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Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee

Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee

Over the course of the 2017 interim period a bipartisan working group of House members met several times to hear from stakeholder groups about issues related to Kentucky’s adoption and foster care processes.  I was fortunate to “audit” some of those meetings as an interested member of the Senate.  When the 2018 session began the working group’s end product became House Bill 1, which ultimately passed one vote short of unanimously.

HB1 contained a number of critical changes to the child welfare process for foster care and adoption, including imposing new timelines and restrictions to prevent cases from lingering overlong on court dockets and getting stranded in the inboxes of the state’s bureaucracy.  The bill also creates a new Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee and I am honored to be named as a member by the Senate President:

Commonwealth of Kentucky
Office of Senator Whitney Westerfield

For Immediate ReleaseJune 8, 2018

Contact: John Cox

John.Cox@LRC.KY.GOV

Senate President Stivers appoints Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield to the Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee

FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 8, 2018) – Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers announced Thursday the appointment of Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville) to the  Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee. The newly-formed committee was created in statute with the recent passage of House Bill 1 from the 2018 Legislative Session.

House Bill (HB) 1 gives more rights to foster parents by cutting red tape and reducing regulatory burdens associated with adopting a child in Kentucky. The Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee was created by HB 1 to review, analyze, and provide oversight on child welfare, including but not limited to foster care, adoption, and child abuse, neglect, and dependency.

“As an adoptive parent, I understand the challenges and anxieties associated with Kentucky’s adoption process,” Senator Westerfield said. “I look forward to applying my experience in the courtroom and as the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman to the child welfare process where too often children fall through the cracks. I was proud to carry House Bill 1 in the Senate, I am proud to serve on this committee, and I am anxious to get to work to further improve our adoption and foster care programs in the Commonwealth.”

A meeting schedule for the Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee is expected to be announced in the near future. For more information on the committee, please visit http://www.lrc.ky.gov/committee/statutory/SWOAC/home.htm. For the full text of HB 1, please visit http://www.lrc.ky.gov/record/18RS/HB1.htm.

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Until the War is Over

Back in May (2014), I made a trip to Frankfort to catch up with a school group that was taking a daylong field trip around the historic sites of the Capitol City.  The Heritage Christian Academy Warriors (4th graders) have made a trip up to the Capitol both years I've been in office, and like any other school group visiting during the interim (when I'm not already up there for session) if I can I make the trek to Frankfort too meet them.  I hate missing a chance to visit with school kids about the job I'm blessed to have — one of these kids from the district is going to have this job one day in the future!

I caught up with the group and took them to the Senate chamber and had a chance to talk to them for nearly 45 minutes.  They asked all kinds of questions and I gave all kinds of answers!  Since we had the room to ourselves and plenty of time, I explained a lot about the kind of things we do, good and bad.  One of the students asked if I had ever been scared doing my job.  Interesting question.  Easy answer.  Yes.

I've been nervous before, about speaking or carrying a bill on the floor, but those are just nerves about sounding stupid or saying something inaccurate or embarrassing.  Fear, on the hand, hasn't been felt nearly as often.  In fact, I can only think of one occasion.  Carrying Senate Bill 8, the "ultrasound bill," in the House Health & Welfare Committee.  The bill, just like others over the years before now, had come out of the Senate and died at the hands of a pro-choice Committee Chairman and pro-choice House leaders — some publicly and unabashedly, and others under cover of anonymity and secret, if not outright deceit.  This year, the bill had sat without a hearing in the House Health & Welfare Committee for over two months when a discharge petition was filed in the house.  A discharge petition, if passed by a simple majority (51 of 100), would remove the unheard bill from the Committee and bring it before the full House for a vote on the floor.  This year, despite 61 co-sponsors of a house bill that contained SB8 language, 49 democrats and a couple of republicans (many of whom brag on themselves for co-sponsoring the same kind of bill) either walked out on the discharge petition vote or simply failed to show up for it at all.  The petition failed to pass.  Naturally, the next move of House leadership was to hear the bill in Committee - it's an election year so they can't ignore the bill altogether.  That's where I come in.

The House Health & Welfare Committee is perceived, fairly or unfairly, as unfriendly territory for conservatives.  Liberals control the membership head count, and the tension between committee members of opposite ideologies is palpable and sometimes expressly shown.  Even the committee members themselves refer to the committee by its common nickname "Hell & Warfare."  This was the lions' den, and I was ordered to march in knowing legislative defeat was certain.

I approached my testimony with great fright, believing I would be attacked or my words twisted by the committee members or the media or both.  But I carried on. I presented the bill calmly and directly, explaining the bill didn't actually do anything to expressly restrict abortion at all (no matter how much I wish would).

My testimony fell on more deaf ears than not. Those who wish to protect abortion rights made half-true claims about the bill, and particularly galling was the act by two of the most fiercely prochoice members of the committee to make the initial motion and second for the bill to be voted on — they knew they had numbers.

I explained the situation as it unfolded (edited for time and content, of course)  to these school kids. I told them how scared I was of that meeting and the battle that would come my way.  It was at that moment when a young man raised his hand to ask this profound question:

So you fight until the war is over?

Yep.

A reporter politely asked me once why we (conservatives) keep fighting for prolife legislation when we know it will continue to be defeated.  We keep fighting because those lives should be protected, and we can't give up until they are.  I trust God's plan, regardless of the outcome.  He can *seal* the mouths of the lions!

 

Hard Fought Victory

Senate Bill 200, overhauling Kentucky's juvenile code to achieve better outcomes for kids and save taxpayer money in the process has seen final passage in the Senate. Following original Senate passage at 32-6 and House passage of 84-15, the Senate concurred with minor changes made in the House Judiciary Committee and voted a final time 30-8, sending the bill to the Governor's desk. 

Big, comprehensive reforms take a Herculean effort. I didn't have a full grasp of that truth until today. Under the best of circumstances it still takes time to get input from all stakeholders, shape the policy draft, vet the policy through stakeholders again (rinse and repeat) until you finally have a bill to file.  After the bill is filed the other legislators have to be brought up to speed on the topic enough to make an informed decision to support it with their vote.  These two steps alone make up the bulk of legislative effort.

Senate Bill 200 was not an example of "the best of circumstances."  Indeed, because the bill touches all three branches of government, two Executive Cabinets and multiple departments within them, and was the largest overhaul in three decades.  We were bound to run into reluctance to change, and we did.  Having said that, there is an important thread that you can find throughout the fabric of SB200: the will to change.  Still more important is the motivation for that will, the best interest of Kentucky's children.   We (myself included) had to dig down, to tap wells of patience, calm, energy and concentration.

The official jacket of SB200 moments after enrollment in the Senate, bearing the signature of Senate President Stivers before heading to the Speaker, then the Governor.

The official jacket of SB200 moments after enrollment in the Senate, bearing the signature of Senate President Stivers before heading to the Speaker, then the Governor.

I may eventually provide a more detailed story of just what exactly we had to go through, including absurd email blasts accusing the bill, and me as it's sponsor, of being a "Trojan horse" for the United Nations (I'm still stunned by absurdity of that one).

I will simply and proudly report that the bill has seen final passage, and as of this writing, already sits on the Governor's desk awaiting his signature.

 

 

The Law Is Catching Up

As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee I have the opportunity to move legislation that makes a huge difference in the lives of Kentuckians. During the 2013 Regular Session I was fortunate enough to be a part of the success behind a handful of bills that I believe do just that. Human trafficking (HB3), Religious Freedom (HB279) and Military Voting (SB1) are certainly in that group and for different reasons each garnered much of the attention.