Bennett named to task force; Legislative body monitors and improves systems to protect children

Published 10:02 am Thursday, July 16, 2015

By William Morris

Owatonna People’s Press

BLOOMING PRAIRIE — A new legislative task force assigned to monitor and improve systems to protect at-risk children will have a local voice as part of its deliberations.

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State Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, was appointed to the Legislative Task Force on Child Protection on Thursday. The task force was authorized by the recent Health and Human Services omnibus bill signed into law in May and will begin holding meetings in August.

Bennett, whose district includes Blooming Prairie, said the invitation to take part came to her out of the blue.

Peggy Bennett

Peggy Bennett

“I just got a phone call,” she said. “I was surprised, but very honored to be asked that and very excited.”

Bennett said she believes her background as a longtime teacher may have influenced her recommendation. She was appointed by House Speaker Kurt Daudt.

“I’ve worked with our local child protection agencies on and off with different agencies, so it’s something I have a lot of background in as well as a lot of passion for,” she said.

Also appointed Thursday was Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, and two state senators will be appointed by Majority Leader Tom Bakk. They join four members of the existing Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children: Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls; Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis; Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center; and Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato.

The new task force is absorbing the Governor’s Task Force and taking on a broader mission to protect children, Bennett said.

“We’re reviewing reforms that were passed this year and existing laws, and if we also see additional efforts that can be improved to protect kids, we can implement those as well,” Bennett said. “They added this legislative [task force] to oversee the implementation of things. The governor’s task force, so far as I know, was more of a recommendation task force. This is like an oversight committee as well, as we could recommend additional changes.”

The governor’s task force is two years old, and some of its recommendations already have been signed into law. Bennett said both task forces represent an effort to ensure effective oversight over child protection programs spread across numerous agencies and dozens of counties.

“The task force, which was put into place two years ago, was initiated because of some pretty tragic things that happened. Things weren’t going right,” said Bennett, who cited cases such as Eric Dean, who was killed by his stepmother in 2013 after over a dozen reports to county officials went unheeded. “The governor’s task force as well as this one is just to make sure we’re keeping an eye on this.”

In addition to monitoring the many moving parts of the state’s child protection system, the task force is to present a report in February on progress in implementing new laws as well as recommendations for further changes.

Rep. Kresha, who serves as assistant majority leader, praised Bennett’s appointment in a press release issued by the House Republican Caucus.

“As a retired elementary school teacher, Rep. Bennett brings a unique and helpful perspective to this task force,” he said. “Teachers and school workers are some of the best eyes and ears in working with young children and helping to identify and prevent child abuse at home.”

Bennett said the task force will take its assignment very seriously.

“I think it’s a good idea to keep close oversight in this, because we’re dealing with situations that can really have life-and-death consequences,” she said. “When you’re working with the lives of children, you just can’t afford to be lax in any area. You have to stay on top of it. That’s what this committee is for.”