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A solution to child welfare system
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State projects are often hindered by two things: Personnel needs and a lack of funding. We do not have an unlimited bank account or line of credit, and every taxpayer dollar counts. This means we often look to creative methods to bring in the employees and technology needed to address Georgia's biggest needs.

One practice that is steadily increasing in our state, and throughout the rest of the nation, is the use of public-private partnerships.

Public-private partnerships are an agreement between the public sector and private sector in which a private sector contractor provides a service or completes a project for the public sector.

However, because a public-private partnership doesn't restrict how a project can be built, financed and used, it often provides better facilities and services than a restricted procurement (bidding) process would provide. Public-private partnerships also lowers overall operational costs, which in turn, lowers the amount of taxpayer money needed.

Senate Bill 350, which passed the Georgia Senate last week and is under consideration in the House, would allow public-private partnerships to play a role in enhancing and improving our state's child welfare services. If signed into law, child welfare services would be entered into a competitive bid process with community-based providers, including nonprofit and faith-based groups. SB 350 would also improve local access to resources, services and support in order to assist Georgia's most at-risk children.

The bill is the result of several public hearings that were held in the fall of 2013 as part of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's Foster Care Reform Initiative Working Group.

Under the legislation, Division of Child and Family Services would be responsible for proposing a competitive bid process for the administration of child welfare services. The plan would require the coordination of state and local communities, and must include adults who were previously a part of Georgia's foster care system. These are individuals who can tell us exactly where our most crucial child welfare needs may be hiding by sharing their own experiences. DFCS would be responsible for setting the standards for the competitive bidding process, closely monitoring all contracted programs and services, and ensuring contractors are fully prepared to assume responsibility for services.

Over the past few years, it has become tragically clear that Georgia's child welfare system is broken. I believe all elected officials have a responsibility to protect their constituents, but that we have a special responsibility to protect those who are the most helpless and vulnerable. Children in need of child protection services are often in situations beyond their control and without a voice to cry for help. I am proud of the Georgia Senate for passing SB 350 and refusing to let another child pay the price for an overloaded system.

The Senate also took action on a number of other bills last week, including:

SB 299: I was pleased that SB 299, which provides flexibility for establishing minimum watershed protection standards, received Senate approval last week. This is an issue I have worked on for several years, and I am hopeful it will receive a House committee hearing soon.

SB 342: If enacted, this legislation will allow the Department of Public Health to disclose confidential information regarding HIV-positive patients to licensed health care providers that have been consulted about that person's medical treatment.

SB 343: Under this legislation, the current Quality Basic Education Act would be amended so that no Georgia high school participating in interscholastic sports conducted by an organization unwilling to release annual financial statements would be able to receive funding. The bill also creates the High School Athletics Overview Committee.

SB 349: This bill revises the functions and responsibilities of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), establishes governing boards and clarifies the powers and duties for every community service board (CSB) in the state.

Sen. Steve Gooch serves as chairman of the transportation committee. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via email at