SB 6126 requires the court to appoint an attorney for a child in a dependency proceeding within 72 hours of granting a petition to terminate the parent-child relationship. The bill also establishes a pilot program to study the effect that automatic appointment of an attorney for a child at the time of the shelter care hearing has on certain factors. The administrative office of the courts, in consultation with the office of civil legal aid, shall designate the two pilot counties, and on and after April 1, 2015, courts in the two pilot counties must appoint an attorney for each child at the time of the shelter care hearing. A university-based child welfare research entity must evaluate the effects of attorney representation in the pilot sites.
Additionally, SB 6126 specifies that the court may appoint an attorney to represent the child's position in any dependency action on its own initiative, or upon the request of a parent, the child, a guardian ad litem, a caregiver, or the department. Further, the child's caregiver, or any individual, may refer the child to an attorney for the purposes of filing a motion to request appointment of an attorney at public expense. The child or any individual may retain an attorney for the child for the purposes of filing a motion to request appointment of an attorney at public expense.
Substitute bill: As amended, SB 6126 clarifies that the intent of the legislation is to provide legal representation to legally free children for the purpose of accelerating permanency. The intent section also states that nothing in this act must be construed against the parent's fundamental liberty interest in parenting the child prior to termination of the parent and child relationship.
Additionally, one attorney may represent a sibling group so long as there is not a conflict of interest. A modified calculation for reimbursement and caseload computations is provided, which corresponds to the reduced level of work that the attorney would not need to repeat for siblings.
Further, the pilot program to study the effects of appointing an attorney for a child at the time of the shelter care hearing is removed.
Ways and Means amendments: The amendments in the Ways and Means Committee did the following: Made the amount of state reimbursement to counties for legal services subject to amounts appropriated for that purpose; and removed the authority of OCLA to enter into contracts with counties for disbursement of state funds.
Senate Floor Amendments: As amended, the bill states that the court must appoint an attorney for a child in a dependency proceeding six months after granting a petition to terminate the parent and child relationship and when there is no remaining parent with parental rights. If a child is not already represented, then the court must appoint an attorney for a child when there is no remaining parent with parental rights for six months or longer prior to the effective date of this act.
In addition, the court may appoint one attorney to a group of siblings, unless there is a conflict of interest, or such representation is otherwise inconsistent with the rules of professional conduct.
Further (subject to the availability of amounts appropriated for this specific purpose), the state may pay the costs of legal services if they are provided in accordance with the standards of practice, voluntary training, and caseload limits developed and recommended by the statewide children's representation workgroup. When one attorney represents a sibling group, however, the first child is counted as one case, and each child thereafter is counted as one-half case for the purpose of determining compliance with caseload standards.
In terms of appointment, the court may appoint an attorney to represent the child's position in any dependency action on its own initiative, or upon the request of a parent, the child, a GAL, a caregiver, or DSHS. The child or any individual may retain an attorney for the purpose of filing a motion to request appointment of an attorney at public expense.
The Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA) must administer any money appropriated for the appointment of an attorney for a legally free child. OCLA may enter into contracts with counties to disburse state funds and may require a county to use attorneys under contract with the office to remain within appropriated amounts. Prior to disbursing state funds, OCLA must verify that the appointed attorneys meet the standards of practice, voluntary training, and caseload limits.