Monday, March 19, 2007

13 senators voted against changing Boni Bill

Senate oks revision of Boni Bill
Williams says it's improved - others say its gutted
Vos, Sarah, Lexington Herald-Leader, March 10, 2007, pg. B1.

FRANKFORT - The Senate yesterday approved a version of a social worker safety bill that is drastically different from the House version, making the issue one that will probably be worked out in a conference committee.

"And who knows what it will look like when it comes out," said Sen. David Boswell, D-Owensboro.Thirteen senators voted against changing the House bill, and several spoke against it.

"If Boni Frederick's death is not in vain, then what we have to do is something substantive," said Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, D-Hazard. "This committee substitute does not do that. It has been gutted."

House Bill 362 is called the Boni bill, in honor of Frederick, a Henderson social worker aide who was killed while supervising a visit between a toddler and his biological mother.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, who offered the revised version of the bill in committee, defended the changes.

"The truth of the matter is the Senate committee substitute provides more real protection for social workers than did the bill that came over from the House," Williams said.

The Senate approved Williams' version of the bill. It now goes back to the House for concurrence. Williams and House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, both said yesterday that the issue is likely to go to conference.

The House and Senate versions of the bill disagree as to how much money the Cabinet for Health and Family Services needs to address social worker safety and how safety would best be improved.

The House version would give the Cabinet $4.8 million to hire more than 100 staff and set up visitation centers for foster children and their biological parents. It would also set up a legislative task force to do an in-depth study of social worker salaries, procedures and other issues.

The Senate version does not appropriate money, although it would allow the cabinet to move money around in its budget and its secretary to request an additional $1 million from the governor.

It directs the cabinet to assess safety problems at regional offices and fix them and to hire police officers to accompany social workers if needed. Instead of a legislative task force, it would create a cabinet study group focused on safety.

Both versions of the bill would give social workers access to criminal-background checks and require them to report threats.

Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, worked on the original bill that proposed hiring more than 300 social workers and staff and appropriating more than $18 million.

She said she could not vote to change the House version, because, although it did not retain everything recommended in the original bill, it contained more of the solutions social workers wanted -- like more staff and visitation centers.

"These are the sorts of things they are interested in," Denton said. "They do think it will make a difference."


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