Senate adopts amendment that requires DSS provide yearly caseload reports

DSS Director Lillian Koller speaks to reporters following the Senate's DSS Oversight Panel hearing on May 21.

COLUMBIA - A push to make changes at the Department of Social Services continued on Thursday as a growing number of lawmakers voiced their concern with the agency.

The Senate introduced a resolution on Thursday that would declare the legislative body has no confidence in DSS Director Lillian Koller's leadership. The measure was introduced after attempts by Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Winnsboro, to move for a vote of no confidence on the floor failed.

Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, one of the members of the DSS Oversight Panel, said she was frustrated with the back and forth between lawmakers on the vote, because she was hoping for the Senate to speak with one voice on the issue.

"I think it's time," Shealy said. "We need to quit dragging our feet."

Shealy said she acknowledges that there were issues at the agency before Koller arrived, but added things aren't getting better because there's too much tension and dissension at DSS.

The resolution received bipartisan support, with four Republicans signing on as sponsors, including Shealy. Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, was among the three Democrats who also sponsored the bill.

"Until this issue is resolved, there will continue to be a growing number of senators who call for the resignation of Mrs. Koller," Kimpson said. "We don't have a minute more to waste and it's a shame that we have to consume this much time. But we are willing to take the time necessary to resolve the issue on Tuesday."

The next Senate panel hearing on DSS is scheduled for Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. Koller has been asked to testify before the panel for a third time.

The Governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the Senate also attached an amendment to a bill that would require DSS provide yearly reports to the General Assembly on the caseload numbers of its workers.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, presented the amendment to Jaidon's Law on Thursday during its third hearing. The bill, named after a 22-month-old boy from Pickens County who died in 2008 from a drug overdose, seeks to make it harder for child welfare officials to return children to their drug-abusing parents.

"Any effort that helps the Department of Social Services better serve the children and families of South Carolina is an effort the agency supports," said Marilyn Matheus, agency spokeswoman. "DSS will always welcome the opportunity to work with our legislators and community partners about the countless hours and complex decisions our front-line workers make every day to protect the at-risk children of our state."

On Wednesday, The Post and Courier published a story that revealed nearly a third of DSS workers were shouldering larger than recommended caseloads for the month of May, according to internal preliminary reports. The numbers differed from a reported statewide caseload average of six per worker, a number frequently repeated by agency leaders.

Lourie, who has called on Gov. Nikki Haley to fire Koller, said the committee will continue to move forward with or without Koller to reform DSS. But he added he believes Koller is a distraction and an impediment.

"When you have low morale, when you have high turnover, the results in any organization are going to be bad," Lourie said. "The results in this in this organization have been human tragedies."

Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.