The Texas House tentatively passed a bill Wednesday that would address major problems in the state’s troubled child welfare system, including overburdened caseworkers and timely health screenings of foster children.
Before the vote, however, discussion on House Bill 39 filed by Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, detoured into a passionate debate about whether the state should allow foster care children to be vaccinated before a judge terminates the rights of the child’s parents.
Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, who tacked on an amendment to keep such children from being vaccinated, said in some cases a doctor wouldn’t know if a child is allergic to a vaccine. He and others also said it’s a matter of personal liberty.
“Listen, I’m not against vaccinations,” said Zedler. “I am against … the vaccine schedule. We’re treated like automobiles, like you get your oil change every 3,000 miles, well we’re going to give you this vaccine at birth … and so on down the line.”
Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, unsuccessfully tried to change Zedler’s measure to require foster care children be given the human papillomavirus vaccination, which can prevent certain types of cancers.
“I don’t know how many times I have to say this, I don’t know how many people I have to say it to but we can eradicate cancer with a vaccine,” said Davis, a breast cancer survivor. “I’m equally dumbfounded how this body can vote against wanting to eradicate cancer in the foster care system.”
It was the second time this week that a vaccine measure was attached to a foster care bill that has passed the House. House members on Monday approved an amendment on HB 7 that would prohibit the state from removing children from their parents if they choose not to vaccinate their children.
HB 39, passed 120 to 15, would require that children who enter the foster care system undergo as soon as possible an assessment for intellectual or developmental disability and within three business days, undergo a medical examination and mental health screening, if the child lives in an urban area.
The bill also would require the state child welfare agency to create a caseload management system that among other things would determine the appropriate number of cases a caseworker should have. It would require the agency to help current and former foster children to obtain workforce training, certificates or degrees and work with foster and adoptive families to recruit more foster care parents.
Several provisions in the child welfare bills filed this legislative session, including the ones considered on Wednesday, were part of the recommendations made by two court-appointed special masters in November. U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ordered the recommendations but hasn’t decided whether the state should have to implement them after she ruled in 2015 that a large part of the state’s foster care system was unconstitutional and dangerous to children.