Caswell that would make sure parents of kids in the foster care system only spend their clothing allowance on used clothes. Caswell is backing off the proposal fast, but the controversy over used versus new clothes rages on.

What I want to know is: Would the proposal have applied to children’s undergarments as well?

I ask because underpants are one thing I absolutely refuse to buy from thrift stores – and most of my family’s clothing was purchased at such places (with a few notable exceptions).

Rarely do I ever see brand-new underpants – let alone children’s underpants – in secondhand stores. It’s also tough to find seasonal shoes that fit my kiddo (like rain boots in the spring, sturdy sandals in the summer, snow boots in the winter, etc.). Socks in good shape are also hard to come by in my daughter’s age range – probably because kids her age are pretty hard on their clothes.

So I’d consider Caswell’s proposal impractical as well as insensitive. Sure, secondhand clothes are great – they are often just as good as new and cost only a fraction of the price.

And if you were fostering a kiddo who had seem some pretty rough times and she had her heart set on a particular sparkly pink princess skirt, perhaps you could find it in your heart to say no. But you shouldn’t be forced to.

What do you say? What do you think about used versus new, hand-me-downs and passed-arounds?

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Missoula parents should be aware of asbestos exposure

Following is a guest post by Krista Peterson, a recent college graduate from the University of Central Florida, health and safety advocate, and aspiring writer. She tells me she enjoys writing “to help encourage others to live the healthiest and most eco-friendly lifestyles possible.”

Although she does not live in Missoula, this piece is geared specifically toward Missoula parents:
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Wolf Point to join other MT schools with four-day week

At least 17 school districts in Montana are currently operating on four-day weeks.

Now the Wolf Point School District is planning to switch to a four-day school week, too. The time will be made up by adding about 40 minutes to each school day.

This is made possible by the 2005 Legislature’s approval of a bill that allowed school districts to adopt more flexible policies with regard to school hours. An interesting report from October 2009, prepared by the Montana Office of Public Instruction, gives a great overview of the four-day school week situation in Montana. At the time the report was conducted, 18 school districts and one non-public school district had switched to four-day school weeks. So the number has held pretty steady, apparently. None of these schools, incidentally, are located in Missoula, where the five-day week remains firmly in place.

The big reason cited for the switch to a shorter week, of course, is cost savings.

But here’s an excerpt from the OPI study:

Schools planning to change to a four-day school week did so thinking that the district would experience cost savings. After the change the districts did experience cost savings but not as much as they had anticipated. The savings occurred in two areas, transportation and utilities. Schools discovered other benefits, however, in the drop in student absenteeism and an improvement to student and staff morale.

Wolf Point, which has some 850 students in the district, is hoping to save at least $75,000 a year.

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Charter school bill set for legislative showdown

Last week I started following the ill-fated progress of House Bill 603, which would have allowed charter schools to start up in Montana. It was killed shortly after I began following it, but similar language has now popped up in the school funding bill currently under discussion in the Montana Legislature.

Here’s the link to the dead bill, the link to the school funding bill – Senate Bill 329 – and a link to Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison’s handy explanation of the whole situation.

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NRF says new credit rules will be hard on stay-at-home moms

I’ve been pondering this opinion piece I read last week from the National Retail Federation. It posits that the new Federal Reserve regulations that require specific income information for credit applicants could make it harder for stay-at-home spouses to get credit cards – because the new regs require businesses to ask for “income” rather than “household income.”

And as we all know, stay-at-home moms and dads don’t get a paycheck.

“The prohibition on asking for ‘household income’ was originally intended to keep individuals under 21 from claiming their parents’ income in order to obtain cards they could not afford on their own,” according to the article.

It goes on to explain that the NRF is worried that a lot of these folks will interpret this particular question narrowly, and answer by providing their individual income, which would be zero dollars. The Fed thinks otherwise.

What say you?

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Should parents have the right to leave their kids unbuckled?

In Montana, people have the right to decide whether they want to significantly increase their odds of dying in a car crash by opting not to use their seat belts. Even though it is against the law not to use a seat belt while riding in a vehicle, it’s considered a secondary offense, meaning you won’t be pulled over for it unless you’re doing something else wrong.

Reportedly, our state is the only one in the nation that allows even children to be driven around unbuckled. Even if a police officer sees a kid or two bouncing around in a moving vehicle, not buckled up or strapped into an age-appropriate car seat like they’re supposed to be, the officer cannot do a thing about it unless the driver is committing some other traffic infraction as well.

The Missoulian’s editorial board has said before that this sends a weird message – essentially that the people of Montana consider a broken tail light a bigger problem than an unbuckled seat belt.

Today, the editorial board over at the Billings Gazette opined in favor of a billSenate Bill 319 – that would apply specifically to child safety restraints in vehicles. It would allow police to pull over drivers if anyone in the car younger than 18 isn’t wearing a seatbelt.

The Gazette reported that:

Last year, 25 people under the age of 18 were killed in Montana highway crashes, 60 percent of them weren’t wearing seat belts or in child safety seats, said Jim Lynch, MDOT director. If all had been buckled in, statistically, five lives could have been saved.

That’s reason enough for parents to make sure their kids are buckled up every time they hit they road – whether it’s the law or not.

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Time to sign up to become a court-appointed special advocate

Court-appointed special advocates, or CASAs, have been under discussion in Montana a lot recently in part because of the movement to create a statewide set of guidelines for guardians ad litem (GALs).

These are the folks charged with representing the interests of children in court cases and custody battles, and their work as volunteers is badly needed and vitally important.

Now’s your chance to learn more and sign up to become a volunteer. The new spring training series for Missoula and Mineral county will begin March 15; that’s in less than a month.

Here are the details:

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HB 281 would revise laws for guardians ad litem

House Bill 281 is sponsored by Missoula Democrat Betsy Hands in the Montana Legislature. It would revise the statutes governing guardians ad litem to require training and establish a grievance process, among other things. Here’s a letter I just received in support of its passage:

I am writing in response to recent action by our judges of the 4th Judicial District to institute “local rules” for guardians ad litem, individuals assigned by the court to represent children in families with contentious custody issues. Montana’s laws governing GALs are some of the weakest in the country.

The half-page Montana statute currently guiding the work of GALs states that a GAL may be appointed by the court to represent a child “with respect to the child’s support, parenting, and parental contact.” The GAL “has access to court, medical, psychological, law enforcement, social services, and school records pertaining to the child and the child’s siblings and parents or caretakers.” GALs in Montana currently charge their clients $60-$200/hour.

This same highly paid person, delegated with the utmost authority over the lives of children and families, is not required to have any education or training. They are not required to have knowledge or experience in areas of child development, child abuse, substance abuse, or domestic violence. They are not required even to have a two-year technical college degree. This same person has no oversight beyond the judge who has assigned them to the case.

Thanks to our local judges, Missoula County now has some very general guidelines for GALs to follow as they navigate the custody and legal system, making life-altering recommendations for children and families. Unfortunately, this same group of judges, with the exception of Judge Dusty Deschamps, does not support the current legislation, House Bill 281, which would mandate education and training, as well as oversight.

Montana citizens cannot allow HB 281 to go unpassed; we cannot allow this unregulated industry to continue controlling the lives of children in such an uneducated, uninformed, unsupervised way. Please call or write your legislators today. Urge them to vote for HB 281.

Emily McKey,
Potomac

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