Monday, March 19, 2007

In the name of 'immediacy,' Williams guts the Boni Bill

Senate reshapes social worker bill
Schreiner, Bruce. Kentucky Post, March 10, 2007, pg. A6.

The Kentucky Senate reshaped legislation Friday aimed at shielding state social workers from on-the-job dangers, setting up likely negotiations with House counterparts on how to avoid a repeat of a social worker's slaying.

Senate President David Williams said the Senate-passed version would allow quick action to better protect social workers at their offices and during house calls."The bottom line of it is that more things need to be done immediately," the Burkesville Republican said, adding that the Senate's plan would give a state agency the flexibility to incorporate safety measures.

Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, responded that letting the Health and Family Services Cabinet take care of the problem was "unacceptable." He said the cabinet was unresponsive by not asking lawmakers last year for more social workers.

"They don't get it," he said.

Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, D-Hazard, said the bill had been "gutted."

"If Boni Frederick's death is not (to be) in vain, then what we have to do is something substantive for our social workers across this state, to protect them," he said.

The legislation, termed the "Boni Bill," stems from last year's death of Boni Frederick, who was stabbed and beaten when she took an infant to his mother's house for a visit at Henderson in October.

In response, Gov. Ernie Fletcher proposed about $20 million to strengthen protections for social workers. He wanted to add more than 300 social services staffers, equip social workers with two-way radios and create neutral locations for supervised visits between birth parents and their abused or neglected children.

The version that cleared the House on a 98-0 vote contained $4.8 million, including $2.5 million in extra state funds. Among the uses for the money would be to hire more social workers and to open the neutral locations -- termed "visitation centers."

Williams said such centers could put even more people at risk because it wouldn't provide them training to defuse dangerous situations. - BULLSHIT

The Senate backed a version that would allow Health and Family Services Secretary Mark Birdwhistell to redirect existing cabinet funds to improve security. It also would let him request $1 million in extra state funding. Williams noted that Birdwhistell has a vast budget at his disposal in deciding what safety measures to take.

The Senate plan includes no guarantees to hire more workers, but Birdwhistell has said it would give him more latitude to try to protect them. Birdwhistell also previously said that, if he decided extra staffing was needed, he could draw on funds to accomplish it.

The Senate version would result in security assessments of social workers' workplaces, and would give Birdwhistell the authority to promptly beef up protections. Also, social workers could request that law enforcement officers accompany them on visits and could refuse to go out on the cases until getting a police escort.

Williams said that version provides "more real protection" for social workers than the House-passed plan.

House Speaker Jody Richards said the House would not accept the Senate's changes, setting the stage for House and Senate negotiators to try to resolve the differences.


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