Kentuckians to vote on amendments today

Dave Shinall

Kentucky voters will decide the fate of two proposed state Constitutional Amendments today.

Approved by voters, they would give Kentucky’s fourth Constitution 39 Amendments.

Amendment No. 1 would establish family courts as divisions of circuit courts in all 120 Kentucky counties.

Family courts have been a pet project of Kentucky Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert, who has campaigned across the Commonwealth for passage.

All seven Kentucky Supreme Court justices support the family court amendment proposal.

Nonetheless, the Chief Justice has said he would have no choice, as head of the state’s unified court system, but to dismantle family courts if voters reject it.

Warren County is among 26 counties that have family courts in a pilot program under House Bill 544, passed in 1998.

“Family court is the concept of one judge, one family, one court and the focus is trying to look at the family as a whole,” Warren County Family Court Judge Margaret Huddleston said. “Therapeutic justice, I call it.”

Family court judges issue divorcee decrees, finalize adoptions and handle juvenile “status offenses,” such as truancy and runaway cases, that would not be crimes if committed by adults.

They also handle non-support cases and spouse abuse cases.

By putting jurisdictions in one court, the proposed amendment would make life more bearable for families caught up in the judicial process, said Kentucky House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green.

“The way our system is structured now, some of the jurisdictions are in the circuit court, some in district court, and it can be very trying for families,” Richards said.

Amendment No. 2 would erase sections of the Constitution adopted in the late 19th Century, when legislators and voters feared the power of big corporations, especially railroads.

The amendment would give the General Assembly the ability to make economic decisions to bring businesses to Kentucky, while scrapping outdated parts of the Constitution that are not enforced, Guthrie said.

If approved, the amendments would take effect immediately.

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