Following the recent arrest of a youth from the Bluebonnet Haven youth treatment facility, State Senator Lois Kolkhorst has announced her treatment center reform bill has passed the Senate.
Senate Bill 781 passed the Senate last week on a unanimous vote, and now sits with the House where Representative Ben Leman (R-Anderson) will seek final passage. The bill intends to bring major reform to the process of how youth centers are licensed and operated across the state.
Kolkhorst said she wrote the bill to strengthen the requirements necessary to obtain a license to open any new facility. The legislation requires a facility to hold a public hearing so the community is fully informed and heard as the youth center seeks licensing. It also lists specific violations that will lead to license probation, suspension, and revocation.
Kolkhorst said all proposed centers will be required to create a community engagement plan, in order to avoid the challenges seen in Austin County with the now-defunct Five Oaks Achievement Center and the newly opened Bluebonnet Haven in Washington County.
The engagement plan must include both an operational plan and an educational plan that consider local community review and feedback, including impacts on local schools and law enforcement. Another change outlined requires collaboration between the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and state health officials before a center is licensed.
Last Thursday night, Brenham police were called to the 4000 block of Highway 36 South to a report of a runaway. According to police reports, the female juvenile suspect threatened Officer Andrea Norton with a pipe. The subject was arrested for Aggravated Assault Against a Public Servant after an altercation occurred. Police were instructed to release the suspect back to the facility until her court appearance.
Kolkhorst said, as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, she is dedicated to the safety of all children in CPS and foster care. She said the state “must see that the system does not fail either our children or our communities”.