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Drake law students play key role in expanding children's rights in Iowa

June 14, 2010
News PhotoTwo bills expanding children's rights in Iowa will take effect on July
1, thanks largely to the efforts of Drake law students involved in the
Law School's Legislative Practice Center and Middleton Center for
Children's Rights.

The students drafted the bills, presented them in subcommittee and
committee meetings, lobbied legislators and even wrote letters to Iowa
Gov. Chet Culver outlining why he should sign the bills and the
benefits that the bills provide for children.

The legislation was among four children's rights bills that the law
students worked on during the 2010 legislative session. All of the
bills were developed through a survey of current or former foster
children in the Des Moines area by the Middleton Center in cooperation
with Elevate, a nonprofit group devoted to helping foster children.

Julie Smith, director of the Legislative Practice Center,
supervised the law students and United Way of Central Iowa provided
financial support for the advocacy efforts.



House, Senate pass both bills unanimously

The two bills that take effect July 1 were passed unanimously by
both the Iowa House and Senate and then signed into law by Gov. Culver.
They are:

  • Senate File 2298,which mandates that youth in the foster care system 14 years of age or
    older be allowed to attend family team meetings and other meetings
    involving discussions of placement options or services to be provided
    to the youth. This is required unless the Department of Human Services
    finds it is not in the best interest of the child. The bill also
    creates a presumption that any child age 14 or older has a right to
    attend a juvenile hearing involving that child.
  • Senate File 2200,which amends section 232.104(7) to allow the juvenile court judge who
    has placed a child in a guardianship with a relative or other suitable
    adult to transfer the case to probate court and close the juvenile
    case. This allows the youth to have the courts and social workers "out
    of his or her life" after a permanent placement with a relative or
    other adult.


News Photo
Jonathan D. Law

Students navigate the legislative process

The students who shepherded these bills through the legislative process describe the experience as valuable and rewarding.

Jonathan D. Law, who recently completed his third year of law school, first worked on a bill that didn't survive the "funnel" process, then switched his attention to the bill transferring guardianships from juvenile to probate court.

He presented that bill at the House subcommittee hearing and answered questions about the bill and its potential impact.

He also stayed in close communication with sponsoring legislators Rep. Kurt Swaim and Sen. Keith Kreiman as they guided the bill through the House and Senate, respectively.

"The most important thing I learned was that you can't let a defeat get you down," Law said. "We had a few bills that didn't make it out of funnel, which was disappointing, but that gave us more time to focus on the remaining bills, which did get passed."

Law also said the transfer of guardianships to probate court "will help children because it should reduce the number of visits the guardian and child have to make to the courthouse and simplify the process for them."


News Photo
Andrew M. Phillips

Andrew M. Phillips, who also recently completed his third year of law
school, wrote the essential elements of the bill ensuring that children
age 14 or older are allowed to attend meetings regarding their
placement options or services. He also went to all committee and
subcommittee hearings and worked closely with his colleagues and
legislators to pass the bill. In addition, he drafted a letter
encouraging Gov. Culver to sign the legislation.

The importance of being concise, well prepared

"The most important lesson I learned from this experience is the
need to be concise and prepared for anything that might be thrown at
you," Phillips said.

"Legislators often have diverse interests and views on a piece of
legislation and it is vital to understand the best way to alleviate any
concerns that they may have and to outline the best points of your
legislation."

Phillips said the bill regarding meeting attendance for children 14
or older is important because it gives these children the opportunity
to be involved in their life decisions.

"Children did not have a right like this previously and it will
have a very positive impact on their lives," Phillips added. "This is
something that the Elevate children requested as being important to
them, and I think I speak for my classmates when I say that we are
proud to have been a part of making children's lives better."