Monday, March 19, 2007

Thanks for nothing (no funding), Kentucky Senate

Kentucky General Assembly: Senate passes social worker bill
Critics call it useless after money removed
Yetter, Deborah and Stephanie Steitzer. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 10, 2007, pg. B1.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Senate yesterday approved a bill meant to improve social worker safety — though critics claim it was gutted and key House members say they can't accept it.

Named the "Boni Frederick Bill" after a Western Kentucky social service aide slain on the job, House Bill 362 was stripped of $4.8 million Thursday by a Senate committee and changed substantially.

The changes prompted some strong objections yesterday from Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Democrat from Henderson, where Frederick was killed after she took an infant for a court-ordered home visit with the mother.

"Our social workers are on the front line protecting our most vulnerable citizens," Ridley said. "Far too often we send them into situations where their lives are threatened."

Ridley said he objected to the Senate leadership's decision to strip all funding from the bill to hire 109 social workers and other staff and open 16 secure centers around the state where parents could visit children removed for abuse or neglect.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, defended the changes, saying they would give the Cabinet for Health and Family Services the authority to make immediate safety changes including surveying all social-service offices and upgrading security with existing funds.

But the cabinet already has the power to do that. After Frederick's death — among other steps — the cabinet with the assistance of Kentucky State Police began surveying county offices and making recommended improvements for security.

Social workers and Frederick's daughter, Sandy Travis of Dixon, said this week that the bill is meaningless without funds to hire more workers and open visitation centers.

Still, Williams defended the changes.

"To say that this bill has been gutted is an insult," he said. - A DESERVED INSULT

But others in the Senate disagreed, including Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, and Dan Mongiardo, D-Hazard.

Mongiardo was one of several lawmakers who met with social workers at a public forum after Frederick's death.

"If Boni Frederick's death is not in vain, then we have to do something substantive to protect them,"
he said.

Sen. Julie Denton, a Louisville Republican who is chairwoman of the Health and Welfare Committee, also spoke against the changes, saying more far-reaching improvements are needed.
The bill now goes back to the House and likely will be assigned to a conference committee so members of both chambers can try to work out their differences.

The Senate approved the bill 34-0, with some members saying they voted for it only to get it to the conference committee, where they hope it can be improved.

The Senate also approved Senate Bill 83, which would raise the state speed limit to 70 mph on rural interstate highways and most parkways.

The vote was 35-2 to accept changes made by the House and send the bill to Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who has previously supported raising the speed limit from the current 65 mph. Fletcher spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said the governor would reserve comment until he reviews the bill with advisers.

Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, who opposed the bill, said he feared the higher speed limit would increase Kentucky's highway death toll.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the correlation between speeds and accidents, and the faster you go the more likely you're going to die," the Louisville Democrat said in an interview after the final vote.

Before taking effect, the higher speed limit would need approval from the state transportation secretary after an engineering study of safety factors.

The bill specifies that all rural stretches of interstates are eligible for the 70 mph speed limit. The exceptions would be urban portions of interstate highways in Jefferson County and the Cincinnati suburbs in Northern Kentucky.

In addition, rural sections of four-lane parkways would be eligible for the 70 mph speed limit. Current speed limits would remain unchanged on the Hal Rogers Parkway and a portion of the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway east of Campton.


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