Monday, April 02, 2007

80 new social workers will be hired (vs. original request of 200+)

Boni Bill passes - at end of session
Compromise on oversight reached
Vos, Sarah. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 28, 2007, pg. D1.

FRANKFORT -- The state would hire as many as 80 new social workers under an agreement reached by the House and Senate last night on the so-called Boni Bill.

The agreement gives the Cabinet for Health and Family Services $2.5 million for new staff and $3.5 million for visitation centers for foster children and their biological parents, safety improvements at regional offices and technology improvements like panic buttons, said Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, and Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville. It appropriates more money than either of the versions that originally passed both Houses.The agreement was passed by both houses as an amendment to Senate Bill 59, a transportation reorganization bill. The measure passed both chambers unanimously -- and to cheers and clapping in the House.

Cabinet Secretary Mark Birdwhistell said he was pleased. "It's been a very exciting and difficult couple of days," he said.

Passage came after a long day of negotiations. Even after agreement had been reached by the conference committee, the bill's future appeared in question as a result of the political wrangling.

About 8:30 p.m., the House passed the agreement as an amendment to SB 59, and, shortly thereafter, sent their members home.

"We're not going to be strung out all night," House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, told reporters.

The Senate later approved the same language but as HB 362, the original Boni Bill, named after slain Henderson social worker aide Boni Frederick.

Half an hour later, the Senate approved SB 59, as amended by the House, sending the Boni Bill on to the governor.

Until late yesterday, the main sticking point had been how much oversight the legislature would get over the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The House version had called for an outside task force to study policies and procedures at the cabinet, and the Senate version had called for a cabinet-appointed study group.

The agreement goes with the Senate version but puts the chairs of the Senate and House Health and Welfare Committees on the study group, Burch said.

"This is a major concession on the House's part," Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said as the two sides met early yesterday. That meeting included Wayne, Lee, Burch, Rep. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown; Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville; Sen. Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson; and Birdwhistell.

It ended abruptly when Denton and Ridley were called back to the Senate. Senate President David Williams later described the meeting as an "ambush."

"They were trying to talk and clear the air," he said. "The House people had the press down there."

In the end, Birdwhistell acted as an emissary as a compromise was reached.

Lee called the agreement a start. "It's been a long, hard struggle to get where we are," he said.


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