Bill Proposed To Take Care Better Care Of State Social Workers Takes Detour

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A bill aimed at better protecting state social workers took a detour Wednesday so extra funding can be inserted, House Speaker Jody Richards said.

The so-called "Boni Bill," named for a social worker killed on the job, emerged from a House committee last week without a commitment for additional state money - which drew criticism from Gov. Ernie Fletcher and social workers alike.

In a procedural move just before the House adjourned for the day, the measure was sent back to the House Health and Welfare Committee for further action.

The bill was listed on the committee's agenda for Thursday.

"We're going to add some money to the `Boni Bill,"' Richards said later. Richards wouldn't specify how much state money might be added.

"We're trying to do the right thing," the Bowling Green Democrat told reporters. "The system needs some real repair."

The original bill, backed by Fletcher's administration, called for about $20 million over the next 16 months to add more than 300 social services staffers, including 225 social workers, to the state payroll.

Another key proposal was equipping all state social workers with two-way radios equipped with panic buttons.

The bill also said that supervised visits between birth parents and their abused or neglected children take place in neutral locations.

The legislation stemmed from last year's death of Boni Frederick, who was stabbed and beaten when she took a 10-month-old boy to his other's house for a visit near Henderson in western Kentucky last October.

The bill's sudden return to committee with the intention of adding state funding was praised by the governor's office.

"We're glad the speaker has realized that this is a serious problem which transcends politics," Fletcher spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said.

Richards is one of seven Democrats running for governor this year.

Fletcher is seeking a second term and is being challenged by two Republicans.

The bill would still have to clear the Senate if it wins House approval.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said he supported limited additional funds to set up safe visitation centers, improve safeguards at social workers' offices and phase in two-way radios to enhance protection.

Wayne suggested an infusion of $2.5 million until lawmakers can take up the issue again next January. By that time, they would have the results of a comprehensive task force study on the social worker system that's part of the bill pending in the House.

Wayne said that pouring large amounts of money "into a broken system is not the right thing to do right now.

We need to step back and do a real thorough study and come up with concrete recommendations for '08 to improve the whole cabinet, because it's been broken for many, many years, and not just this administration."

The version approved by the committee would allow social workers to request quick criminal background checks to enhance safety when working cases.

The measure also would require social workers to report any physical or verbal abuse on the job, and the state would track those incidents.

Also, the bill would designate employees to assess the possibility of cases turning violent.

It would allow the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to shift up to $2.5 million in existing funds to deal with "immediate emergency safety needs."
The legislation is House Bill 362.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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