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HB40 will offer some a fresh start

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By The Kentucky Standard Editorial Board

It took many years to test the waters of opening juvenile court proceedings with Kentucky legislators, but, finally, many agree that passing Senate Bill 40 is the first step in the right direction.
While SB40 doesn’t open all juvenile court proceedings in all Kentucky courtrooms, it is allowing, for the first time, a creation of a small number of pilot sites in Kentucky courts that will open child abuse and neglect proceedings.
Sen. Julie Raque Adams, who serves on the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel, has proposed the bill for the last two years after it was recommended by the panel that the General Assembly should implement legislation allowing dependency, neglect and abuse court proceedings to be opened to the public. The intent behind the opening the proceedings is to promote transparency, accountability and systemwide improvements in the protection of our young children.
Professionals and government organizations are at their best when they are subject to public scrutiny and not allowed to operate in a shroud of secrecy.
There will be safeguards, of course. Child sexual abuse cases will be excluded from open proceedings, the use of recording devices will be prohibited in the courtroom, and the presiding judge can close hearings if it is found that open proceedings would be detrimental to the child.
But don’t think that this important idea only took two years to pass and one agency to recommend. Many organizations have fought for years to let the sunshine in on juvenile court proceedings. The Kentucky Press Association was one of the first carrying the torch to open proceedings, filing a lawsuit in July 2004 to get the discussion rolling. It took that KPA lawsuit and many other legal cases to pave the way for SB40 to finally receive bipartisan support in both chambers.
Most are hopeful that after the four-year trial period, the three pilot sites will allow Kentucky courts to identify the best practices and implement open proceedings across every jurisdiction.
When we finally open all juvenile court proceedings, only then will we be able to scrutinize the system to protect our children.