The 12th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference began on a strong note with David Domenici speaking about the success he has had with the Maya Angelou Academy that serves D.C.’s incarcerated youth.  The most interesting fact to me was how significant the correlation between education and incarceration is.  Male high school dropouts are 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than college graduates!

We are now hearing from Diane Vines of the Child Trauma Academy and the Children’s Assessment Center in Houston about brain science.  The brains of bused and neglected youth do not develop well and attachment does not form correctly.  As most parents realize, teens brains are not like adults.  Teens make poor decisions, especially those whose brain development was stunted by their abuse and neglect.

The almost 100 attorneys packed into this University of Houston Law Center classroom are enthralled.  Can’t wait for the legislative update from Kim Dvorchak of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition coming soon!

Texas 2013 Legislative Session: Update on the Child Related Bills Reviewed by CCLP

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The last day of the 83rd Regular Session for the Texas legislature is fast approaching, on Monday May 27, 2013.  If a bill is not passed by the House and Senate by then, it will have to wait until the next session starting January 13, 2015.   The last day the governor can sign or veto a bill is June 16, 2013.

Updates on specific bills reviewed on the Center for Children Law & Policy blog:

HB 182 Reducing Penalty for Possession of Marijuana to a Class C Misdemeanor – This bill has been referred to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee where it will likely die.  Although this outcome was predicted, it is unfortunate for both juveniles and potential medical marijuana users.

HB 308 Permitting Recognition of “Traditional Winter Celebrations” in Public Schools – The most recent vote for HB 308 was 145 yes, 2 nos (Rep. Larry PhillipsR-Sherman and Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler) and 2 non-votes.  A public hearing was held yesterday, Tuesday May 14, 2013.  I am concerned this bill may pass, maybe not until the next legislative session, but as it flies in the face of current Supreme Court precedent, the issue would be appealed and  most likely years later be struck down by the Supreme Court.

This issue is reminiscent of the Kountze, Texas cheerleaders who Judge Hardin Thomas ruled on May 8, 2013 are constitutionally able to have Bible verses on their cheering banners at public high school football games.  Almost everyone reporting on this believes Judge Thomas will be overturned.  So do I.  HB 308 may end up being similarly decided.

HB 1057 Limiting Sex Ed Instructors and Requiring Parental Permission for Sex EdHB 1057 was sent to the Public Education Committee who made a report and have provided a report to the Calendars Committee on May 1, 2013 to be put on the calendar for the whole House to consider.  As no votes have been taken yet it is hard to guess exactly where all the Representatives will fall.  However, I predict this issue will die before the end fo the session May 27th.

SB 1114 Eliminating School Tickets – The most recent verbal vote was 31 to 0.  A corrected Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Report has been “sent to calendars” or waiting to figure out a date to be heard by the whole senate.  The Center for Children Law & Policy is hopefully SB 1114 will be passed this session as this will help students avoid the juvenile justice process for minor infractions at school.

Texting and Driving Bills – Currently, several of the texting and driving ban bills have become inactive or are still pending in committees, including HB 27, 63, 69, 108 and SB 28,   However, HB 347 was on the calendar for today, Wednesday May 15, 2013.  The Senate voted 31 to 0 for the bill today.  The House passed HB 347 on April 23rd with 130 Yeas, 15 Nays, and 2 Present, not voting.  However HB 347 is NOT a comprehensive texting and driving bill.  This bill only prohibits drivers from using wireless devices on school property and in school crossing zones.

Although HB 347 is a good start for safer driving, the other bills were more comprehensive, banning texting and driving anywhere, and would be better in my opinion.

Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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Children’s Act to Transform Services for At-Risk Kids: Bill 25 Touches All Aspects of Government Services for Alberta Youth, Edmonton Journal

Human Services Minister Dave Hancock introduced the Children First Act on Tuesday, a new law that will touch every program or service the Alberta government provides to children and families at risk.  Bill 25 initiates a review of all policies, programs and services that affect children and requires the government to establish a “children’s charter” to guide future decision making . . .

The proposed new law also changes several related pieces of legislation.  The Protection Against Family Violence Act will be reopened and the government will establish a Family Violence Death Review Committee. Hancock said 121 Albertans have died in family violence incidents over the past 10 years, and the committee will look to learn from such deaths to avoid similar incidents in the future.

The government will also redefine offences under three separate laws, including the Drug Endangered Children Act, the Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act and the Child Youth and Family Act.

For example, the province will take the word “wilfully” out of these laws, so adults who put children at risk will be held accountable even if they didn’t intend to do so.  “If you’re cooking up meth in your kitchen, you’re endangering your children,” Hancock said . . .

Finally, the province will change the nature of the legal relationship between front-line workers and the children they serve . . . The changes also give kinship and foster parents more authority over the children in their care, he said . . .

NDP critic Rachel Notley expressed “grave concerns” about changing the legal relationship between workers and young people . . .  Liberal critic David Swann said “what is disappointing is that this follows so closely on a budget that is cutting services to children.  “Actions speak louder than words. This is more talk, more philosophizing,” Swann said . . .

Ariel Castro Charged With Kidnapping And Rape In Ohio Missing Girls Case, The Huffington Post

Authorities in Ohio filed charges Wednesday against one of the men arrested in connection to the disappearance of three women held for a decade in a dilapidated home in Cleveland.

Ariel Castro, 52, faces four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape, Cleveland’s chief assistant prosecutor said today at a press conference.  Castro’s brothers — Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50 — were not charged, though they had been taken into custody Monday after the women were found . . .

Police believe that Amanda Berry, 27, Michelle Knight, 32, and Gina DeJesus, about 23, were held against their will in Castro’s house since their teens or early 20s. The kidnapped women and a six-year-old girl were rescued Monday after Berry kicked through a locked screen door and called 911 on a neighbor’s phone.  It was the first time the woman tried to escape, according to an official speaking at the press conference.

National Attention Rarely Highlights Missing Minority Children, CBS Atlanta

The discovery of three missing Ohio women held hostage for almost 10 years has brought national attention to those who are abducted and go missing daily. [Note: Gina DeJesus of that tragedy is Hispanic]

What does not become national news as often are the numbers of minority children and adults who go missing. The blame for this is the phenomenon called the “missing white girl syndrome” and many blame local and national media for its lack of coverage.

According to the Chicago Citizen, “missing white girl syndrome” refers to “the disproportionate degree of coverage in television, radio, newspaper and magazine reporting on an adversity, most often missing person case, involving young, white, upper-middle class frequently blonde woman or girl.”

The contrast is played against missing boys or men, minorities and people of different classes.

According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center’s Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics for 2012, a total of 265,683 minorities were reported missing in the U.S., out of 661,593 children.

According to the NCIC, 42 percent of those minority child abductions are African Americans.  Since their inception in 1975, the NCIC has not given specific statistical data for missing Hispanic persons. According to the FBI’s Investigative and Operational Assistance Unit, “the race breakdown was decided at that time [1975] based on visual looks rather than blood lines.”

Studies have been published since the early 1970s about missing minority children represented in the media. According to the 2010 study Missing Children in National News Coverage: Racial and Gender Representations of Missing Children Cases, “although a relatively large number of African American children are actually missing, they are significantly underrepresented in television news.”

Derrica Wilson, the president and co-founder of the Maryland-based nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation, Inc.and a veteran law enforcement official says, “The nature of missing person cases is not just a black or white issue, it’s an American issue.”