Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bill that would limit release of child-abuse information appears to be dead with one day left

A bill that could increase secrecy of child-abuse records at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services failed to win passage on the next-to-last day of the legislative session and appears to be dead. "Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican, said some senators had questions about the bill and it appears unlikely to pass," Deborah Yetter of The Courier-Journal reports.

Senate Bill 126, originally a social-work licensing bill, includes in its Section 10 provisions of House Bill 200 to "create an outside panel of experts to review child deaths and serious injuries, with the goal of better detecting those that result from abuse or neglect. It also would create an outside office to review continuing operations of the state’s child welfare system," Yetter writes. "And it would clarify the definition of child abuse to spell out that any adult living in the home or a sibling older than 16 could be considered a perpetrator of abuse.

The bill would also limit what the cabinet must disclose about child-abuse deaths and serious injuries as a result of child abuse, so the Kentucky Press Association lobbied against it. One portion of the bill would prohibit the cabinet from releasing "the name or any identifying information of a child who has suffered a near fatality, or any information on a sibling or children living in the home of the child who suffered a fatality or near fatality," which is defined as an injury that places a child in serious or critical condition.

KPA counsel Jon Fleischaker, chief author of the state Open Records Act, testified before a Senate committee that if the measure had been law when Amy Dye, a 9-year-old Todd County girl, was killed by her adoptive brother, the public may have never known about her death, or that the brother confessed to killing her.

Westrom told Yetter the cabinet insisted on the language. 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, and the cabinet has appealed. For Yetter's story, click here.

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