Georgia Juvenile Code Rewrite Suffers Last-Minute Death

Lingering questions about the state’s cost for prosecutors and public defenders in juvenile courts scuttled the bill Monday at the 11th hour.  House Bill 641, an overhaul of Georgia’s juvenile code for deprived, troubled and delinquent children, remained stuck in the Senate Rules Committee and is not scheduled for a vote before the Legislature adjourns Thursday. Rep. Wendell Willard, sponsor of the bill, did not push for a floor vote after hearing that Gov. Nathan Deal still had budget concerns, said Kirsten Widner, policy director at the Barton Child Law and Policy Center. “As best as we can discern, there are enough funding questions about some of the other priorities from the governor’s platform … that he felt like he needed to make some tough budget decisions, and something had to give,” Widner said. The governor’s office did not have time, Widner said, to reconcile last-minute disputes about the real cost of the reforms.

“There are such wildly different estimates and they didn’t have the time to get to the bottom of all of that, to work through all the numbers and really understand them,” she said.

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Funding for Juvenile Code is Major Concern as Legislature Winds Down

Wildly divergent estimates of the pricetag for Georgia’s proposed juvenile code rewrite continue to swirl around the Capitol as lawmakers return for their last three days of 2012. The 246-page bill has cleared the state House and is expected to come before the full Senate this week, possibly Tuesday, with only minor changes. Gov. Nathan Deal’s office continues to crunch the numbers to help him decide whether the state budget can absorb the expense. “We have solid support in the General Assembly, and we are hopeful the governor will support it as well,” said Kirsten Widner, lobbyist for the Barton Child Law and Policy Center. “If he’s not on board, you can’t achieve the goals of the legislation.”

In Georgia, Two Differing Opinions About how to Revamp the Juvenile Justice Code

Most of the people who know anything about Georgia’s four-decades-old juvenile code agree it needs changing. There is, however, disagreement over how, and how much, it should be changed.
Today, the JJIE brings you two differing opinions on the subject, something that will likely prove to be a major issue when the state Legislature begins its work next year.
Judge Robert Rodatus is a juvenile court judge in Gwinette County, Ga. He has worked in his current position since 1991 and has held a number of positions in the state’s Council of Juvenile Court Judges.
Kirsten Widner is director of Policy and Advocacy for the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. In the recent past, she has become one of the key representatives for groups and individuals working towards revision of the state’s juvenile code.

Stakeholders, Foster Kids Speak Out On Georgia Juvenile Code Rewrite

The stakeholder organizations involved in Georgia’s Juvenile Code Rewrite legislation are still providing input for the sweeping revision of the state’s 40-year-old juvenile law.

Representatives from a diverse array of child welfare organizations shared their respective views on HB 641 at a standing-room only hearing before House Judiciary Committee members Thursday.

Overwhelming support for the effort – now roughly seven years in the making – was repeatedly voiced during the two-hour gathering at the state capitol, along with critical suggestions for improvement. The rewrite has received commitments from Gov. Nathan Deal and Georgia House and Senate leadership to ready the measure for a vote in the 2012 legislative session.

“I think we’re finding out that a lot of people have concerns and they’re coming together to make this a good piece of legislation,” says committee chairman Rep. Wendell Willard (R- Sandy Springs), of the presentations made by organizations such as the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, Court Appointed State Advocate (CASA) and Interfaith Children’s Movement. “It was very encouraging to me. Hopefully by January we will have a bill that is ready to move forward.”

Revived Runaway Act, Good Behavior Bill Close Out 2011 Legislative Session

When Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold) passed Barton Child Law and Policy Center Policy Director Kirsten Widner in a crowded hallway in the state capitol Thursday evening, he couldn’t resist passing on kudos. “You’ve had a good day,” he said, leaning in with a smile and an outstretched hand. “You’ve had a good day too,” she responded, with a grin and firm shake.  

That exchange, in many ways, summed up the reaction many state child advocates and members of the Georgia General Assembly have expressed about the official close of the 2011 legislative session. And it’s not so surprising.

Governor Deal, Lawmakers Commit To Juvenile Code Rewrite Vote In 2012

Georgia’s Juvenile Code Rewrite — a sweeping revision of the state’s 40-year-old juvenile law — will likely be ready for a vote in the next legislative session thanks to support from Gov. Nathan Deal and some in the Georgia House and Senate leadership, according to two non-profits involved in the drafting of the legislation. “The time has come for us to rethink how our state is responding to children who have found themselves in trouble with the law,” said Gov. Deal in a news release.  “I applaud the careful thinking and inclusive engagement that has gone into developing the Child Protection and Public Safety Act.”

Representatives from the Barton Child Law and Policy Center of the Emory School of Law and Voices for Georgia’s Children, said, this week that the Act, Senate Bill 127, received commitments from Gov. Deal and Georgia House and Senate leadership “to ready the measure for a vote in 2012.” Voices lists the legislation’s current status as “in the Senate Judiciary Committee” with “general support from the Governor’s office as well as the office of the Speaker.” “From the beginning, this process has been a great example of how to build good, thoughtful and effective legislation,” said sponsor Senator Bill Hamrick (R- Carrollton), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC). “We have had buy-in from all the players: from the courts to the prosecutors, defense attorneys, service providers, youth and families; pretty much every interested party.”

JUSTGeorgia, a coalition that includes Voices and Barton along with non-profit Georgia Appleseed, has led the rewrite effort as a vehicle to improve Georgia’s juvenile laws and the underlying social service systems. Barton’s Policy Director Kirsten Widner and Voices Advocacy Director Polly McKinney contend that the rewrite is the culmination of more than four years of research and consensus building to solve dilemmas faced by children, families, courts, detention facilities and taxpayers. SB 127, they said, is based on data-driven “best practices,” with an eye to timeliness and fiscal responsibility.

Crossover Day Is Here: The Latest On Juvenile Justice, Child Focused Legislation

Today is Crossover Day — the critical mid-point in the legislative session, when Senate bills move over to the House and House bills transition to the Senate. Any House bills that have not passed their chamber of origin will not progress in 2011. Because this is the first year of the  two-year legislative cycle, any bills that fail to cross over may still be considered in 2012. Here’s an update on some of the legislation pertaining to young people in Georgia and juvenile justice issues that JJIE.org has been following. Senate Bills

SB 31 would expand attorney-client privilege to cover parents’ participation in private conversations with defense attorneys representing their children in delinquent or criminal cases. The bill introduced in January by Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur) gives the child – not the parent – exclusive rights to waive the privilege. This measure passed the Senate on February 23 and now awaits consideration by the House Civil Judiciary Committee. Introduced last month by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), SB 80 would require any person, including a juvenile arrested for a felony offense, to give a DNA sample.  It would be analyzed and kept in a database by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

New Barton Center Measure Could Help Keep Runaway Kids Safe

Shelter, food, counseling and medical care may not seem like typical 18th birthday presents, but many local experts say, thanks to a state law, many underage runaways in Georgia often wait until then to seek such services at local shelters. “A lot of runaways show up at shelters on their 18th birthday seeking services that they could not get before due to their age,” says Kirsten Widner of Emory University’s Barton Child Law and Policy Center. “Under the bill that we’ve drafted, they would not have to wait until they’re 18 anymore.”

Currently emergency shelters in Georgia that serve runaways face a legal liability if staffers provide services to young people under the age of 18 without parental permission. In light of the law, most shelters in the state do not serve underage runaways at all. The staffs at those that do, typically try to contact the child’s parent or guardian before providing any services.

Kids – Not Parents – Get to Call the Shots in Court Under New Code

Parents are not always the best advocates for children charged with crimes. In fact, parents may be uninvolved, absent, or even hostile, experts told state senators as they discussed proposed changes to Georgia’s juvenile code. Some of those experts were young people who’ve been through the juvenile justice system. They are identified by first names only:

Giovan, 20, was only 11 months old when he entered foster care. By 12, he was also in the juvenile justice system, declared unruly for cursing at foster parents he says repeatedly told him he was worth nothing.