Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bill would create panel to review deaths and near-deaths of children in state care; change promised for accountability, transparency

The House Health and Welfare Committee approved a bill Thursday to "create a panel to review deaths and near-deaths of children who are neglected or abused while under the state’s supervision," the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.

The vote was unanimous, but some committee members "said they would not support the bill on the House floor unless it was amended to provide more transparency," Beth Musgrave writes for the newspaper. The bill's sponsor, committee chairman Tom Burch, D-Louisville, left, "told the committee that he was going to offer a floor amendment that would ensure the records of the panel would be available to the public."

Burch's House Bill 441 "would exempt the panel from disclosing its conversations and documents regarding neglected and abused children," and that would make the state child-care system more secret than it is today, argued Jason Nemes, a lawyer for the Kentucky Press Association. “It removes the transparency that we have today,” he said.

For several months, the cabinet has fought in court to keep the Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal from reviewing records of children who have died when the state was supposed to be looking after them. After a judge ruled in favor of the newspapers, the cabinet issued an emergency regulation that "limits the release of information about the actions of child protection workers in cases involving children who are killed or severely injured because of abuse and neglect," Musgrave writes.

The papers are in court again, challenging the cabinet's refusal to release certain records. This week, the cabinet asked that the lawsuit be moved to federal court, arguing that federal law prohbits the release of such information. (Read more)

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