KET Legislative Coverage

Day 55: Juvenile Justice Reform and School Snow Days

by Renee Shaw | 03/28/14 12:58 PM

A measure to reform the state's juvenile justice system is a step closer to becoming law. Child advocates say the proposal to use out-of-home placement and incarceration for only the most troubled cases will be better for at-risk youth and taxpayers.

Current practice relies on locking up youth for actions that wouldn't be considered a crime if they were over 18 years old. The result is Kentucky spends $100,000 per individual to incarcerate children who commit low-level offenses.

Senate Bill 200 calls for interventions and community support instead of detention for kids who are habitual runaways or truants. Proponents say the reforms could save the state close to $25 million over the next few years.

The legislation is the product of a two-year task force studying the juvenile justice system. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville) said a primary goal of SB 200 is to better match the response to the offense of misbehaving youth.

Tilley said 80 percent of status offenses (those actions considered a crime because the offender is not an adult) are for skipping school. He told his colleagues SB 200 would result in less crime, lower government spending, and better outcomes for Kentucky's most-troubled kids. If approved, the reforms would take effect in the summer of 2015.

Rep. Kevin Bratcher (R-Louisville) doubted the plan can deliver on the promises touted by the bill's sponsors, and he urged the House to defeat the measure. Bratcher said his vote against SB 200 was informed by a recent outburst of teen violence in downtown Louisville.

Rep. Derrick Graham (D-Frankfort), a retired educator and chairman of the House Education Committee, commented that the reforms are an investment to help prevent at-risk youth from absorbing correctional dollars and space in the future.

Rep. Susan Westrom (D-Lexington), who has a background in social work, wholeheartedly agreed with Graham's sentiments. She said a child's misbehavior is often symptomatic of a larger problem. Senate Bill 200, Westrom argued, would provide families and kids the safety net they need get wayward youth back on track.

Rep. Richard Heath (R-Paducah) delivered a contrasting perspective as he read messages from education officials in his district who fear a diminishing role for local judges.

House Judiciary Chairman Tilley responded that SB 200 gets judges more involved than ever with supervising and convening intervention teams for problem kids. He also clarified that judges can still send a youthful offender to detention.

Rep. Steve Riggs (D-Louisville) highlighted the fiscal benefits of the measure.

The House approved SB 200 on a 84-15 vote. The reform measure now returns to the Senate where the body is expected to co-sign the House changes and award it final passage.

School Snow Days Compromise
After an initial plan to help schools with missed snow days vaporized earlier this week, a group of House and Senate appointees resolved their differences yesterday. Sen. David Givens (R. Greensburg) served on the negotiating team. He explained the compromise embodied in House Bill 211.

The Senate approved the conference committee report to HB 211 on a 36-1 vote. Northern Kentucky Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill) cast the dissenting ballot.

This afternoon, the House voted 97-1 on the school snow days bill, awarding it final passage and sending it to Gov. Steve Beshear for his signature.

E-Cigarettes and Human Trafficking
The state House also awarded final passage to Senate Bill 109 that would ban the sale and use of e-cigarettes by children under age 18. The House approved it 93-7 and the measure now heads to the governor's desk.

The lower chamber also approved a measure that allows for the expungement or erasure of non-violent offenses resulting from being a human trafficking victim. Senate Bill 184 goes to Gov. Beshear after a 98-0 vote in the House.

Watch Legislative Update tonight at 11 on KET. Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter.