THE 2014 LEGISLATIVE SESSION KICKS OFF THIS WEEK
For the second consecutive year, child advocates are hopeful that the days of harmful cuts have passed and new funds might be allocated to restore vital services that were lost during the recession. With a nearly $1 billion surplus over last year, many interests will vie to persuade the Legislature that their issues are deserving of new funding. As an election year, 2014 will also see the vast majority of elected officials return to the polls to seek reelection.
In his opening remarks to the Senate, President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) stated that his top priorities will be passing legislation that increases penalties on and oversight of sexual predators, reforming the child welfare system, increasing funding for Child Advocacy Centers, and fully funding the Agency for Persons with Disabilities waiting list for services. House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) pledged to improve Florida’s education system by addressing “increased standards and accountability in our early learning efforts to common-sense reforms in our K-12 system.” He will also once again seek to reform the Florida Retirement System, and expand the use of charter schools and private school vouchers. Both chambers will also seek tax and fee cuts aligned with those proposed by the Governor, but there is already a divergence regarding how the tax relief will be distributed, with the Governor wanting more tax breaks for businesses.
Following both legislative leaders’ addresses was Governor Rick Scott’s “State of the State” address. Gov. Scott reiterated his commitment to cutting as much as $500 million in taxes and automotive fees, and keeping student tuition flat. He touted his record on the state’s economy and his commitment to increasing funding for the K-12 education system. Proposed investments in early learning, Healthy Start, Healthy Families and the child welfare system, while not specifically mentioned in the State of the State address, are contained in the Governor’s proposed budget.
In addition to the bills affecting children discussed below, other issues sure to be debated this session include: gaming and the expansion of Las Vegas-style casinos; medical marijuana; self-defense laws; water cleanup, particularly of the Indian River Lagoon, which has its own Select Subcommittee; expansion of ethics rules; education funding; human trafficking; school grades and Common Core; and red light cameras.
Throughout the 2014 session, the Florida Children’s Council and its partners will work closely with the Legislature and the Governor to increase
funding for Early Learning, VPK and Healthy Kids, among other programs, and to enhance, where possible, the quality and availability of services to a greater number of children. Please stay tuned to the weekly Capitol Connection for the latest updates on bills affecting Florida’s children and families.
Early Learning Bill Released
Drafted over the course of many interim committee meetings, HB 7069 by Chair Marlene O’Toole (R-The Villages) and the House Education Committee will address early learning health and safety standards, licensing, and more. The bill has not yet received its committee references, and though it does not currently have a corresponding bill in the Senate, a similar committee bill is expected to eventually come out of Sen. John Legg’s (R-Lutz) Education Committee. Some notable components of the bill include the following:
Governor Rick Scott Recommends Increased Funding to the Early Learning System
Early learning featured prominently in Governor Rick Scott’s It’s Your Money Tax Cut budget in 2014. In his annual recommendation to the Legislature, the Governor proposed allocating a total of $59.4 million in new dollars to the early learning system, including a one-time increase of $30 million in non-recurring funds to the School Readiness program to cover additional child care slots. He also suggested raising Voluntary Prekindergarten funding by $100 per child. In addition to supporting these recommendations, advocates will continue to push for more funding to improve the quality of school readiness programs.
Licensing of Facilities that Offer Health and Human Services
HB 303 by Rep. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) was heard and passed by the Healthy Families Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 5. It now goes to Health Care Appropriations. The bill would make the following changes to the regulations of family day care homes, child care facilities, and large family child care homes:
The bill’s companion, SB 394 by Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) was last heard on February 4 when it passed the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee. It is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee.
Florida KidCare Program
A bill that would allow children of legal immigrants, who have lived in the United States less than five years, to be eligible for KidCare was passed unanimously on February 11 by the House Health Innovation Subcommittee. HB 7 by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) now awaits a hearing in the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee. Agency staff estimated that these bills would extend health coverage to a total of 25,555 children, if enacted. Its companion, SB 282 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah), has been referred to the Senate Health Policy Subcommittee, Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, and the Appropriations Committee. For proponents of the bills, it is timely to thank the sponsors for supporting children, contact your members to ask them to co-sponsor the bills, and also contact leadership of the committees noted to help get the bills heard.
Rep. Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie) has once again filed a bill, HB 917, which would allow Federally Qualified Health Centers and other clinics to presumptively enroll children deemed eligible in the Florida KidCare Program for a brief period of time (30-60 days) while their application is being formally processed. This service, which is already available for pregnant women, will allow children to receive immediate and critical follow up care, services, and medication. It is currently in the Health Innovation Subcommittee.
Two bills have been filed for the 2014 session, which are similar to last year’s SB 1816 by Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart) and the Appropriations Committee that would have created the “Healthy Florida Program” as an alternative to Medicaid expansion, had the House approved it. SB 710 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) has yet to be heard in Health Policy, its first of four assigned committee hearings. HB 869 by Rep. Amanda Murphy (D-New Port Richey) is also awaiting its first hearing in the Select Committee on PPACA, which does not currently have any scheduled meetings. Sen. Negron has stated that he does not expect his former bill to be seriously considered this session, even in the Senate where it passed on a 38:1 vote last year.
Most observers fear that Medicaid expansion faces an even harder path to adoption than last year. Before being rejected by the House last session, Sen. Negron’s SB 1816 gained the support of both the Senate and governor. However, Speaker Weatherford and President Gaetz have now publicly criticized the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for not allowing enough flexibility in designing a less comprehensive package of health coverage that may charge enrollees premiums and other costs. HHS contends that they have allowed other states (including Arkansas and Iowa) to develop innovative programs of their own, but to be considered, proposed Medicaid waivers must guarantee that recipients receive adequate benefits.
Newborn Health Screening
HB 591 by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie) will allow the State Public Health Laboratory to release the results of a newborn’s hearing and metabolic tests or screenings to the newborn’s health care practitioner, a term which it expands to include a physician or physician assistant, osteopathic physician or physician assistant, advanced registered nurse practitioner, registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, midwife, speech-language pathologist or audiologist, or a dietician or nutritionist. The bill passed unanimously out of the House Health Quality Subcommittee on February 18, and now awaits a hearing by the House Health and Human Services Committee, the bill’s final committee assignment.
Its companion, SB 722 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah), will be heard by its first committee, Senate Health Policy, on Tuesday, March 11 at 4 pm. The bill must then go to the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs and Judiciary Committees.
Following media coverage that dozens of children under the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) had suffered senseless and preventable deaths, reforming the child welfare system has become one of the top priorities in both chambers of the Legislature. Since interim committee meetings began last fall, members (in both policy and budget committees) have heard from state agencies, Community-Based Care (CBC) agencies, national experts, OPPAGA, and other stakeholders to get a better understanding of the shortcomings of the system, and what potential solutions may exist. Some of the topics discussed, included case manager/child protective investigator retention and training, creation of a death review panel, and requiring or incentivizing investigators to have at least a bachelor’s degree in social work.
Chair Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) and the Children, Families, and Elder Affair Committee have been leading efforts in the Senate and have released two proposed committee bills that will be heard on Tuesday, March 11. SPB 7072 and SPB 7074 will address a wide array of reforms, including:
Child Welfare Training and Certification
Two bills have been filed that would make several changes to enhance the training of child welfare workers. HB 431 by Rep. Jose Javier Rodrigues (D-Miami) and SB 1302 by Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) would require a third-party credentialing entity seeking approval from DCF to administer a field internship program for certain students, as well as require DCF to budget certain federal matching funds to provide educational financial support for specified persons. Both bills are still awaiting a hearing in their first committees of reference in the House Healthy Families Subcommittee and Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee.
Attorneys for Dependent Children with Disabilities
HB 561 by Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) and the Civil Justice Subcommittee requires the appointment of an attorney to represent dependent children with disabilities. The bill was unanimously approved by the Civil Justice Subcommittee on February 19, and is now waiting to be heard in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.
SB 260 by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) was passed unanimously out of Judiciary on Tuesday, March 4. The bill would allow certain unaccompanied youth to consent to medical, dental, psychological, substance abuse, and surgical diagnosis and treatment for themselves. The bill will now go to the Senate floor for a final vote. Its companion, HB 203 by Rep. Daniel Raulerson (R-Plant City), was passed out of its first committee, Civil Justice on Wednesday, March 5. It will now go to the Health and Human Services Committee.
SB 522, SB 524, SB 526, SB 528 were passed by the Senate on the first day of session. This suite of bills will increase minimum sentences for sexual offenses, oversight of sexual offenders, and allow authorities to detain sexual predators under certain conditions, even after their prison term is up. It was a major priority of Senate President Don Gaetz, who earlier stated, “I don’t want to let one more day go by without making Florida scorched earth for sexual predators.” The bills were in response to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation that found that “rapists and pedophiles freed by the state went on to molest 460 children, rape 121 women and kill 14.”
The House has also made sexual predators a priority and is crafting its own comprehensive bill suite, including some of which are expected to pass the House as early as the second week of session. The following bills were passed by Judiciary on Monday, March 3, and will next go to the floor of the House:
Other related bills:
In addition to crafting policies to combat sexual predators, leadership in both houses have vowed to fight human trafficking. In the House Healthy Families Subcommittee, Chair Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) has been workshopping a committee bill that will provide comprehensive services for children trapped in the illicit sex trade. Some of the provisions of the proposed committee bill include:
HB 989 by Rep. Carlos Trujillo (R-Doral) will be heard in Criminal Justice on Monday, March 10. The bill will makes many changes with regards to human trafficking:
Its companion, SB 768 by Sen. Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens), is still awaiting its first hearing in the Criminal Justice Committee.
Sexually Exploited Children
HB 1071 by Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) specifies and makes provisions for when a child believed to be commercially exploited may be taken into custody, requires reassessment of children who run away, and specifies that safe harbor provisions apply to children who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation, among other things.
Juvenile Justice, Chapter 985 Rewrite
HB 7055 by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Rep. Ray Pilon (R-Sarasota) proposes a variety of changes to Chapter 985 of the Florida Statutes, relating to the Department of Juvenile Justice, its duties, and its programs. The bill will incorporate and align themes of the Roadmap to System Excellence into Chapter 985, by focusing on prevention and rehabilitation and pivoting away from the idea of punishment to consequence and care. Some specific provisions of the bill include:
The bill (formerly PCB CRJS1) was read for the first time in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday, March 4. It’s companion, SB 700 by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), was heard and passed by the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, and now goes to Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations.
Juvenile Justice Education Programs
HB 173 by Rep. Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach) passed unanimously out of the House Education Committee on Thursday, March 6. If passed, the bill would enhance transition services by requiring that local school districts, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice reentry personnel and local workforce personnel be part of a youth’s transition planning. It would also require that school districts consider the needs of individual youth when they return to school, and enhance career and technical training. This bill seeks to improve accountability, enhance access to virtual education, and require state and federal education dollars to follow the youth who generate them. The bill will now go to the House floor. Its companion, SB 598 by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach), remains in the Senate Education Committee, it’s first of four committees of reference.
SB 384 by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) passed its third committee, Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations, on Wednesday, March 5 in a contentious 7:5 vote largely along party lines. An amendment by Sen. Bradley, addressing the concerns of Sen. Rene Garcia, allowing youths involved in a murder, but who did not “pull the trigger,” to have their sentence reviewed after 25 years allowed the bill to gain enough support to pass. According to the staff analysis, the bill would conform “Florida law to recent United States Supreme Court decisions involving the sentencing of juvenile offenders. The bill provides that any offender who is convicted of murder that was committed before he or she was 18 years old may be sentenced to life imprisonment only after a mandatory hearing at which the judge considers certain factors relative to the offender’s age and attendant circumstances. For capital offenses, the judge must impose a minimum sentence of at least 35 years if life imprisonment is not appropriate. The bill also provides for a judicial hearing to review any sentence of more than 25 years, including a life sentence that is imposed for a non-homicide offense committed when the offender was less than 18 years old.”
Its House companion, HB 7035 by Rep. J.W. Grant (R-Tampa) and Criminal Justice, is awaiting its first hearing in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.
OTHER BILLS AFFECTING CHILDREN
Resident Status for Tuition Purposes
HB 851 by Rep. Jeanette Nunez (R-Miami) passed unanimously out of Education Appropriations, its final committee on Wednesday, March 5. The bill, which has garnered the strong support of Speaker Weatherford, would allow undocumented students to receive in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. Its companion, SB 1400 by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), recently received four committee signings, but Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) recently expressed some reservations about the proposal.
Child Safety Devices in Motor Vehicles
A bill that would revise booster seat requirements for children has passed its first committee. SB 518 by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) was approved unanimously by the Senate Committee on Transportation on Thursday, March 6. The bill proposes to require an approved child restraint device for all children less than 7 years of age, if the child is less than 4 feet 9 inches in height. According to the staff analysis, only Florida and South Dakota still allow the use of adult seat belts without a booster seat for children less than 5 years of age. The House companion, HB 225 by Rep. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville), was read for the first time by the Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee on Tuesday, 3/4. Sen. Thad Altman (R-Melbourne) also is sponsoring a similar bill that is currently in the Transportation Committee, SB 454.
Medical-Grade Marijuana and Cannabis
HB 843 by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) and Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Sunrise) would allow specified physicians to proscribe a non-psychoactive strain of marijuana (called Charlotte’s Web) for medical use. The bill, which has about two dozen co-sponsors, passed its first committee on an 11:1 vote Wednesday, March5 and now goes to the House Appropriations Committee. The committee was visibly moved by testimonies from families who had children whose chronic epilepsy may be mitigated by the currently prohibited substance. The Senate companion, SB 1030 by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), Sen. Aaron Bean (R- Fernandina Beach), and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), has yet to be heard in its first committee, Health Policy.
Chapter 189 Reorganization
HB 1237 by Rep. Larry Metz (R-Groveland) proposes to reorganize Chapter 189 of the Florida Statutes into eight parts, as well as:
As it was released toward the end of the filing deadline, this bill has yet to receive committees of reference. Its companion, SB 1632 by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), has been assigned to Ethics and Elections, Community Affairs, and Appropriations.
Lobbying of Special Districts
SB 846 by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), “Government Ethics” regulates those who lobby certain independent special districts by creating a statute that closely resembles the legislative lobbying provisions and the executive branch lobbying provisions, as well as those used by The Children’s Trust. The bill will require:
The bill passed unanimously out of the Community Affairs Committee on Wednesday, March 5, and now goes to its last stop, Appropriations. It does not currently have a House sponsor.
GOVERNOR’S RECOMMENDED BUDGET COMPARISON WITH 2013 FINAL BUDGET
|Program (line number)||SB 1500 (2013)||Gov. 2014||Difference|
|School Readiness (79)||552,527,228||582,527,228||30,000,000|
|Total BSA (82)||2,383||2,483||100|
|Total Early Learning Services||1,005,251,231||1,069,891,114||64,639,883|
|Total Medicaid and TANF (SUMMARY on PAGE 410)||23,350,508,581||22,543,746,874||-806,761,707|
|Therapeutic Services for Children||354,166,322||351,854,088||-2,312,234|
|Healthy Kids (174)||239,156,746||236,614,067||-2,542,679|
|Children’s Medical Services Network (179)||129,589,442||99,873,572||-29,715,870|
|Total Children’s Special Health Care*||474,825,007||450,763,830||-24,061,177|
|Total AHCA Budget||24,053,514,688||23,150,828,969||-902,685,719|
|Healthy Start (473)||30,174,890||37,012,054||6,837,164|
|Early and Periodic Screenings for Children (201)||354,166,322||351,854,088||-2,312,234|
|Child Abuse Prevention and Intervention (Healthy Families) (336)||21,114,329||28,114,329||7,000,000|
|Lump Sum: Child Protection||31,741,478||31,741,478|
|New Funding to Reduce Caseloads for Child Protective Investigators||3,000,000||3,000,000|
|Grants to Sheriffs for Protective Services (334)||49,975,592||55,812,406||5,836,814|
|Guardian ad Litem (768)||34,475,997||40,179,728||5,703,731|
|Community Based Care (345)||781,885,000||777,077,669||-4,807,331|
|Total Family Safety and Preservation Services||1,164,813,280||1,209,317,347||44,504,067|
|Children’s Action Teams for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (352a)||6,750,000||6,750,000||0|
|Children’s Mental Health Services (353)||47,174,813||47,174,813||0|
|Purchased Residential Treatment Services for Emotionally Disturbed Youth (363)||19,618,052||19,416,932||-201,120|
|Safe Houses and Treatment for Foster Youth who are Victims of Human Trafficking||2,500,000||2,500,000|
|Comprehensive Case Management in Human Trafficking||1,500,000||1,500,000|
|About Face Program for At-Risk Youth||1,250,000||1,250,000|
|DCF Total Budget||2,809,469,577||2,835,314,827||25,845,250|
|PACE Centers (1158)||13,643,599||14,281,099||637,500|
|Juvenile Redirection Program (1091)||9,364,831||9,364,831||0|
|Behavior Health Overlay Services (BHOS)||18,200,000||18,200,000|
|Youth in Secure Detention Adjustment||17,100,000||17,100,000|
|Repair/Maintenance of Juvenile Residential/Detention Facilities||2,900,000||2,900,000|
|Negating Shortfall from Medicaid ruling||19,000,000||19,000,000|
|Negating Shortfall from Juvenile Cost Sharing Ruling||18,400,000||18,400,000|
|DJJ Total Budget||527,822,181||541,850,238||14,028,057|
|Best Buddies (92)||750,000||750,000||0|
|Big Brothers and Big Sisters (92)||4,030,248||4,030,248||0|
|Boys and Girls Clubs (92)||4,002,677||4,002,677||0|
|Take Stock in Children (92)||6,000,000||6,000,000||0|
|Teen Trendsetters (92)||300,000||300,000||0|
|YMCA State Alliance/YMCA Reads (92)||764,972||764,972||0|
|APD Total Budget||1,113,764,769||1,139,337,056||25,572,287|
* The $24 million reduction in total KidCare allocation is a result of moving children from CHIP to Medicaid and anticipated savings from the implementation of the State Managed Medicaid system. There will not be a reduction in total caseloads of children served.
** Reduction in Early Steps funding for needed federal budget authority
IN THE NEWS
Legislative Panel and Discussion with State Leaders
The Florida Children’s Council held a meeting of the Executive Board of Directors in tandem with the 2014 Legislative Session opening week. The full day meeting was divided into two major portions targeting priority issues on the Council’s policy agenda for children and involved several of the state’s premier leaders. The day was spent discussing relevant and timely issues impacting early childhood (a holistic perspective of child development and growth from prenatal to 3rd grade) and supports for families (a broad range of services and programs for children, youth and their families). Joining the Council to discuss some of the most salient legislative issues were Florida House of Representatives Erik Fresen (R-Miami) and Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami), Commissioner Pamela Stewart of the Florida Department of Education, Deputy Secretary for Health Dr. Celeste Philip of the Florida Department of Health, Secretary Esther Jacobo of the Florida Department of Children and Families, Deputy Secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Christy Daly , Director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities Barbara Palmer, Executive Director of the Guardian ad Litem Office Alan Abramowitz, Executive Director of the Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning Shan Goff, and Executive Director of Healthy Kids Corporation Rich Robleto.
Guest speakers engaged the Board of Directors in discussions on improving access to the KidCare health insurance program, trauma informed care, dental health, workforce professional development, school readiness, data security, integrity and accountability, teacher evaluation and effectiveness, raising the bar on quality, child protection and system improvement, access for persons with disabilities, transition to work, cost-benefit analyses, improved collaboration and coordination, and the critical nature of ensuring primary prevention and early intervention systems are not only in place locally, but are affordable and accessible to all Floridians.
Bringing both state and local leaders together resulted in a rich dialogue focused on systemic and holistic improvements. Both challenges and opportunities were explored, as well as a focus on how local resources can be maximized and leveraged to make the most of critical investments.