Last updated: July 18. 2013 7:27PM - 322 Views
Rep. Hubert Collins

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When I last wrote to you, I talked about proposed changes to the state’s juvenile code that I expected to be released in late December by a state task force made up of lawmakers, state officials, judges, and others who work with the juvenile justice system across the Commonwealth.

The code, I explained, is a unified code that governs how the state treats juveniles who commit crimes and those who commit “status offenses,” or actions that would not be considered offenses if committed by an adult (like running away from home for example). I also said I expected final recommendations to be issued and for changes to the code to be considered during the 2013 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly that begins next week.

Well, you know what they say about “best laid plans.”

The Task Force on the Unified Juvenile Code, which spent months looking at the juvenile code, approved a final report on Dec. 19 but announced that it would not be making recommended changes to the code until the issue can be studied further.

Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, who is the House co-chair of the task force, said discussion about possible changes to the code will continue following the 30-day regular session, which begins Jan. 8 and lasts through mid March. Tilley said remedying the code will not be “an easy fix.”

Tilley said continued discussion will allow more voices—including those of consultants, officials from out of state, and representatives from mental health agencies—to be heard.

Task force reauthorization would have to be approved by the General Assembly in session.

The four top issues that have been discussed by the task force over the past several months include how to best deal with “status offenders” (children who have committed offenses that would not be considered crimes if committed by an adult), risk assessments, information sharing, and “financial mapping”—essentially tracking where the money goes. “Whether it relates to financial mapping or assessments, those pieces have not been done yet…in order to properly take what may be legislative action at the appropriate time, we have to have information from those two pieces,” said Tilley.

Kentucky Department for Community Based Services Commissioner Teresa James said any recommendations for a change in delivery of mental health care to children need to be made carefully so that “10 years from now, we’re not looking back and having regrets in the decisions that we made.”

As far as financial mapping goes, James said grant writing and other financial planning needs to be done with all stakeholders involved, including the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Justice Cabinet, Department of Education, and others. A consultant who has done financial mapping work in states that include Wisconsin and Maine will be brought in early this year to assist in the effort, she said.

Task force member and veteran public defender Peter Schuler said he felt the report, which was approved by the task force later during the Dec. 19 meeting, “does not reflect the work that we have done.” He then presented written proposals for the task force members’ consideration that he understood would not be brought up at this time for a vote.

Tilley explained the proposals would be valuable as the discussion on amending the code moves forward.

On a lighter note, the New Year is upon us, and each of us is probably making resolutions of one sort or another on how we want 2013 to go.

Not everyone has the same resolution. While most everyone has “lose a few pounds” on his or her New Year’s to-do list, other plans are as different as the people who carry them. Some hope to expand their business, some vow to find more time to volunteer, and some hope this is the year they can buy that house for their family. Everyone wants to stay healthy and happy and make the year better than the last.

As we begin 2013 and carry our plans and dreams from the old year to the new, let me take this moment to wish you a most Happy and Prosperous New Year for you, your family, your friends, and us all. I pray it will be a wonderful year from start to finish.

Talk to you next week as the 2013 Regular Session gets underway in Frankfort.

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