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House approves tweaks to child abuse laws – but bill 'doesn't go far enough'

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Last fall, lawmakers launched a campaign to overhaul the state's child protection system, after high-profile reports of its failures over the past few years.

On Monday, state representatives unanimously approved a bill they say takes a few small steps toward that goal – but as one lawmaker put it, it "doesn’t go far enough."

What does the bill do?

The bill actually addresses just two recommendations (out of many) made by the child protection task force in December.

1) A shift in the philosophy of handling of abuse reports.

Previously, county and tribal screeners who got those reports were told to focus on keeping children with their family. Under the new bill that philosophy changes, and instead emphasizes the safety of the child as the priority.

2) A tweak to a much-maligned rule change.

Last year, lawmakers passed a bill that prevented child protection services from using rejected child abuse reports when deciding whether to pursue a new report. It was criticized just months later.

The proposal the House just passed nixes that, and makes any report – whether screened out or not – a permanent part of the child's file.

'Doesn't go far enough'

“[The bill], I’ll be honest with you, doesn’t go far enough, but it’s a step in the right direction," said the bill's House author, Rep. Ron Kresha. "It’s a continuation of many, many efforts to reach the children and improve our child protection system.”

Kresha, a Republican from Little Falls, also has the support of Democrats, according to the Session Daily.

DFL Rep. Joe Mullery said, “There’s an awful long ways to go but this is an important first step.”

According to Kresha, 25,297 children were reportedly abused or neglected in 2013. Seventeen children died.

What else before it becomes law?

The proposal passed 130-0 in the House, which is currently controlled by Republicans. It now heads to the Democratic-led Senate for a vote, where DFL Sen. Kathey Sheran is the sponsor.

If it's approved, it'll go to Gov. Mark Dayton's desk for his signature.

Dayton has taken some of his own steps to address child abuse. In September, he issued an executive order to make immediate changes, and also formed a task force to deliver those recommendations.

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