As we continue to look at issues that are likely to come before the 2013 Kentucky General Assembly in a couple weeks, I want to express my sadness and concern in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. The loss of children and innocent adults to such brutality in these United States is inexcusable and, I’m sure, we will be reviewing the causes and looking for solutions as a nation in the months to come.
My deepest sympathy is extended to all those affected by the shooting, especially those who lost loved ones.
Of all the issues facing our nation and this Commonwealth, protection of our children takes center stage. We know we cannot be with them all the time but when we can’t, we want to know they are safe. That goes for our own children and grandchildren and for those children who, like the small children killed in Newtown, Conn., we don’t know personally yet want to protect just the same.
Last regular session, Kentucky state lawmakers considered changing rules governing disclosure of information about child abuse and neglect, which is usually inflicted by someone a child knows. The legislation in question would have established a process for review of fatalities and near fatalities caused by abuse or neglect of children who had prior involvement with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services and those with no prior involvement. The legislation, which was similar to bills introduced in 2010 and 2011, was not passed into law. A few months later on July 16, Governor Beshear issued an Executive Order establishing an external review panel in the state Justice Cabinet to review cases independent of the CHFS pertaining to fatalities caused by child abuse or neglect.
The problem is the governor’s order is not permanent, like a law would be. It also does not require full public disclosure (as many media and others would like) of action taken — or not taken — to protect a child from abuse or neglect, nor does it require the review of deaths caused by abuse or neglect of a child who had no prior involvement with CHFS. This next session, we expect there to be a push for legislation that does all the executive order cannot — specifically, a law that establishes a legal requirement for external review of child fatality and near fatalities cases resulting from abuse or neglect.
You should also expect lawmakers to consider changes to the state’s unified juvenile cost which governs treatment of youth who have committed criminal and noncriminal acts. Since the code was enacted in 1986, the inconsistencies found in it have become difficult for those in the justice system to navigate. A task force that met throughout the summer and fall looked at the ambiguous code and possible changes, such as alternatives to incarceration for troubled youth, better community care and community-based treatment, the need (or not) to establish an age of criminal responsibility, how violence impacts youth and sharing of information. Educational issues like compulsory attendance, truancy and access to school records were also discussed.
Suggested changes were made by the task force’s working groups in November — chief among them a call to stop incarcerating any child age 12 or under for criminal, or noncriminal (“status”), offenses in Kentucky. Current state law prohibits putting a child age 10 or under in detention unless they are charged with a serious felony, but the law has no minimum age for charging someone with a crime.
Final recommendations of the task force were expected middle of last week, and I am sure we will touch on the recommendations in our session coverage in this column. Until then, I encourage you to study the issue through news stories in the state or local papers, or get a copy of the task force report yourself (which should be accessible soon via the www.lrc.ky.gov web site). Rest assured that it won’t be long until we delve deeper into the issue in my column.
A final issue that state lawmakers are likely to consider in the 2013 Regular Session is a reform to the tax code, as we discussed in some depth last week. Among the reform ideas is subjecting new services to the state sales tax of 6 percent. Currently, the tax applies to most goods, but only a few services. There are pros and cons to both sides of this issue, as there are to most any issue that comes before the General Assembly, but it is something we should at least look into, and will likely do so in the upcoming session.
This will be my last column before the new year arrives, so let me take this moment to wish each and every one of you the best in 2013. I’ll talk to you next year.