Legislative panel to seek 'lessons learned' from FLDS raid
A select legislative subcommittee will review the April raid of the YFZ Ranch, looking at whether the historic and controversial action in Schleicher County points to changes that need to be made to the state's law regulating child removal.

The subcommittee, created by Dripping Springs Democrat Patrick Rose, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, will be chaired by Austin Democrat Elliott Naishtat and include among its members San Angelo Republican Drew Darby.

"What we're going to be looking at is the Child Protective Services statute to see whether there are any changes, any fine-tuning, any amendments that need to be offered ... that would be relevant to what transpired in Eldorado," Naishtat said Tuesday. "We will also be looking at the procedure that was used by the Department of Family and Protective Services, and particularly Child Protective Services, to see what lessons can be learned for the future in how the department responded to the allegations of abuse and neglect."

CPS and law enforcement raided the polygamist compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints starting on April 3, removing 439 children in the subsequent days before being ordered to return them by state appellate courts.

The agency says it found hundreds of cases of abuse and neglect at the ranch, including 12 girls married at age 15 or younger to adult men. But only one child remains in state custody, and all but two have been dropped from the case at the state's request.

A Schleicher County grand jury has indicted 12 FLDS members, including imprisoned sect leader Warren Jeffs, on charges relating to alleged sexual abuse of children.

Rose announced the formation of the committee to open Tuesday's meeting of the Human Services Committee, of which Darby, Naishtat and a fellow select subcommittee member, Houston Democrat Ana Hernandez, are a part.

"The situation in Eldorado over the interim presented real challenges for the department, real challenges for the state," Darby said, adding that many legislators "care deeply what we can learn, what lessons learned from that experience are."

Among the challenges is the more than $14 million the raid and subsequent civil and criminal investigations have cost CPS and the state Attorney General's Office.

Darby said he does not expect the subcommittee to determine whether the raid should have taken place.

"At least from my perspective, we're not going to try to pass judgment on the event," he said. "I don't see this as a referendum at all on the raid itself. I see it as a fact-finding mission on what lessons (can) be learned."

Darby is expected to join with Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, in filing a bill allowing CPS to remove adults from an alleged abuse situation. That's a measure that could have allowed the agency to avoid the costly and controversial mass removal in April, the legislators have said.

That bill will not be affected by the creation of the subcommittee, he said, though it could be amended based on the panel's findings.

"I would anticipate that any day now," he said. "We won't be waiting on that."
Originally published Wednesday, March 11, 2009