ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Robert Ehrlich promised Tuesday to issue an executive order to extend his Office for Children, Youth and Families for a year, after bills to continue or alter the agency failed at the end of the General Assembly Monday.
Even if he does extend the agency, the local managing boards and local coordinating councils — the meat of the agency — may still be in jeopardy, said Children, Youth and Families Special Secretary M. Teresa Garland.
Because the councils are authorized through the Maryland Constitution it’s possible an executive order may not be able to reestablish them, she said. Reestablishment of the boards would be up to local jurisdictions.
“It is quite a disappointment that the Democrats in the House of Delegates were not forward-thinking enough to understand the implications to children in dissolving this office,” said Garland.
The office, created in 1978, was set to expire in July, but the governor wanted to continue the office and sponsored legislation in the House and Senate to elevate it to a Cabinet-level agency as part of his “children first” initiative in what he dubbed the “year of the child.”
The Senate wanted to continue the office another year so legislators could decide whether to terminate the office or restructure it. The House wanted to cut the office immediately and parcel its duties out to other state agencies.
All efforts failed by the Legislature’s midnight adjournment Monday, leaving the agency subject to termination, or sunsetting, in July.
“We are very disappointed that the House and the Senate could not reach a compromise before midnight,” said Jann Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth. “Neither side blinked.”
Lt. Gov. Michael Steele said what happened to the office is one of the disappointments of the session and it amounts to what he calls “cynicism.”
“Just imagine if the governor of this state had come at the beginning of this session and proposed the elimination or the downsizing of the Governor’s Office of Children, Youth and Families,” Steele said. “What would the outcry be from (the Legislature)?”
The office’s job is to coordinate the state’s agencies dealing with children and to oversee budgets for local children’s programs.
Lawmakers in both chambers complained the office was not effective.
Delegate Tawanna Gaines, D-Prince George’s, said that the children’s office had a history of ineffectiveness in collaborating on children’s issues. In addition, lawmakers were unaware what the administration’s plans were to prepare for the expiration of the office, so House members came up with their own solution.
“We don’t believe in blaming (the governor) for what was inherited, but we expect him to have a vision,” she said. “And he hasn’t been able to articulate it.”
Ehrlich said in an interview last week that the House was “playing with fire” by moving programs of the office to other agencies and said that the House was dismantling the office and basically saying, “Here you put it back together.”
But it was the governor who first started transferring programs out of the children’s office, said Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, D-Baltimore.
He transferred school-based health centers, the governor’s Council on Adolescent Pregnancy and the infant mortality prevention program to other agencies.
The House only decided to move programs of the children’s office to other agencies after the governor did, Marriott said.
The House appropriated enough money to save local managing boards, which they thought was the best-functioning part of the agency, she said. Now, she said the governor can do whatever he wants with the rest of the children’s office.
“It’s in the governor’s court,” said Marriott. “Locals have to act on the local managing boards. The money is there.”