Foster-care bills on fast track to Gov. Bevin's desk after sailing through Senate committee

02/22/2017 01:29 PM

FRANKFORT — A pair of bills meant to make life easier for Kentucky’s foster youth breezed through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.

Foster youth would have an option to be placed in the home of a person who isn’t related but shares some sort of relationship with the child, such as a family friend, a neighbor or a coach, under House Bill 180, sponsored by Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence.

House Bill 192, sponsored by Rep. Larry Brown, R-Prestonsburg, would allow 16- and 17-year-old foster youth to get a driver’s licenses without having a parent or guardian sign off, instead giving that authority to foster parents.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services would also be able to promulgate regulations under the bill so children in the agency’s care can get licensed if they don’t have foster parents, said Tim Feeley, deputy secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Service.

Both bills passed without opposition and were placed on the Senate’s consent calendar, making their passage a near certainty. Items on the consent calendar receive “yes” votes as lawmakers mark their daily attendance unless otherwise noted.

Feeley said the pair of bills are part of the cabinet’s renewed attention to the state’s foster care system, an initiative launched by Gov. Matt Bevin and first lady Glenna Bevin, who appeared before the Senate panel Wednesday.

“These two bills are some of the low-hanging fruit,” he said. “We’re going to be looking at the whole system over the next year and hopefully come with an omnibus bill to improve the entire system for the 2018 legislative session.”

Glenda Wright, president of Voices of the Commonwealth and a former foster youth herself, said it’s important for foster teens to have a license, particularly if they move far away for college.

Wright said she received her license days before leaving for college, and after finding rides for various activities in high school, she said she wouldn’t have gone without one. She wanted a vehicle for the two-and-a-half-hour drive home “just in case anything happened,” she said.

“That’s a recurring issue, youth going out to college and they’re not having that vehicle,” she said, adding that some foster youth had difficulty completing the governor’s job training program because they lacked transportation. “It’s very stressful not only on them, but on the workers and the cabinet to kind of figure out.”

Feeley, a former family court judge, said giving the health cabinet authority to place a child with a close family friend in emergency situations as outlined in HB 180 would make an already stressful situation a little easier for kids.

“Many times on family court bench there would be a removal Friday night,” he said. “It would get before me for a temporary hearing on Monday, and I would end up placing the child in such a home, but the cabinet couldn’t have done that so the child would have been in foster care for the weekend.

“This allows the cabinet to make that decision and is better for the children in that they can stay in a home that they’re comfortable in or already know rather than going to strangers in what is already a traumatic situation.”

Both pieces of legislation unanimously passed the House Feb. 15.


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