A Youth Court reform bill that would have given parents copies of their own case files passed the Mississippi House of Representatives unanimously on Wednesday, but died Monday after one legislator blocked it.
House Bill 1210 died on the House calendar of motions for reconsideration Monday.
Authored by Rep. Richard Bennett, the bill would have provided parents with redacted copies of their own youth court case records. It was one of the many legislative efforts to reform issues brought to light in the Sun Herald’s Fostering Secrets investigation last year.
The bill received unanimous, bipartisan support, gaining 121 of 122 votes. One member was absent and did not vote.
Shortly after it passed, however, Rep. Mark Baker of Rankin County filed a motion to reconsider, which essentially suspends the bill’s passage and creates a deadline for the bill to die unless the House votes to pass it again.
A motions for reconsideration is peculiar in that it is a high-ranking action intended to slow down the passage of legislation when a new question or issue about a particular bill arises. Any member who voted in support of the bill may move for reconsideration on the same day or the day after the bill is passed.
Baker submitted his motion after receiving pressure to kill the legislation from several youth court judges in counties outside of South Mississippi, said Rep. Timmy Ladner, R-Poplarville.
The opposing judges drafted a memo saying the bill would harm children and placed the memo on every representative’s desk Thursday. The memo contained common opposition points such as children suffering “lifelong harmful and embarrassing consequences” if their parents had copies of their own court files.
The memo did not cite any empirical or anecdotal evidence to support its points, unlike a rebuttal memo that made it to the chamber later Thursday.
The rebuttal memo pointed out that 14 other states — including large jurisdictions such as New York, Texas, Florida and Los Angeles County — have completely opened their youth and family courts to the public with no negative effects.
It quoted New York Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman as saying, “It has been 100 percent positive with no negatives” … “Our worst critics will say it was the best thing we ever did. Their fears were unfounded.”
Ladner said he is exploring other avenues of implementing the same or similar reform legislation.