Over the last several years, state laws and policies have changed to increase the power of the state executive branch’s Department of Child Services at the expense of local judicial branch officials. Two northeast Indiana lawmakers are behind a bill moving through this year’s General Assembly that would give a little power back to the judicial system.
Senate Bill 164 would allow a county prosecutor to file a Child In Need of Services (CHINs) petition with a local juvenile court. The petition is the first step in bringing court review of allegations that a child is being mistreated by a parent or guardian. Just as important, it would allow the prosecutor rather than the DCS to represent the state.
That prosecutors don’t now have that explicit power is mind-boggling, making the bill a no-brainer. But the motivation is part of the ongoing back and forth between court and officials and the DCS. Numerous officials, lawyers and child advocates believe that in the past several years, DCS has tended to push case resolutions that are of the lowest cost to the state rather than in the best interest of abused or neglected children.
Travis Holdman of Markle is the co-author of the Senate bill, which passed that chamber 49-0. Rep. Kevin Mahan of Hartford City is the sponsor in the House, where the bill passed second reading Monday. The bill was one of the recommendations of an interim study commission on the DCS that Holdman co-chaired.
Duck, Judge Levine
An Indiana Supreme Court decision last week ended with what seems to be a good-natured – but undeniable – tweak of a local judge, whose decision the high court had overturned.
On Saturday, a Furthermore on this page discussed how Justice Mark Massa employed the duck test – as in if it looks, walks, quacks like, etc. – in the decision. The very last words of the decision are in a footnote explaining that though Allen Superior Court Judge Stan Levine called his ruling a summary judgment, it was more accurately a dismissal – a distinction unimportant to most of us but a legal difference nonetheless.
As we discussed in the body of our opinion, the trial court styled its dismissal as a grant of summary judgment. Because it operated as a dismissal pursuant to Trial Rule 12(B)(1), however, we name it accordingly; we call this bird a duck.
Speaking of the Supreme Court, Thursday will mark four months since the justices heard arguments over the constitutionality of the state’s expansive private school voucher program. There is no typical time lapse between argument and decision; it can range from hours to years. As the General Assembly considers expanding the program to include an even broader base of students, some lawmakers are surely getting restless. But given the importance of this decision, justices are certain to be as thorough as possible.