A bill that would allow youth court judges to appoint counsel to low-income parents in cases of abuse, neglect or termination of parental rights is moving forward. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports.
House Bill 772 passed the Senate this week. It says the youth court may appoint counsel for an indigent parent in an abuse, neglect or termination of parental rights case. Senator Hob Bryan of Amory is chairman of the Judiciary B committee. He spoke in favor of the bill on the floor of the Senate.
“In many instances it really does help to get a resolution to have an advocate there who can sit down and know the resources that are available and try to come up with a resolution. We've got to move in this directoin. What this bill does is start making baby steps in the direction of having a better situation in youth court."
The proposed law also spells out that the counsel could be provided by the State Public Defenders office or a legal services organization. That’s in response to questions some senators had about who would pay for the legal representation.
Tiffany Graves is executive director of the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission. She says she’d like to, ultimately, see an even stronger law "that says this is something that is mandated in our state and to the extent that this is something that can be funded in some way by our legislature, that would be an added benefit. Somebody's got to pay these attorneys to step into this role and do this representation. But I think the new law has the potential to get us where we need to be. It's a good start."
The proposed bill was amended by the Senate, so it's now expected to head to a House and Senate conference committee for further review.