Senate Minutes with Senator AJ Griffin: Ensuring a clear definition

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Much of my professional career has involved working with nonprofits aimed at improving the lives of Oklahoma children and families.  I’ve seen first-hand what can happen when families are struggling with issues like substance abuse, domestic violence or other problems.  I also know that even in some situations most of us would find intolerable, given the choice, a child will choose to be with their parents.  No matter how flawed the environment or relationships within that family, the bond that child feels toward his or her parents should never be underestimated or callously ignored.

Oklahoma Senator AJ Griffin
Oklahoma Senator AJ Griffin

But as policy makers, we also understand there is a tremendous moral responsibility to protect vulnerable children and teens.  There may be a time to intervene, and hopefully to assist that family in identifying resources and programs that can make a positive change for all involved.  The decision to remove children from their parents should never be approached in a cavalier way—conversely it is critical to ensure if that child faces imminent risk, first and foremost, they must be protected.

In the past few years, Oklahoma has been working hard to implement changes to better address these situations.  This session I have authored a bill to ensure the term “failure to protect” is clearly defined in our state law.  Under Senate Bill 292, it is defined as “failure to take reasonable action to remedy or prevent child abuse or neglect, and includes the conduct of a non-abusing parent or guardian who knows the identity of the abuser or the person neglecting the child, but lies, conceals or fails to report the child abuse or neglect or otherwise take reasonable action to end the abuse or neglect.”

Ensuring there is a clear definition of failure to protect is aimed at helping improve child welfare proceedings and honoring birth families by ensuring we focus our attention on kids in danger and work with families who are struggling. This legislation has been approved by the Judiciary Committee and next moves to the full Senate for further consideration.

This week the State Board of Equalization gave its final certification as to the level of revenue that would be available for legislators to appropriate for the Fiscal Year 2016 budget which begins this coming July.  While we knew there would be a significant decrease when the board initially certified the numbers in December, they were unable to present a clear picture of the impact lower energy prices would have on our budget.

We know that impact will be significant and present a real challenge in our task to write and approve a balance budget.  But just as Oklahoma families must do with their own budgets, the members of the House and Senate must sit down and prioritize critical needs.  We must continue to focus on streamlining government operations while supporting services which can best enable this state’s children to create a bright future; we must also protect vulnerable Oklahomans and provide for public safety for all our citizens.  Lastly, we must encourage the growth of the private sector, which is what fuels our state’s economy and enables us to promote greater prosperity.

As always, please feel free to contact my Capitol office with any questions or concerns you may have about legislation or other issues impacting our state at 405.521.5628 or at griffin@oksenate.gov.

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