Lawmakers plan bill in wake of slayings
Focus turns to drug users in lives of kids
Motivated by the death of toddler Cyrus Belt, several state lawmakers vowed yesterday to tighten the clamps on parents who use drugs.
The House Health and Human Services committees reviewed the policies of state and county agencies that address mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence and child protective services in the wake of Belt's death and two slayings related to domestic abuse this month.
"You can't tell people how to live their lives, but what you can do is you can protect children whenever that opportunity arises. That's what we want to do," state Rep. Josh Green (D, North Kona) said yesterday.
Belt, nearly 2 years old, was thrown off a pedestrian overpass onto H-1 freeway Jan. 17. He was buried yesterday afternoon at Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery in Kaneohe shortly before the Capitol hearing.
Lawmakers questioned representatives from the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services and the Prosecutor's Office and proposed an idea for a bill.
"We're going to be presenting legislation that mandates at least a 60-day clean period," Green said. "There are no simple solutions, but what we want to see is that someone has been clean and free of drugs for at least 60 days before they ever get near a child."
Green's bill is a response to the issue of keeping a child away from the parent, relative or friend when that person is using drugs. DHS has said someone reported on Jan. 11 that Belt's mother used crystal methamphetamine, six days before his death. A follow-up visit was scheduled for the day he died.
When lawmakers asked the DHS Child Welfare Services Branch administrator what she thought about the bill, she said they already have drug treatments, follow-up visits and plans for the situation.
"I believe we are already doing that," said child welfare Administrator Amy Tsark. "If there's a strong support system for where the child is living, it may not warrant removal."
Tsark said Hawaii's rate of recurring child abuse or neglect -- 2.2 percent last fiscal year -- was lower than the nationally accepted standard of 6.1 percent.
Green said he wants state intervention within 24 hours when a parent is accused of drug abuse, in the hope it would prevent future deaths.
State Rep. John Mizuno (D, Kamehameha Heights), vice chairman of the Health Committee, who was an investigator for DHS for 10 years, said he was surprised that it took six days for a investigator to check up on Belt's situation. Mizuno said he would have looked into the situation the same day.
The lawmakers also heard from domestic violence advocates about ways to help victims of abuse, such as Janel Tupuola and Jenny Hartsock, both killed during acts of alleged domestic violence.
"It's going to be a combination of passing more legislation to address domestic violence, working better with the network we have now and getting the community involved," Mizuno said. "It's not going to be a panacea. We're not going to address every single case, but to sit back and do nothing is unacceptable."