Vesta Roy and the Settlement Laws

by Steve Hartshorne on May 10, 2007

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In my next to last entry I mentioned the all-too-brief enlightened reign of Senate President Vesta Roy. It was an historic window of opportunity that occurs only once or twice in a generation. A sincere call to set aside partisan politics and improve the law of the land. Child seatbelt laws, no smoking in supermarkets, water supply protection, child support enforcement, special consideration for child victim/witnesses. People used to refer to Vesta as Glinda the Good, and it was a moniker she well deserved.

Let me give just one example, although there were so many. When Senator Roy was elected Senate President, the state’s system of services for children was fragmented and disorganized. The state ran an old-fashioned reformatory, and abused and neglected children, and other children in need of services (CHINS) were served, haphazardly, by whatever social service agency that would step up and take responsibility.

The problem was, the laws that determined who paid for these services were an archaic mess. It was unclear whether the town, the county, or the state was responsible. Much of the money that should have been going to serve children was being paid for attorneys’ fees to determine who would pay for needed services.

Just to give you an idea of the complexity of the old laws: A child is deemed in need of services of the type that are usually paid for by the town. The parents live in Town X. The child is placed in a foster home and the parents each move to different towns. Who pays?

It was an issue of no political value whatsoever. There was not one chance in ten thousand of explaining its importance to a single voter — unless that voter happened to be a town official, or a county commissioner, or an advocate for children. Senator Roy was all three, so the reform of the Settlement Laws became Senate Bill One, passed by both houses and signed into law.

The compromise that she hammered out between the state and the towns and the counties clearly delineated who was going to pay for what and the bottom line was better and more comprehensive services for children in need.

Senate President Roy exemplified an ideal of unselfish, dedicated, effective public service that could become a thing of the past if people are unable to tackle these kinds of messes and make the changes we need to make to progress as a society.

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