Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Senate kills, House revives moments later a bill that would curtail child services transparency

A bill opposed by the Kentucky Press Association that could increase secrecy at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services died in a Senate committee on Tuesday then was revived minutes later in the House of Representatives.

House Bill 200, legislation sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, was defeated in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. Moments later, in what Courier-Journal reporter Deborah Yetter reported was a pre-arranged move, she walked to the bill to the House State Government Committee, where it was added to a different bill and passed unanimously.

Critics of the measure, who say it would sharply curtail public access to details of child-abuse deaths and serious injuries, were outraged, saying the bill gives the cabinet more power to withhold information.

“It’s a secrecy bill,” David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association, told the Courier-Journal. “They have played right into the hands of the cabinet.”

Media attorney Jon Fleischaker testified the Senate committee about concerns over the lack of transparency the bill has for cabinet oversight, even though supporters were pushing it as a transparency bill. Portions of the bill would allow the cabinet not to release the county where a death or near-death occurred, nor the name of the hospital where the child was taken.

Fleischaker, an author of the state's open government legislation, testified that if this bill had been in force when Amy Dye, a 9-year-old Todd County girl, was killed, the public may have never known about her death, or that a 17-year-old sibling was charged with, and then confessed to, killing Amy. He's now serving a 50-year sentence.

The cabinet has been embroiled in legal action for more than a year over its refusal to turn over records relating to the death of children under its care. Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd has ordered the cabinet to disclose its records in those cases while withholding minimal information.

For more on this story, see Deborah Yetter's story here.

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