Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.

Senate gives Peterson bill its final OK
Ron Martz - Staff
Thursday • March 16

A law giving doctors the power to take temporary custody of a child they believe is in imminent danger is headed to Gov. Roy Barnes' desk after a 49-0 Senate vote Wednesday.

The so-called Terrell Peterson bill, sponsored by Sen. Nadine Thomas (D-Ellenwood) and named after a 5-year-old Atlanta boy who died in January 1998 after he and his siblings were the subject of eight reports of abuse and neglect, had to go back to the Senate for approval of minor changes.

It was among four pieces of legislation winning Senate approval for creating a broader safety net for at-risk children who come to the state's attention. One would establish the Child Advocate Office to oversee the troubled child protective services system and another would allow doctors to take temporary custody of youngsters they think are in imminent danger from abuse or neglect.

A third measure would give the commissioner of the state Department of Human Resources broader powers to hire and fire county directors of the Division of Family and Children Services. The Senate also approved legislation that provides state money for additional Juvenile Court judges, who rule on cases involving abused and neglected children.

Partly in response to Terrell's death and a series of stories in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about shortcomings in the child protective services system, Gov. Roy Barnes offered the bill that would create the Child Advocate Office and make records of certain children who die after they come to the state's attention subject to the Open Records Act. But that bill barely survived a strong challenge from Senate Republicans, whose amendment likely would have resulted in a veto by the governor.

Offered by Sens. Clay Land (R-Columbus) and Eric Johnson (R-Savannah), the amendment would have taken the appointment of the advocate away from the governor and given it to the Legislature to make the office what Land called "truly independent."

The amendment was defeated 32-19 and the child advocate bill was passed 46-8. It now goes back to the House for its approval of another amendment that clears up some language and clarifies what records are subject to public disclosure. The bills involving the DHR commissioner and Juvenile Court judges also go back to the House for final approval.

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