The bill, which was not listed on the Legislature’s website at press time, will put the Georgia Child Fatality Review Panel under the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, rather than Georgia Office of the Child Advocate. The intention, Coomer said, was to give the state review panel the necessary resources to investigate child deaths related to abuse so that the panel may prevent future deaths.
“There’s been a problem in these child review committees with being able to get access to certain kinds of information when they’re doing their reviews of a child’s death, and there’s been some interest in doing this,” he said. “With the death of Journey Ann Cowart, there was certainly more impetus to do something because of the just shocking nature of the case and the visibility of the case.”
The county-level review panels, Coomer explained, see varying amount of activity in the number of cases they investigate. A larger county may investigate more cases, he said.
“But in other counties, like in Bartow County, we don’t see this with great frequency, which is a good thing ... they don’t meet frequently, but when they don’t meet frequently they’re going to need some guidance, support from the state panel to know what to do,” Coomer said. “And the other thing is when they have not met for a year, or two years, the review committees get resistance from other agencies in producing information and cooperating with their review investigation, and that’s simply because the agencies in places don’t have the review committee meetings very frequently.
“... So by changing the committee, which is really an investigative committee in its nature, under the primary law enforcement agency of the state, that is the GBI, and giving them additional means to acquire that sensitive information in their investigation, we hope will make the process of review and recommending changes more efficient and more meaningful for the committee. That way we can ultimately reach the goal of reducing the instances of child fatality by child abuse in Georgia.”
Coomer believed the bill has a “very strong” chance of being passed by both the House and the Senate. He also thought Gov. Nathan Deal would likely sign it, adding the governor supports it.
During his remarks on the floor Wednesday, Coomer said he thanked those who had worked on the issue in previous years.
“What I talked about on the floor this morning, in the well, I made sure to say thank you to a lot of people who have worked on this issue, and other issues, about protecting children in Georgia for years and years, and I feel honored I get to be the one to bring this bill,” he said. “I’m saddened that we’re doing it in the aftermath of this tragedy for this little girl, but we do have a good, strong tradition of trying to protect and improve the lives of children in Georgia through the General Assembly and I’m happy to be a part of that.”