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[r29] Column: Supporting Hoosier children
Start Date: 2/26/2014 All Day
End Date: 2/26/2014
Entry Description
Supporting Hoosier children

An interesting dynamic to the legislative process is how we, the House and Senate, work to find a compromise on legislation that has been amended in either chamber. Sometimes these differences are small, while other times more work is needed to reach common ground on important public policies. It is a great system that benefits our state and generates the best outcomes. 

One example of this is House Bill 1004, which I discussed in one of my previous columns that would provide financial assistance for low-income families to send their children to preschool. After passing the House with an overwhelming majority and bipartisan support, the Senate has amended the bill to create a summer study committee, so the topic can be further evaluated. This committee will review the potential fiscal and educational impacts of preschool education and provide a report of their findings to next year’s General Assembly. 

These policy differences will be hashed out in a conference committee, but regardless of the final outcome, promoting high-quality options for preschool education is a positive step forward for our state. I hope that action is taken to make it a reality for more Hoosier children. 
 
There are a lot of bills that are being discussed this year concerning early childhood education, child care facilities and adoption practices in the state. All of these initiatives are focused on giving Hoosier children the best possible start and the best environment to be successful, so they can lead healthy and prosperous lives. One such bill is Senate Bill 27, which clears up confusion in the courts system in granting adoptions. 

The bill was drafted in response to a lawsuit that went all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court because existing legislation was unclear as to what to do in cases of paternity challenges during the adoption process. In 2008, a Jasper County mother had her 18-month-old twins taken away after the Department of Child Services won court approval to end her parental rights. The mother appealed this decision, but in the meantime, her twins were placed with a foster family that ultimately adopted the twins formally. Two months after the foster family adopted the twins, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the decision to terminate the natural mother’s parental rights. This caused a complicated situation where the original mother regained her parental rights, but her children were legally adopted by the foster family. Ultimately, the Indiana Supreme Court overturned the adoption and returned the children to their birth mother.

 The bill I am sponsoring clears up the confusion experienced in this case and prohibits an adoption from taking place until a paternity matter is final. This will provide more certainty for Hoosier families going through the legal process necessary to adopt a child. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and has broad support in the House.

 There are also great organizations that work tirelessly to make the lives of young Hoosiers who face difficult circumstances better. Last week, we welcomed a very special group of House pages. The House of Representatives hosted Special Olympics and Best Buddies Page Day, where 14 Indiana Special Olympics athletes and 16 Best Buddies were able to serve as House pages. They spent the day meeting their state representatives, touring the Statehouse and watching a House session.

The Special Olympics of Indiana is a wonderful organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. I had the opportunity to meet with a lot of athletes at the end of last year as a part of our Organization Day charity drive. Legislators and staff donated sports equipment, cases of water and office supplies to help them run events throughout the year. Each of the athletes has a touching story about how the organization has changed their lives and helped them better understand the core values of teamwork, dedication and sportsmanship.

Best Buddies is a national nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through a strong network of volunteers. They have many different programs that impact nearly 800,000 individuals. The organization works every day to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities find rewarding jobs, become independent and make a lifelong friend in the process. It was humbling to meet with these people, hear their stories and learn how the organization has made our society a better place to live for people that face great challenges.

Both of these organizations have done incredible things for countless Hoosiers over the years, not to mention Janus Developmental Services, which I also had the opportunity to meet with last week. Each organization has its specific mission to bettering the lives of people who have developmental disabilities. Volunteering or helping these programs out in any way can go a long way to make a positive difference in our community. It was a truly special day for all of us, and I am so glad that they had the opportunity to come and visit.

-30-

Contact Information:
Name: Nicholas Goodwin
Phone: (317) 232-9831
Email: nicholas.goodwin@iga.in.gov
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