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April 16, 2009 permalink
Last year Texas CPS conducted a disastrous raid on the FLDS, seizing over 400 children. The raid ended only after a ruling by the Texas supreme court in favor of the families. So what is the proposed legislative solution? More power for CPS!
Read about it below, or watch a video report by KXAN (flv).
Lawmakers tackle FLDS raid
One year later, the gov't procedure is discussed
Updated: Wednesday, 15 Apr 2009, 12:19 PM CDT, * Jenny Hoff
AUSTIN (KXAN) - Just over a year after the government raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ranch in West Texas, lawmakers in Austin look at what they could have done better.
Members from the FLDS sect and representatives with Child Protective Services are among the invited testimony on the state's actions.
"Are there things we would have done differently today? Of course," said CPS commissioner Anne Heilingenstein. "I wish we would have had the information we have today."
Heilingenstein told the Human Services committee that CPS faced a dilemma on the Yearning for Zion ranch that they had never faced before.
"If we could have only removed the children facing the worst abuse, we would have," she said. "But, we were facing organized deception."
However, Heilingenstein said if the situation were to happen again, she would still have the agency remove all the children. The only difference she would make is prohibit any mothers from accompanying the children into state custody. However, she said after parenting classes and counseling sessions with the families, she believes the children are now safe with their parents.
"The FLDS have acknowledged our concerns and the children are now safe in their homes."
Heilingenstein said CPS has instructed the children on what is abuse and the FLDS children know they can call for help.
CPS initially removed more than 400 children from the YFZ ranch and allowed some of the FLDS mothers to accompany them. After a Texas Supreme Court ruling, CPS returned all but one of the children to their parents.
Heilingenstein said the agency is hoping to keep one girl CPS still has in permanent state custody. That girl is the 14-year-old girl that was allegedly one of the wives of the sect's jailed prophet, Warren Jeffs. She was 12 years old when the marriage supposedly happened.
The FLDS Side
Spokersperson for the FLDS sect, Willie Jessop, gave the House committee a drastically different account of the state's actions on April 3, 2008.
"The government had an agenda and it didn't matter what the truth was," said Jessop. "They came onto the ranch with tanks and guns and based their investigation on information they knew was false."
Jessop said a report that will be filed on Wednesday in preparation for suppression hearings in May will shed more light on the state's actions.
"In the depositions, investigators said they started searching the area hours before they had a search warrant even signed."
Jessop said the mass removal of children displayed the state's disregard for citizens' rights.
"State lawmakers have been quoted several times as wanting to get us out of Texas and they'll do anything they have to in order to accomplish that," he said.
Bill to Grant CPS More Power
Rep. Harvey Hilderbran , R-Kerrville, passed legislation in 2005 that targeted some of the practices of the FLDS sect, including raising the age of marriage with consent from 14 years of age to 16 years of age. Hilderbran is now urging lawmakers to pass another bill that would give CPS more leniency in similar situations.
"This bill doesn't target this group," said Hilderbran when laying out the HB 4255. "There is another case that isn't as famous in my county but involves similar situations for children and even includes child labor."
However, those who disagree with the state's actions during the raid said the bill is severely flawed.
"This is just a laundry list of new things we can criminalize," said Susan Hays, who was appointed as one of the attorney ad litems and represented children taken off the Yearning for Zion Ranch . "It gives CPS more power after they got a slap in the face for not using the power they already have correctly."
One of the biggest elements of the bill is allowing the state to circumvent the law requiring CPS make reasonable efforts to keep children with their family before taking them into state custody.
Section 7, C of the committee substitute reads as follows:
"The court may find that based on the circumstances, no reasonable efforts would prevent or eliminate the need to remove a child and the department satisfied the requirements even though the department made no efforts to prevent or eliminate the need to remove the child."
The Texas Supreme Court's decision was based on CPS not making reasonable efforts to keep the FLDS children with their parents.
Rep. Drew Darby , R-San Angelo, said the bill is meant to clarify the state's powers to avoid another similar ruling in the courts. He said the bill is necessary to protect children throughout the state.
"There are a bunch of different prongs to the bill and each one of the prongs are important," Darby said.
Breakdown of the Bill:
- Increases the statute of limitations to report bigamy from three years to seven years for adults and from five years to 10 years if the case involves a minor.
- Increases penalties for parents who do not properly report births.
- Allows a peace officer to enter the home of a student who is part of an ongoing CPS investigation and is not meeting compulsory school requirements. Increases the penalty for parents who do not require their children to go to school. That includes being charged with a third-degree felony in some cases.
- Allows the state to circumvent the "reasonable efforts" clause in keeping children with parents
- Mandate that if an alleged perpetrator is removed from the home instead of the child, the parent residing with the child must report to law enforcement any attempt by the alleged perpetrator to return to the residence
- Prohibit a parent from accompanying a child taken into state custody (this directly relates to FLDS mothers of infants who were allowed to stay with the children in San Angelo).
- Changes the definition of bigamy and increases the offense to a higher felony depending on the age of the spouses
Some of the members of YFZ ranch are learning from the experience and making a few jokes. Below is a clip of Jenny Hoff when she went to visit the Yearning for Zion Ranch during the one-year anniversary of the raid. While there, the members of FLDS showed her "compound dressing." Take a look: link (flv).
Source: KXAN Austin