Senate sends bill that would open some juvenile court proceedings to House

02/19/2016 07:17 PM

FRANKFORT — Legislation that would open some juvenile court proceedings in a four-year pilot program moved through the state Senate on a 29-6 vote Friday.

Senate Bill 40, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, would give the Kentucky Supreme Court authority to select at least three judicial districts or circuits for the test.

The legislation would open dependency, neglect, abuse and parental termination rights hearings unless closed by the judge. Sexual abuse cases would remain closed and judges would have authority to close proceedings with a written order under the proposal.

Adams, R-Louisville, called the bill “an important step in preventing child abuse deaths,” citing past reports by Kentucky Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Panel.

“Senate Bill 40 utilizes a commonsense approach to moving our state toward greater openness,” Adams said. “Beginning with this pilot series, it will allow Kentucky to identify and refine best practices before implementation into every jurisdiction.”

But Sen. Robin Webb said she’s concerned that children would suffer more if certain court proceedings are publicized, particularly if hearings are covered in the media.

Webb, a Grayson Democrat and attorney, said she’s “all for” preventing child abuse deaths and monitoring social services, but not by opening some juvenile court proceedings.

“I think this bill is a, to use a legal cliché, a slippery slope, and I would not want to see this come for the children of my district,” she said on the Senate floor.

Other senators said their initial concerns were alleviated in the proposed four-year pilot program.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the project is worth implementing “in a very careful and measured approach.”

“I think it’s important to bring some transparency to some of these proceedings, and I trust our judges to make the right decision,” he said.

“I had the same concerns that have been expressed here this morning. I’ve expressed those in the committee, and I expressed those a couple years ago when we voted on this before, and those concerns are still valid, but this is an even more narrow approach to this.”

SB 40 now heads to the House, which passed legislation 93-0 on Friday aimed at websites from charging to take down mugshot photos. House Bill 132 would allow people to sue websites for charging such fees with damages up to $100 per violation per day.

“These websites charge hundreds of dollars to take that information down, and they often have several websites, which increases the total substantially,” Rep. Gerald Watkins, a Paducah Democrat and sponsor of HB 132, said in a statement. “That is wrong, and it is needlessly ruining reputations and draining bank accounts without giving these people a meaningful way to fight back.”


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.