UPDATE, March 1: The full House passed the bill but its prospects in the Senate are unclear.
A Kentucky House committee has passed a bill that would open some family court proceedings to the public in a pilot project.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 9-1 to approved the bill, House Bill 407, sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom of Lexington. The measure allows the Kentucky Supreme Court to open to public scrutiny seven family courts and monitor the results for four years. However, while the public would be allowed to attend court proceedings, records would remain secret and no audio or video recordings would be permitted. Judges would be allowed to decide whether to participate in the pilot project.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton has favored more transparency in family and juvenile courts, but the legislature and court system have been slow to act, despite a series of reports detailing problems in the state system.
"It does lift the veil of secrecy," Westrom told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "It does increase the public's confidence in our justice system."
Increasing transparency in family courts is a trend across the nation, according to Patricia Walker FitzGerald, chief family court judge of Jefferson County, who testified before the committee. FitzGerald said about 30 states allow some public scrutiny of family courts.
The bill now awaits action by the entire House.