Emergency YRTC placements advanced

Juveniles housed in the state’s youth rehabilitation and treatment centers could be moved more quickly during an emergency situation under a bill advanced from general file March 29.

Sen. John Lowe
Sen. John Lowe

LB273, as introduced by Kearney Sen. John Lowe, would have allowed the Office of Juvenile Services to transfer juveniles to a different YRTC without a court hearing.

Lowe said the bill would address some “long-running” issues at the state’s youth facilities.

“For a long time there have been challenges when a juvenile comes to YRTC Kearney with some underlying substance abuse or behavioral health problems,” he said. “Sometimes they do this in a way that causes self-harm or in a way that is threatening or dangerous to other juveniles or staff.”

A Judiciary Committee amendment, adopted 40-0, replaced the original bill. The amendment would allow the state Department of Health and Human Services to file an emergency change of placement motion to transfer a juvenile to a different facility. A hearing on the motion would be held within 24 hours and could be conducted by telephone or videoconference.

An emergency change of placement could be filed in cases when a juvenile requires additional specialized care to address substance use or behavioral health needs. Under the amendment, an emergency also could include a public health emergency, natural disaster or damage that renders a YRTC uninhabitable.

The court would order a temporary emergency change of placement if it determines that the change would be appropriate and in the best interests of the juvenile.

Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas spoke in support of the bill but expressed concern that the amended language of LB273 remained overly vague. He said it would not explicitly require a demonstrated emergency need for a change in placement to occur.

“I am a little concerned about how this could be interpreted because it doesn’t really define an emergency, it more just defines that the judge has to determine whether or not the [placement] is an appropriate move and in the best interests of the juvenile,” Vargas said.

Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha also supported the bill but said it needed additional provisions to protect the rights of parents.

“My concern is that if we don’t have direct notification [of a transfer] to that parent … we’re essentially removing the parental rights until a hearing down the road may be heard,” Wayne said.

Senators advanced the bill to select file on a 35-0 vote.

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