AUSTIN, Texas - In its Third House reading, HB2053, also known as Colton's Law, passed the House with 144 "Yes", "0" Nays. Those State Representatives present but not voting include, Lubbock State Representative John Frullo.
The bill will now move on to the Senate where Georgetown State Senator Dr. Charles Schwertner will pick it up.
If the bill becomes law, HB 2053 would amend the Child Safety Alert Checklist to allow for law enforcement to be automatically notified seven days after a child who is involved in an open CPS investigation becomes un-locatable. Texas Department of Public Safety would enter the child and it's caregivers into a state-wide law enforcement database. If the family is stopped by State or local law enforcement, and they are in the database, CPS is notified. They will then come to the location to continue their welfare check.
Under current policy, workers have ninety days to find the family and must get a court order to get the names listed in the database. A FOX 7 investigation uncovered that CPS was forced to close 2,493 cases in the fiscal year 2014 because the families could not be found.
In response to the bill's passing through the House, CPS says, in a statement, "We are fully supportive of anything that will help keep kids safe, and more coordination with law enforcement will us do that."
FOX 7 also reached out to the Texas Department of Public Safety, in an email, a spokesperson for the agency says, "DPS does not discuss pending legislation."
The law is named in honor of Colton Turner, the two year old boy whose remains were found in South East Austin in September. The subject of 4 CPS investigations, the toddler fell off the agency's radar several times, including, as records show, in the weeks leading up to his death.
This is an update to this story. Previous version is as follows:
"It's awesome," says Turner's father Brandon Pelfrey.
The bill is aimed at helping to find the kids who fall off of CPS' radar.
During his short life, the toddler had become un-locatable and his remains were found in a shallow grave last September.
As FOX 7 first uncovered, CPS was forced to close 2,493 cases in the fiscal year 2014 because the families could not be found. HB2053, if it becomes law, would catch those children immediately.
"I didn't think it was going to go as quick as it did," says Pelfrey who gathered at the Capitol with his family to watch the vote.
"I'm a little stunned for words," he told FOX 7 reporter Elizabeth Saab.
Dr. Farney was beaming with pride.
"The more that the House members learn about this bill, the more their support is building and I am so thankful that they were supportive and got it through," she said.
Seven days after a child is un-locatable, those families are flagged in the Department of Public Safety's database, and if they are stopped by any law enforcement, CPS will be notified immediately.
"That's why they are in the bill, they have the jurisdiction, they have the technology and they have the heart to do this job well," says Colton's great-aunt Raquel Helrich, who along with long-time family friend Liz St. Clair was instrumental in getting the legislation written.
During Colton Turner's short life, CPS launched four investigations into his welfare. Throughout those investigations, records show, CPS could not locate him or his mother. In February 2014, during the third investigation, his mother was pulled over in Milam County. Video uncovered by FOX 7, shows Colton in the car with her. Milam County Chief Deputy Chris White testified at HB2053's House Committee hearing. He reiterated what Milam County Sheriff David Greene told FOX 7, at the time we uncovered the video.
"If the law were in place, the child might be alive today," he said.
Helfrich too believes in the power of law enforcement, and the ability that DPS has to help CPS find un-locatable children, "they are the best of the best and that's what we need looking for these kids."
Kids who are falling through a gaping hole in Texas. A FOX 7 investigation found that last year CPS was was forced to close nearly 2,500 cases because the families could not be found.
It's a problem that Dr. Farney hopes will be tackled by the end of this session. It's also an issue that Dr. Charles Schwertner is taking on too. In an interview confirming that he will carry HB2053 on the Senate side, Schwertner says, "The Colton Turner tragedy was one of those issues that led to it."
Crediting the FOX 7 investigation, Schwertner adds, "But also reporting such as yourself that there are a number of children across the state that are un-locatable and we need to address that and find those children when they need to be found."
The State Senator from Georgetown is a father himself and he says preventing a tragic loss, like Colton Turner's, from happening again is a priority. A priority that the toddler's family knows will now save Texas' children who need help the most. Helfrich says while the fight isn't over, the are almost to the finish line.
"One more step closer."
HB2053 will have its final reading on Tuesday. Then Schwertner will officially pick it up to move it through the Senate. It is possible that it could have its Senate Committee hearing as early as next week.