Polygamist members to testify before Texas lawmakers
Last year, Texas Child Protective Services removed 439 children living at a West Texas ranch owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints because caseworkers reported finding evidence of girls being married to adults.
Today, FLDS members will testify before the Texas House Committee on Human Services. Committee members will be discussing what occurred in Eldorado last year, the state’s actions and discussing a new measure that would clarify alternatives CPS workers can take, when child abuse is suspected in a household.
FLDS members to testify at legislative hearing
Nearly one year ago, a legislative panel heard state officials make sensational – and ultimately misleading – claims about broken bones and possible sexual abuse of boys on the YFZ Ranch.
Today, members of the polygamous sect that owns the Schleicher County compound will seek to tell another group of legislators a far different story.
“If that’s the last information these guys have had,” said Willie Jessop, spokesman for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, “that puts us at a pretty big disadvantage.”
An FLDS representative will be among three people asked by the state House Human Services Committee to give testimony this afternoon in a hearing on last April’s raid and removal of 439 children from the 1,700-acre ranch northeast of Eldorado.
It’s the first time since the sect moved to Texas in 2003 that it will confront a Legislature that has raised the state’s legal marriage age in response to its presence and is considering more action this session as a result of the complications born from last year’s raid.
Joining the FLDS before the committee will be Anne Heiligenstein, who in December replaced Cockerell as the head of the department whose investigators led the raid, and Kevin Dietz, who led a 12-attorney team from Texas RioGrande Legal Aid that won the children’s return through the state’s appellate courts.
The three parties have been asked to discuss the raid in general, a committee aide said, to determine what committee Chairman Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, has called the “lessons learned” from the action.
Additionally, the committee will hear testimony from Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, about House Bill 4255, which would aid DFPS’s ability to remove children from an allegedly abusive situation by removing a requirement that the agency make “reasonable efforts” to eliminate the need to remove a child, and also would allow investigators more leeway to remove parents from a home instead of the children.
Both parts are in response to problems Child Protective Services said it confronted during the raid. Unable to remove the parents from the ranch, it was overwhelmed in its efforts to identify and process the 439 children through the courts. The state’s appellate courts ultimately ruled the agency had not adequately proven why it needed to remove all the children from the ranch.
To read the text of House Bill 4255, go to http://www.legis.state.tx.us/billlookup/billnumber.aspx