The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has requested another large budget increase as the agency deals with a significant increase of kids who need the “highest level” of residential care, DCS officials told Gov. Bill Lee in budget hearings.
The state saw a 20% increase in those who required crisis residential care due to psychiatric and “self-harm” issues, said Frank Mix, a DCS administrator, and young people stayed an average 60 days longer in custody than in the previous year.
Mix said this increase is in part because of staffing issues, in addition to COVID-era effects on the provider landscape.
DCS requested an additional $182 million, after requesting an $156 million increase for the previous fiscal year, which Commissioner Margie Quin said would go in part toward substantial reimbursement rate increases for foster care families and hiring new case managers to handle human trafficking cases.
The budget increase would include:
- $100.6 million for foster care and residential;
- $16.1 million for prevention services;
- $11.9 million for adoption services;
- $29.4 million for case management operations;
- $23.7 million for administrative costs.
If DCS receives its total budget request, its total budget would increase to $1.4 billion, which includes substantial federal funding in addition to state dollars.
Lee on Wedneday reaffirmed his confidence in Quin’s leadership following a NewsChannel 5 report that DCS leaders told staff to cover up reports of dangerous conditions in state-run homes, something the commissioner denied.
An inspection report this summer detailed troubling conditions in a state-run home in Davidson County and DCS continues to face rounds of lawsuits over its care of children.
Lee lauded Quin’s commitment to children in state custody, which is “not an ideal situation for anyone.”
“We know that’s a tough spot to be in but Commissioner Quin is committed, she understands how difficult that is and is will to address the problems,” Lee said. “I have great confidence that we will continue to make improvements and expand on the improvements that were made so far.
$117k Europe trip a necessary ‘investment,’ Lee says
Lee called an administration trip to France and Italy an “investment” into Tennessee’s economic development prospects after The Tennessean reported six state employees spent $117,000 over the six-day trip earlier this year.
“There were 10 governors on the same trip I was on with their staffs that we compete with for those thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investment,” Lee said Wednesday. “It’s very important that governors do that. It’s very important that we are face-to-face with global companies and global CEOs.”
Tennessee’s delegation consisted of six state employees, two of their wives, and two members of the governor’s security detail, who all stayed in luxury, taxpayer-funded accommodations.
Read more here about the European trip and the delegation’s expenditures.
Rep. Johnson, Sen. Oliver to file contraceptive legislation
Tennessee Sen. Charlane Oliver, D-Nashville, and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, announced plans this week to introduce legislation codifying the right to contraceptives in the state.
“This legislation will strengthen access to birth control in all forms including condoms, the pill, IUDs, and emergency contraception in Tennessee, and it also enshrines the right for people to use or refuse the method of their choice, regardless of sex, race, age, gender, income, ability to pay, marital status, citizenship or motive,” Oliver said.
Tennessee lawmakers have not made recent efforts to ban or curtail access to contraceptives, though some reproductive health advocates worry anti-abortion advocates will shift their sights to emergency contraceptives after securing a near-total abortion ban in the state.
More:Fact check: A new Tennessee abortion law does not ban Plan B, ‘morning-after’ pills
Still, a resolution carried by Sen. Raumesh Akbari earlier this year to affirm the legislature’s intent to protect contraception access failed to advance out of a key committee.
“We cannot afford to leave such a fundamental right to the whims of extremist legislators,” said Johnson, who is currently running in the Democratic primary in next year’s U.S. Senate election. “With this legislation, we have a chance to protect the right to contraception for all Tennesseans.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, last year publicly criticized the legal arguments behind several U.S. Supreme Court rulings, including a landmark 1965 decision that broadly legalized contraceptive access. Blackburn called the ruling “constitutionally unsound.”
Blackburn last year declined to comment and did not address Tennessean questions about about her position on contraceptive access, including her specific objections to the ruling and if she would support a state’s right to further legislate access to birth control.
Education funding group wraps up with few answers
A legislative panel considering rejecting federal school funds for Tennessee concluded two weeks of meetings Wednesday with more questions than answers about whether to decline federal funds and replace them with state dollars.
Tennessee parents and education advocacy groups were not invited to speak before lawmakers, though the group invited two out-of-state special interest groups to testify on Wednesday.
Here are a few links if you need to catch up on the last two weeks:
TN lawmakers wrap second week of hearings on federal education money: Here’s what to know
Tennessee education officials warn of uncertainties in rejecting federal K-12 dollars
Rejecting federal education funding in TN: What we learned in the first week of hearings
Federal officials decline to weigh in before TN state panel on rejecting education money
Catch up on the week
TN House, Senate speakers argue whether bill could have stopped Belmont student’s death
How this Tennessee nonprofit found its ‘calling’ as DCS struggles to house kids
Racial disparities in sentencing? New study shows Black, Hispanic males more likely to face tougher sentences.
TVA gives $256 million in bonuses to 10,000 employees as CEO wraps a record salary year
Congressman Tim Burchett once again votes against stopgap government funding bill
Bill Haslam keeps options open after Tim Scott quits pursuit of GOP presidential nomination
Rep. Tim Burchett says former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hit him with a ‘sucker punch’
Memphis nonprofit taps ex-Detroit mayor, convicted felon Kwame Kilpatrick as director
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