It's always funny how there's never any money in the budget for some things, while for others the sky is the limit. For example, the polygamist sect raid, for which the costs are mounting every day.
Last month's raid of a West Texas polygamist sect's ranch and the removal of the more than 460 children living there has cost the state at least $10 million in sheltering and legal costs, according to estimates provided by state offices Friday.
Records released by Gov. Rick Perry's office show $7.5 million in estimated costs for April, including expenses related to the weeklong search of the Yearning for Zion Ranch, run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect.
The costs of sheltering the children and some of their mothers for three weeks in San Angelo city facilities added to the offices' estimate. The period covered ends April 23, after the state had won temporary custody of the children based on arguments that underage marriages at the ranch put all of them at risk of child abuse, and was moving them to foster facilities around the state.
Additionally, the state's Office of Court Administration estimated legal costs associated with the custody wrangling has been $2.3 million.
The legal costs to the state include $226,820 for court costs, expert witness and consulting fees; $865,917 for court personnel and visiting judges; and $1.16 million for copies and travel for the hundreds of lawyers donating their time to represent the children as court-appointed attorneys ad litem.
Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who represents a city where about 40 percent of the sect's children are now in foster care, said the state can't put a price tag on protecting children.
"On its face, it seems like a high number," he said. "I'm just glad we're erring on the side of caution when it comes to children."
It is clear from the recently unsealed Colorado Springs arrest warrant affidavit for Rozita Swinton that Texas authorities were well aware of the fact that the two telephones utilized to make numerous calls to the New Bridge Family Shelter "Crisis Hotline" in San Angelo were registered to telephone numbers outside the State of Texas. This information, together with the determination that the alleged perpetrator, Dale Barlow, was not present on the premises prior to initiation of the search, warranted further investigation.
Both of these telephones had Colorado Springs, Colorado area codes (area code 719). Upon calling the Colorado Springs Police Department (Sergeant Mandel) Texas authorities were immediately advised that one of these telephone numbers was associated with an individual who had made numerous "false reports of sexual abuse to police agencies" in the Colorado Springs area. All-in-all the investigation reveals that Rozita Swinton has been linked to false allegations of sexual abuse to over ten different child protection and law enforcement agencies, dating back to 2005, in cities across the country from Monroe, Washington to Ft. Meyers, Florida.
There are other considerations as well. Such as the state basically telling these folks to renounce their faith if they want their kids back.
In advance of court hearings that begin Monday, Child Protective Services has drafted 10 goals and 14 tasks that parents will have to work toward to regain custody of their children.
CPS is proposing to give parents until next April to "provide a home free of persons who have or will abuse" children and "demonstrate the ability to protect the child[ren] from sexual abuse." The children will remain in state custody until a judge is satisfied that the parents have complied.
On Wednesday, CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins stressed that the guidelines - known as service plans - are silent about plural marriage and religious beliefs of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
"This is not about polygamy and it is not about religion," Mr. Crimmins said. "It is about child sexual abuse and our commitment to protect children."
He said, though, that youngsters were removed from the ranch because "children could not be safe there. We are trying to determine what acceptable living arrangements the parents can develop so the children are safe and protected."
Susan Hays of Dallas, a court-appointed lawyer for a 2-year-old girl removed from the sect's ranch, said many of the women lack job training and would have a hard time making it in modern society as single mothers.
University of Texas law professor Jack Sampson said that under national and state welfare reform laws, which spell out time limits and other requirements, cash assistance to the mothers wouldn't last long.
Ms. Hays said some mothers "certainly could" have to choose between their religious beliefs and their children.
"Child rape is not part of their faith," Ms. Hays said of the group. "Polygamy is. Somewhere in between there is where faith ends and abuse begins. The state needs to articulate how they see it."
Mr. Sampson, an expert on family law, said there's no infringement on freedom of association and religion when the state must save children. He said state laws "do not recognize this as an exercise of religion" because underage sect girls have been sexually assaulted and teenage boys abandoned.
"Religion does not give you the right to sacrifice virgins as the Aztecs used to do. These people sacrifice virgins," Mr. Sampson said.
Ms. Hays countered: "These people are very Old Testament and they believe that God didn't come back and say, 'Never mind' to polygamy. Like Jews, Christians and Muslims, they're children of Abraham. And I believe Abraham was a polygamist."
One last point, from Introspections of a Plural Wife:
Very interesting interview on the Today Show this morning (May 12, 2008), with two couples and Willie Jessop of the YFZ ranch, discussing their efforts to see their children.
One mother said that she has a daughter in state custody who is 23, but who the state of Texas insists is 15 or 16 years old. She says her daughter has a birth certificate and a driver's license, and that she herself submitted her own driver's license and attested to her daughter's age, but the state will not accept any of the identification as legitimate.