Lawmakers are working with state Office of Court Administration officials to make changes to Kyra's Law, a bill aimed at protecting children through divorce or custody proceedings.
Kyra's Law is named for 2-year-old Kyra Franchetti, whose father shot her in the back while she slept during a court-ordered unsupervised visit in 2016.
Krya's mother, Jacqueline Franchetti, recounted how he then doused his home with gasoline in a murder-suicide while the couple battled in a custody case on Long Island.
"Kyra's murder was entirely preventable — she should never have been with him that day," Franchetti said on the steps of the Million Dollar Staircase. The court dismissed all claims of family violence, she added, despite repeated reports of his anger, suicidal ideation and stalking tactics.
Kyra's Law would require the court to prioritize a child's life and safety during custody proceedings or when making decisions about visitation. It would also require judges in the state to assess a child's life and safety during custody proceedings and mandate specific domestic violence, child abuse and child-sex abuse training for judges.
"In every courthouse in every county, children are being court-ordered into the home of a parent who is beating them, raping them, emotionally destroying them at staggering rates," said Franchetti, who founded Kyra's Champions. "And the results are absolutely devastating."
She called the state's family court system "an abuser's paradise," adding more than 20 children in New York have been murdered by an abusive parent since 2016.
The rate of child abuse in the state is almost twice the national average, according to the state Council on Children and Families Kids' Well-being Indicators Clearinghouse.
Kyra's Law would ensure the non-abusive parent gets custody of a child and would force the court to hold an early evidentiary hearing when the child is abused or there are reports of domestic violence. It would also prevent judges from improperly weighing claims abuse allegations are false.
But officials within the state court system say the bill needs some work before it advances in the Legislature this session.
"Until there is a final version of the bill for us to review, we do not have any opinion on it or advocates’ contentions," Office of Court Administration Lucian Chalfen said in a statement Monday.
The state OCA is in talks with sponsor Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi about changing the measure to make sure the court system has the resources and funding to meet the new requirements.
"There are some issues that OCA raised that become resources questions in the budget, and they're absolutely right," said Hevesi, a Queens Democrat. "So, from a practical standpoint, we think that we can get to some of these issues without costing more money, which would put the bill back a number of months and potentially even a year."
Lawmakers would not give more specifics about proposed changes to the legislation, citing ongoing negotiations. The new bill is expected to be reintroduced in the next two weeks.
The mandatory training for judges continues to be a sticking point between lawmakers and court officials, but Hevesi said court officials continue to be receptive of most parts of the bill and efforts to better protect New York children and prevent child abuse.
Kyra's Law has strong bipartisan backing, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle focusing on action to prevent child abuse and related homicides.
Former prosecutor Sen. Anthony Palumbo says Kyra's Law will better train judges to evaluate the nuance of abuse in a family case.
"You can say, this isn't an ask, this is a tell, and i'm directing you as the judge to do this and we need judges with more stomach than that, and a lot of times, everyone's afraid to do that because you have lawyers jumping up and down," Palumbo said. "...It doesn't give them, necessarily, more teeth — they already have them. I just think that the judges are a little reluctant to use them."
Last week, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's office released an audit of state Office of Children and Family Services data showing the state has deficiencies in how it investigates reports of child abuse that end in child fatalities, and he's calling for state action to protect vulnerable children in New York.
Half of the roughly 1,400 reports of fatal abuse or mistreatment of children from 2018 to 2021 resulted in citations to local Social Services departments, indicating issues with local investigations, according to the audit.
Lawmakers will hold a public hearing examining how cases of child abuse are reported to local and state departments next month, which Hevesi said will help shape Kyra's Law and support to bring it to Gov. Kathy Hochul's desk this year.