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Wasson Report 4.26.12

Senate Passes “Sam Pratt’s Law”

William “Sam” Pratt was a young boy who died from alleged child abuse in 2009 at an unlicensed daycare in Missouri. The child care provider, who was charged with child abuse resulting in death and involuntary manslaughter, continued to care for children. Police requested she stop, but because she was unlicensed, there was no law to prevent her from babysitting.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. An investigation by the St. Louis Post Dispatch found that more than 40 children died in daycares from 2007 to 2010. Many of those deaths were preventable had stronger laws been in place to regulate the daycare providers.

This week the Senate passed Senate Bill 448, which would establish what is known as “Sam Pratt’s Law” in Missouri. Under the legislation, a provider who has pending criminal charges for child abuse, neglect or a similar crime would not be allowed to look after children. The bill also requires childcare providers who are exempt from licensure to disclose their status to parents and guardians, and it increases penalties for providers who violate child care licensure provisions.

These changes to Missouri law would help ensure children are safer in daycare facilities, and hopefully it will give parents a little more certainty that their children are safe at their childcare provider. I’m optimistic it will go to the governor’s desk. The bill has been sent to the House for consideration.

Strengthening Protections for Missouri Children

The Senate also gave final approval to Senate Bill 758 this week, another piece of legislation that would go far in increasing protections for Missouri children. The bill, which I’m sponsoring, would enact a number of critical changes to the handling of hotline abuse calls by the Children’s Division.

Specifically, in any case where a child is seriously injured or dies, the hotline worker or case worker who handled the case will receive a preliminary evaluation by the division to determine if the worker is still able to competently handle his or her duties.

The legislation also requires the Children’s Division to review cases where repeated calls involving the same child occur within a 72-hour time period to determine if the calls meet the criteria to initiate a child abuse and neglect report. A single call can start the process of judging whether or not a child is being abused and if intervention is needed. But multiple calls within a short amount of time can give hotline workers a clearer picture, and that should warrant a faster response. This bill requires hotline workers to advise individuals to call 911 when a child may be in immediate danger.

The legislation also prohibits case workers responding to a hotline call from leaving a business card, pamphlet or other identifying information if there is no person present at the time of the home visit and the alleged abuser resides at the home. If the alleged abuser is present during the visit, the caseworker is required to provide written material informing him or her of his or her rights regarding the visit.

The Children’s Division has one of the hardest jobs imaginable. Day in and day out, caseworkers have to go into homes and judge whether or not a child has been abused, and if the child should be removed. This bill is no way about blaming or condemning the Children’s Division.  If there are changes that would make the system stronger, though, we need to address them. To the Children’s Division’s credit, most of these changes have already been implemented, but it’s important we put them into statute. Senate Bill 758 now goes to the House for consideration.

Advancing SMR Technology in Missouri

On Thursday afternoon, the governor announced a new partnership between Missouri’s Utility Alliance and the Westinghouse Corporation to advance Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology in Missouri. The partnership will work together to pursue federal funding from the Department of Energy for up to two SMR designs over five years.

Small modular reactors are similar to nuclear reactors, but on a far smaller scale. The components are produced at a remote factory and then shipped to the final site for construction. The benefits of this approach are numerous. Small Modular Reactors are generally much cheaper to build—around $1 billion a unit—versus the roughly $10 billion it would take to build one large nuclear reactor. Containment is also more efficient in SMRs, and they can be used in more remote locations. Once constructed, the SMRs would save Missouri rate-payers millions of dollars. Since the reactors are also cheaper to construct, more could be added at low costs as they are needed.

There has been an increasing demand for these types of reactors all over the world, and with this partnership, our state could be poised to become a major leader in the development, manufacturing and construction of SMR components. The Missouri Utility Alliance and Westinghouse still have to receive federal funding, but the project has the potential to have far reaching benefits for Missouri.