DHS Down $2.4 Million in Lawsuit

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Two recent Tulsa World articles examined the ongoing lawsuit against the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. The state agency has spent a whopping $2.4 million to defend itself since April 2008.

Meanwhile, the agency may furlough employees for four hours a week for 46 weeks if the Commission for Human Services approves the plan on April 27.

The lawsuit accuses DHS of placing foster children in harm’s way when they assign too many cases per worker, fail to make enough home visits, make multiple placements, and undertrain foster parents. DHS says the accusations are false.

On the one hand, Children’s Rights is a perpetual-lawsuit machine that appears more interested in press and contingency fees than in truly helping children. The group has sued child welfare systems in at least 12 other states. Many of these states have settled, signing consent decrees agreeing to reforms and providing millions to Children’s Rights’ attorneys.

On the other hand, legislators are aware the agency needs reform, and we have passed legislation to improve DHS based on an independent study.

I believe the inept management at DHS has put Oklahoma in a no-win situation. The state is being forced to waste millions to defend itself. Settling could result in even more money lost. The money could have gone to help children in foster care and avoided a furlough of  the staff in charge of caring for those children.

Based on their track record, it appears Children’s’ Rights might have sued Oklahoma no matter what, but we would have been in a better position to beat that lawsuit if DHS officials had just done their jobs.

On a somber note, the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing should give us pause. Most of us remember the tragedy of that day and the brave efforts of firefighters, volunteers, and other Oklahomans who responded to it. It was a very difficult day, but we came together on it. I urge everyone to reflect on the lives lost in the bombing. A total of 168 people died in the official count, three of whom were pregnant with unborn children. Those 171 individuals were everyday heroes in their communities and are greatly missed.

I’m proud to be the House author of Senate Bill 1997, which has been signed by Governor Brad Henry. The new law will allow any Oklahoma sheriff to contact the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association, tell them how much help he needs, and let them coordinate that help from surrounding jurisdictions. The law allows for a more coordinated flow of assistance. It also allows the sheriff to stay focused on the community and emergency at hand.

I was also the House author of Senate Bill 2093, which passed 96-1 and now heads to the governor for his signature. The bill clarifies that shooting into private land from a public road is considered trespassing and a misdemeanor.

I was happy to have the fourth grade students from Okarche visit the state Capitol this past week. They wore their Okarche colors! I also wanted to congratulate area students that have been named Academic All-Staters: Carmen Sander of Seiling High School, Peter VanGee of Hennessey High School, Chelsea Williams of Woodward High School, and Paul Inman of Okarche High School. These fine young adults have demonstrated excellence in the classroom, and I commend them for this great honor.

I also wanted to congratulate John Michael Johnson of Kingfisher for achieving his rank of Eagle Scout. His dedication and hard work is a model for others.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.

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