The Texas House of Representatives stopped dragging their feet 50 days into session and have finally begun putting vulnerable children first.
On Wednesday, March 1st the house began with HB 5 which proposed a shift of bureaucracy. This bill would separate the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from the state’s Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), making it a stand-alone agency that would report directly to Gov. Greg Abbott.
The premise behind HB 5, is to give the DFPS commissioner, Hank Whitman, the responsibility of developing policies and guidelines, thus making him directly accountable for anything that happens within the agency. To aid DFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman, an advisory board would also be chosen, but the weight of their opinions are not addressed within the bill.
Opponents of the legislation are fearful that it gives the commissioner too much power without appropriate oversight. If Whitman creates policies and guidelines that encourage reactive decision-making, this could contribute to increased caseloads that aren’t warranted and Texas families could fall victim to CPS.
In October Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and Speaker Straus demanded that Whitman, “Develop a plan to hire and train more special investigators building on their law enforcement background.” One of the job qualifications for these special investigators include 2 years of law enforcement experience.
Without regards for the fourth amendment, these special investigators can work to build cases before any issue is even reported. These cases could be created on the premise of late child support, a criminal record, or unpaid taxes. Prior to CPS visiting a house to assess the situation, parents can be considered guilty before proven innocent. Though these special investigators are primarily in charge of finding missing foster children, without proper oversight and defined job parameters investigators could put themselves above the law.
Though this legislation passed unanimously in the House, it is important that Texans keep a mindful eye on Commissioner Whitman and the policies, rules and procedures that he will be developing. Bureaucracy that creates more unnecessary caseloads will cause abused children to fall through the cracks, infringe on parental rights, and devastate families.