Haslam opposed legislation that would have provided $1 million for CASA

Hank Hayes • Apr 21, 2013 at 2:54 AM

Connie Steere says something is always better than nothing.

Steere, executive director of Kingsport-based CASA for Kids, was hoping for a statewide windfall for the Court Appointed Special Advocate program that recruits and trains volunteers to represent abused and neglected children in court cases.

There was an opportunity through legislation filed by state Rep. Tony Shipley to get more than $1 million in new money for the program by increasing fines for the state’s seat belt law and earmarking that revenue for CASA.

But Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration opposed Shipley’s bill, and it failed in a House Transportation Committee after being stripped of the CASA earmark.

After the bill’s failure, Shipley said a $700,000 budget amendment was filed to support CASA. Such lawmaker-filed amendments are typically placed “behind the budget” to be acted on by the General Assembly after considering the governor’s proposed spending plan. But after approving Haslam’s $32.6 billion budget, only a “modest budget amendment was placed in the budget ... around $100,000,” Shipley said.

“(That is) considerably less than what the bill would have accomplished,” Shipley, R-Kingsport, said in an email.

CASA’s state funding has stayed at $15,000 per county served since 1996, and the program is in less than half of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Still, Steere said she appreciates the extra money in the state budget for CASA.

“... I believe it is $91,000 statewide for CASA’s work to help juvenile courts expedite safety and permanency for a few more neglected children,” she said in an email. “Unfortunately it will only be for a few children. I understand from the budget amendment that our Tennessee CASA Association will receive $25,000 to help CASA get started in counties where CASA does not exist at all. The rest of the funding will go to the existing CASA programs currently serving in 44 counties. For CASA for Kids Inc., that means we will receive $3,000 — $1,500 each for Sullivan and Hawkins County. Let’s see, with $860 being our annual cost of one child served by CASA, Tennessee will be supporting 3-4 more children having a ‘real chance’ this year.”

In contrast, Steere said it costs $88,000 per year for a child who becomes a juvenile delinquent ending up in state custody. “Sure seems like it would be wiser to invest more in prevention and intervention,” she pointed out. “But I do also understand state monies are limited. We need more productive adults paying into the system.”

Steere is encouraging the public to come hear how a neglected child can become a talented productive adult by attending singer/songwriter Jimmy Wayne’s performance on Friday, April 26, at the Eastman Employee Center at 7 p.m. There is no charge for the event, which is underwritten by the James and Laura Rogers Family Foundation, though donations will be accepted.

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