Inspector access to child welfare records advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval to a bill Feb. 11 that would expedite delivery of confidential records to the Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare.

A bill passed by the Legislature in 2015 expanded the jurisdiction of the inspector general to include the state’s juvenile services division of the Office of Probation Administration. It authorized the inspector general to access confidential information pertinent to investigations, including video testimony from victims of abuse.

LB954, introduced this year by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, additionally would authorize the inspector general to submit written requests for access to records of juvenile probation officers. The bill would require that those records be delivered within five days of a juvenile court order.

Krist said the bill is the result of six months of negotiations between the legislative and judicial branches.

“If [the Legislature] does not exercise our constitutional requirement, our mandates to legislate, appropriate and apply oversight of all branches, we might as well go home,” he said. “For the most part it’s the oversight of [the Legislature] that holds government in check. [LB954] is another one of those very important issues.”

Upon receipt of orders from the juvenile court or the Office of Probation Administration, the juvenile services division would grant direct computer access to all computerized records maintained by the division relevant to a specific case under investigation.

Omaha Sen. Heath Mello supported the bill.

“Compromise always takes a little bit of time for the two sides to find middle ground on a very difficult issue,” Mello said. “[LB954] will protect legislative prerogative when it comes to oversight but also protect judicial independence.”

The bill also directs the inspector general to immediately notify the probation administrator of possible misconduct by an employee of the juvenile services division found during an investigation. Pertinent information regarding a potential personnel matter would be provided to the Office of Probation Administration.

LB954 also directs the juvenile court to provide confidential record information to the Foster Care Review Office.

Following adoption of a technical amendment, the bill advanced to select file on a 44-0 vote.

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