News & Events

Week 1

Week 1 – January 18, 2016

THE 2016 LEGISLATIVE SESSION KICKS OFF

The 2016 legislative session opened on January 12, two months ahead of the customary March start, with a spirit of cooperation and vigorous movement on a number of bills important to children and families.

What drew thunderous applause from the House chamber during the opening session was the Speaker’s mention that one of his priorities this year is the removal of the five-year waiting period for lawfully residing immigrant children in the KidCare program. Many advocates and organizations have been pushing for passage of the bill for the past ten years. This set the stage for HB 89 bill by Rep Jose Felix Diaz to be heard and approved unanimously in the House Innovation Subcommittee this past week.

Other leadership priorities include water policy, a priority for House Speaker Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island), while Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has made issues related to persons with disabilities (also known as persons with unique abilities) a priority for the Senate. The disabilities’ bills passed both chambers this week and are headed to the Governor’s desk for signature. Speaker Crisafulli also addressed issues such as reducing regulations that prevent competition, and taking steps to lower health-care costs. President Gardiner added that the Senate will work with the Governor on proposed tax cuts, incentive funding for Enterprise Florida, and “unprecedented” funding for K-12 education.

Governor Rick Scott in his “State of the State Address” to the joint session of the legislature focused on his priorities of cutting taxes, jobs and workforce development. The Governor also spoke of the need for a government “safety net” to help those in dire need.

EARLY LEARNING AND SCHOOL READINESS

Early Learning Bills Released

A bill, HB 7053 to bring Florida into statutory compliance with new federal requirements for the School Readiness program was filed by the House Education Committee. In 2014, Congress reauthorized the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The new federal requirements will be phased in, with specific requirements for 2016 implementation targeting program eligibility, background screening and health and safety.

The bill implements the requirements of the CCDBG Act by:

  • Increasing public information on, and background screening of, child care providers;
  • Aligning eligibility requirements with the grant;
  • Requiring inspection of, and standards for emergency preparedness plans for school readiness program providers; and
  • Requiring pre-service and in-service training for personnel of School Readiness program providers.

This bill was previously heard as a proposed committee bill in the House Education Committee in December. The next and final committee of reference for the House bill is the Education Appropriations Committee. A Senate version of the bill is anticipated to be filed by the Senate Education Committee shortly.

A bill HB 7021 relating to reading instruction was filed by the K-12 Subcommittee, with a Senate companion, SB 1068 filed by Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz). In the last decade, Florida made significant strides in increasing reading proficiency of third graders. However, in recent years, proficiency has leveled off and 40 percent of students are not reading at or above grade level. The bill will increase access to specialized training for teachers to support struggling readers. To help schools identify struggling readers more quickly and implement effective instruction and interventions, the bill:

  • Requires the Just Read, Florida! Office to provide training in explicit, systematic, and multisensory strategies, and to identify core instructional and intervention materials that incorporate those strategies.
  • Requires school districts to use core and supplemental intervention materials identified by the Office in order to receive instructional materials funds.
  • Requires teacher preparation programs to provide candidates for specified certification areas with training in explicit, systematic, and multisensory reading strategies. Candidates for renewal of a certificate in the specified areas or for a reading endorsement must also receive training in those strategies.
  • Prohibits districts from waiting until a student receives a failing grade in reading to initiate interventions.
  • Enhances communication to parents by requiring the Department of Education to develop a handbook that districts must provide to parents of students with a substantial reading deficiency, and requiring school districts to regularly update the parents on their child’s progress.
  • Extends the early warning system coverage to students in kindergarten through grade 5, and specifies that a substantial reading deficiency is an indicator for students in kindergarten through grade 3.
  • Requires teachers who teach retained 3rd graders to hold a reading certificate or endorsement.
  • Requires prekindergarten instructors to receive training in explicit, systematic, and multisensory reading instruction, and requires VPK program providers to provide specialized reading instruction to students who exhibit a deficiency in emergent literacy skills.

HB 7021 passed the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and the next and last committee stop is the Education Committee. SB 1068 received three committees of reference: Education Prek-12; Appropriations Subcommittee on Education; and the Appropriations Committee. SB 1068 has not yet been heard in committee.

After-School Programs

SB 156 by Sen. Chris Smith (D-Ft. Lauderdale) entitled After-School Programs, deletes legislative intent language and background screening requirements regarding certain not-for-profit membership associations. The definition of “specified agency” is amended to include any division within the Department of Education which conducts background screenings for after-school programs operated by not-for-profit organizations or municipal governments. The bill defines the term “not-for-profit organization and municipal governments” in relation to after-school programs, and exempts such organizations from regulations applied to child care facilities. Organizations providing an after-school program licensed pursuant to s. 402.305, F.S., before the effective date of this act may continue to be licensed by submitting notification to the Department of Children and Families. The bill requires all child care personnel (as defined in s. 402.302, F.S.) of such organizations to meet the background screening requirements of ss. 435.04 and 435.12, F.S. Finally, the bill creates the Not-for-Profit After-School Program Standards Advisory Council, and directs the Council to provide the Governor and Legislature with a report by January 1, 2017. The bill is awaiting action in the Senate Committee on Community Affairs.

HB 1423 by Rep. Bobby Powell (D-West Palm Beach) is a related bill, entitled After-School Programs, and was filed on January 12, 2016.

There continues to be discussions regarding proper oversight of out-of-school time activities for school age students and the differences, if any, between child care and afterschool programming. Relatedly, the Department of Children and Families is planning to conduct regional rule review workshops of the Florida Administrative Code rules for Child Care Licensing in order to more accurately define the differences between birth-to-five child care and afterschool programming for 6-12 year olds.

HEALTH AND WELLNESS

Florida KidCare Program

HB 89 by Rep. Jose Diaz (R-Miami) that would allow children of legal immigrants, who have been residing in the United States less than five years to be insured under the Florida KidCare program, was unanimously approved by the House Health Innovation Subcommittee on January 13, 2016. HB 89 extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid eligibility to a “lawfully residing child” who meets other eligibility qualifications of the program. The bill specifies that the statutory changes do not extend Kidcare program eligibility or Medicaid eligibility to undocumented immigrants. Considering the new enhanced federal match as well as offsets from reduced spending in the Emergency Medical Assistance Fund for these children who will now receive primary preventive care and reduced dependency on costly emergency room care and hospitalization, the fiscal impact for the 2016-2017 fiscal year in recurring state General Revenue funds is $0. The bill now heads to the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee. The Senate companion, SB 248 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Miami) is awaiting a hearing in the full Senate Appropriations Committee (the last stop before heading to the Senate floor).

Please thank Speaker Crisafulli for making KidCare a House priority, Rep Jose Felix Diaz for continuing the champion this bill and the members of the House Innovation Committee for voting unanimously in favor.

Early Steps Program

SB 7034 by Children, Families, and Elder Affairs renames the “Infants and Toddlers Early Intervention Program” as the “Early Steps Program”, sets accountability standards and revises requirements for the Department of Health (DOH) to maintain a clearinghouse of information for parents and health care providers on developmental evaluation and early intervention programs; and, requires development of an individual family support plan for each child served in the program. The bill was approved unanimously in the House Health and Human Service Committee on January 14 and is now awaiting a hearing in the full Senate Appropriations Committee (the last stop before Senate floor action).HB 943 by Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R-Venice) is scheduled to be heard in the House Health Quality Subcommittee on January 19, 2016.

Child Protection Teams (CATs)

HB 715 by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) applies immunity from personal liability in certain actions to any member of a child protection (CPT) team, in certain circumstances. The bill passed the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on January 13, 2016. As a result, CPT members may not be held personally liable for torts committed in such capacity; instead the state may be held liable up to the limits established under the state’s statutory waiver of sovereign immunity. A child protection team (CPT) is a medically directed, multidisciplinary team of professionals contracted by the Children’s Medical Services (CMS) Program in the Department of Health (DOH). CPTs supplement the child protective investigation activities of local sheriffs’ offices and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in cases of child abuse, abandonment, and neglect. CPTs provide expertise in evaluating alleged child abuse and neglect, assessing risk and protective factors, and providing recommendations for interventions to protect children and to enhance a caregiver’s capacity to provide a safer environment when possible. HB 715 now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.

The Senate companion, SB 670, by Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Destin) passed the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee on January 14, 2016 and now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

SB 12 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) addresses the current system of behavioral health services. The bill was voted favorably in the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee on January 14, 2016 and now heads to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. The bill provides for mental health services for children, parents and others seeking custody of children involved in dependency court proceedings. The bill creates a coordinated system of care to be provided either by a community or a region for those suffering from mental illness or substance use disorder through a “No Wrong Door” system of single access points. The Agency for Health Care Administration (“the agency” or “AHCA”) and the Department of Children and Families (“the department” or “DCF”) are directed to modify licensure requirements to create an option for a single, consolidated license to provide both mental health and substance use disorder services. Additionally, the agency and the department are to develop a plan to increase federal funding for behavioral health care. The bill directs that a transportation plan be developed and implemented in each county or group of counties. The plan must specify methods of transport to a facility within the designated receiving system and may delegate responsibility for other transportation to a participating facility when necessary and agreed to by the facility. To the extent possible, the bill aligns the legal processes, timelines and processes for assessment, evaluation and receipt of available services of the Baker Act (Mental Illness) and Marchman Act (Substance Abuse) to assist individuals in recovery and reduce readmission to the system.

The duties and responsibilities of the department are revised and updated to include designation of facilities within the receiving system; specify data reporting and use of shared data systems within the system; set performance measures and standards for managing entities and enter into contracts with the managing entities that support the efficient and effective administration of the behavioral health system and ensure accountability for performance. The duties and responsibilities of the managing entities are also revised and updated. Each managing entity is to conduct a community behavioral health care needs assessment in their geographic region which must include the information needed by the department for its annual report to the Governor and the Legislature. The bill is expected to improve primary behavioral services and reduce postpartum depression.

A related House bill, HB 979 by Rep. Kathleen Peters (R-St. Petersburg) was workshopped in the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee on January 13, 2016. Another similar bill, SB 1336 by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) is awaiting action in the Children, Families and Elder Affairs.

Dental Program for Medicaid Eligible Children

SB 580 by Sen. Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) relating to reimbursement for Dental Hygiene Services for Children, passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services on January 13, 2016. CS/SB 580 authorizes the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) to reimburse a health access setting under the Medicaid program for remedial dental services (remedial tasks) delivered by a dental hygienist when provided to a Medicaid recipient younger than 21 years of age. Remedial tasks are defined as intra-oral tasks that do not create unalterable changes in the mouth or contiguous structures, are reversible, and do not expose the patient to increased risks.

The House companion, CS/HB 595, by Rep. Rene Plasencia (R-Orlando) passed the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee on January 12, 2016, and now heads to the Health and Human Services Committee.

Prepaid Dental Plans

HB 819 by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) was voted favorably in the Health Innovation Subcommittee on January 13, and heads to the Health and Human Services Committee. HB 819 removes dental services from the list of minimum benefits that Managed Medical Assistance (MMA) plans must provide, effective March 1, 2019. Instead, effective July 1, 2017, AHCA must implement a statewide Prepaid Dental Health Plan (PDHP) program for children and adults and begin enrollment by March 1, 2019. AHCA must contract with at least two licensed dental managed care providers through a competitive procurement process to provide dental benefits. AHCA is authorized to seek any necessary state plan amendment or federal waivers to implement the statewide PDHP program.

The bill creates s. 409.973(5), F.S., which requires AHCA to prepare a comprehensive report on dental services which must examine the effectiveness of the managed care plans in providing dental care, improving access to dental care and dental health, and achieving satisfactory outcomes for recipients and providers. The report must also track the historical trends of payment rates to providers and plan subcontractors, provider participation in dental networks, and provider willingness to treat recipients. Finally, the report must compare Florida’s experience in providing dental services to Medicaid recipients with the experiences of other states in delivering the same services, increasing access to care, and overall dental health. AHCA may contract with an independent third party, if necessary, to assist in the preparation of the report.

The bill authorizes the Legislature to use the findings of the report to establish the scope of minimum benefits under the MMA program for future procurements of eligible plans; specifically, the Legislature may use the findings of the report to determine whether dental benefits should be benefits under the MMA program or be provided separately. If the Legislature determines dental services should be provided by the MMA plans, it must repeal the changes made in this bill before July 1, 2017. The bill may have a significant negative fiscal impact on the Medicaid program, and a significant negative fiscal impact to AHCA.

The Senate companion, SB 994 by Sen. Joe Negron (R-Palm City) was voted favorably in the Health Policy Committee and now heads to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

Food Deserts

CS/SB 760, by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) directs the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to establish a program to provide financing to retailers to construct, rehabilitate, or expand grocery stores in underserved communities in low and moderate income areas. The bill passed the Senate Agriculture Committee on January 11, 2016 and is awaiting action in the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.

The House companion CS/HB 153 by Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona) is awaiting action by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Child Passenger Safety

HB 7063 by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) includes language exempting child care facilities or child care providers from the child restraint (booster seat) law for children aged 4 through 5 years when a seat belt is used. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee on January 19. Similar language is included in the Senate companion, SB 1394 by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg). SB 1394 is awaiting action in the Senate Transportation Committee.

CHILD WELFARE

SB 7018 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) passed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services on January 13 and now heads to its last stop before floor action, the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill requires DCF, in collaboration with certain stakeholders, to develop a continuum of care for children in the child welfare system. This continuum of care must be a complete range of placement options, programs, and services for children served by, or at risk of being served by, the dependency system. The continuum of care requires a quality rating system for residential group care as well as an annual report.

The bill creates a new section of law that requires an initial assessment whenever a child has been determined to need an out-of-home placement to aid in guiding the child into the least restrictive placement and help determine any services needed. The bill also requires an in-depth assessment to be completed for each child placed in out-of-home care to supplement the initial assessment and further determine service and placement needs.

The bill creates permanency teams that are required to review out-of-home placements for certain children who have historically faced barriers to permanency. The bill also outlines the intervention services to be provided by lead agencies. The bill makes specific conforming changes to align the statute with the new language and practice of the safety methodology, such as:

  • Extending jurisdiction for children older than 18 years of age until the age of 22 for young adults having a disability;
  • Changing ‘preventative services’ to ‘safety management services’ as used in practice;
  • Moving the provisions relating to ‘maintaining and strengthening’ the placement from the case planning sections of statute to s. 39.621, F.S., making them permanency goals;
  • Requiring a transition plan to be approved by the child’s 18th birthday;
  • Changing time requirements to better align with new practice; and
  • Changing the standard for the court to return a child to the home.

The bill also:

  • Requires the community-based care lead agency to file a written notification with the court when a child changes placements;
  • Restructures the case plan sections of statute and adds language that conforms to the new assessments and practice model;
  • Revises the designation of an agency that is allowed to access confidential records to conform with practice; and
  • Repeals obsolete sections of law dealing with residential group care.

HB 599 by Rep. Neil Combee (R-Auburndale) and Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) is scheduled to be heard in the Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee on January 20.

Temporary Care of a Child

CS/HB 259 by Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Ft. Myers) relating to Guardianship, passed the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee on January 13, 2016 and now heads to the Civil Justice Subcommittee. CS/HB 259 creates s. 709.2209, F.S., entitled, “Power of attorney for temporary care of minor child,” as a means of preventing the entry of a child at risk of abuse or neglect into the formal child welfare system. It allows a parent or legal guardian of a child to delegate certain powers regarding the care and custody of a child to a host family volunteering through a qualified nonprofit organization, through a power of attorney for a period not to exceed one year. The delegation of powers regarding care and custody do not deprive the child’s parent or legal guardian of parental rights, obligations, or authority regarding custody, visitation, or support.

The bill requires re-execution of a new power of attorney for each year beyond the first year, if the delegation persists. However, if a member of the armed forces on active duty service makes the delegation, the delegation may be longer than one year as long as it does not persist longer than 30 days beyond the term of active duty service.

The bill details the requirements of the power of attorney form to include the identity of the child and parents or legal guardians delegating authority, the identity of the attorney in fact (host family) to whom the powers are delegated, a statement of delegated and non-delegated powers, effective and expiration dates, time limits, signatures, and authorization of a notary public.

The bill requires a qualified nonprofit organization to complete a child abuse and criminal history background check. This check must be in accordance with level 2 screening standards as defined in s. 435.04, F.S., on all employees or volunteers who may have unsupervised contact with a child placed with an agent (host family) pursuant to this section, including the agent and all members of the agent’s household who are 12 years of age and older

The bill requires a qualified non-profit organization to notify DCF of a child’s placement with a volunteer host family to verify that DCF does not have an open investigation of abuse or neglect involving the child or the child’s parent or legal guardian and is not otherwise providing services to the parent or legal guardian. The bill requires that if DCF has an open investigation or is otherwise providing services to the parent or guardian, DCF must approve the power of attorney before placement of the child with the designated agent.

The Senate companion, SB 1102, by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has just been filed.

Adoption and Foster Care

CS/CS/SB 590 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) revises the circumstances under which an adoption consent is valid, binding, and enforceable. The bill was approved unanimously by the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee on January 12, and is scheduled to be heard in its final committee of reference, the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on January 20. The bill also requires the court to consider a child’s best interest when changing a placement rather than the appropriateness of the placement. The bill requires courts in all dependency proceedings to advise the parent who is a party to the case at the arraignment hearing of the right to participate in a private adoption plan. The House companion, CS/HB 673 by Rep. Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach) passed the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee on January 13, 2016, and now heads to the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

CS/SB 860 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) that designates the second week of February of each year as “Foster Family Appreciation Week” is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Rules Committee on January 20, 2016. The House companion, HB 657 by Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow) passed the Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee on January 13, 2016 and now heads to the Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.

Human Trafficking

CS/CS/HB 545 by Rep. Ross Spano (R-Riverview) removes persons under the age of 18 from being prosecuted for prostitution. The bill passed the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on January 13 and now heads to the Judiciary Committee. The bill makes correlating changes in ch. 39, F.S., relating to the definition of sexual abuse of a child concerning dependency, to reflect that sexually exploiting a child in prostitution should be viewed as human trafficking. This ensures that children involved in prostitution are viewed as victims, not culprits. The bill also:

  • Adds faith-based programs to the educational programs on the negative effects of prostitution and human trafficking that a person convicted of soliciting prostitution must attend if such programs exist in their respective judicial district;
  • Increases the penalties for knowingly renting space to be used for prostitution;
  • Reclassifies an offense of s. 796.07(2)(a), F.S., if the place, structure, building, or conveyance that is owned, established, maintained, or operated for prostitution is a massage establishment required to be licensed under s. 480.043, F.S., and adds such reclassified offense to the list of offenses that disqualify applicants from a massage therapist or massage establishment license;
  • Adds human trafficking as a qualifying felony for first-degree murder in the commission of a felony;
  • Clarifies the offense of branding a victim of human trafficking;
  • Reclassifies an offense in s. 787.06, F.S., if the victim suffers great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement; and
  • Adds racketeering, s. 895.03, F.S., to the qualifying offenses for a sexual predator or sexual offender if a judge makes written findings that racketeering activity involved at least one sexual offense included in the definition of sexual predator or sexual offender.

The Senate companion, SB 784 by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) is awaiting action in the Criminal Justice Committee.

JUVENILE JUSTICE

Prosecution of Juveniles – Expunction of Juvenile Records

CS/CS/CS/HB 147 by Rep. Chris Latvala (R-Clearwater) provides for the nonjudicial expunction of a criminal history of offense after a specified period for a minor who is not a serious or habitual juvenile offender. The bill passed its last committee of reference, the Judiciary Committee on January 13. The bill requires all records related to minors who are not classified as serious or habitual juvenile offenders (non-serious juvenile offenders) to be automatically expunged when the minor reaches the age of 21, provided the specified exceptions do not apply.

The bill also permits non-serious juvenile offenders to apply to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to have their record expunged earlier than age 21. FDLE must expunge the juvenile criminal history record earlier than age 21 if:

  • The minor has reached 18 years of age and has not been charged with or found to have committed a criminal offense in the 5-year period before the application; and
  • The State Attorney for each circuit in which an offense specified in the criminal history record occurred has given approval.

The bill makes conforming changes to s. 790.23, F.S., which regulates the possession of weapons by felons and delinquents, to provide that the section does not apply to a non-serious juvenile offender whose criminal history record has been expunged under s. 943.0515, F.S. Juvenile prearrest and postarrest diversion programs are nonjudicial alternatives used to keep less serious juvenile offenders from being processed through the traditional juvenile justice system. A diversion program is authorized to provide for the expunction of a juvenile’s arrest record upon successful completion of the diversion program. To obtain such an expunction, a juvenile who has completed a diversion program must provide specified documentation to FDLE within a 12-month time frame in accordance with s. 943.0582, F.S. The bill also amends s. 943.0582, F.S., to eliminate the requirement that an application for diversion program expunction must be submitted within a 12-month time frame.

The Senate companion, CS/SB 386 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) passed its last committee of reference, the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on January 14.

Civil Citations and Diversion Programs

PCB CRJS 16-06 by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee relating to juvenile civil citation and similar diversion programs is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on January 19, 2016. The bill amends s. 985.12, F.S.; requiring the establishment of civil citation or similar diversion programs for juveniles; provides definitions; and, specifies program eligibility, participation, and implementation requirements.

PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Individuals with Disabilities

CS/HB 7003 by Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) establishes the Financial Literacy Program for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities within the Department of Financial Services (DFS). The bill passed the House on January 14 on a vote of 110 Yeas, 0 Nays and was immediately certified to the Senate. The Senate passed the bill on January 15, 2016 on a vote of 35 Yeas, 0 Nays. The bill was sent to the Governor for signature on January 15, 2016. The Governor must act on the bill by January 22. The Senate companion, CS/SB 7010 by President Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) was substituted for CS/HB 7003.

The bill addresses the employment and economic independence of individuals with disabilities. Specifically, the bill:

  • Modifies the definition of “developmental disability” to include Down syndrome;
  • Modifies the state’s equal employment policy to provide enhanced executive agency employment opportunities for individuals who have a disability;
  • Creates the Employment First Act, which requires certain state agencies and organizations to develop an interagency cooperative agreement to ensure a long-term commitment to improving employment outcomes for individuals who have a disability;
  • Creates the Financial Literacy Program for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (Literacy Program) within the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to promote economic independence and successful employment of individuals with developmental disabilities by providing information and outreach to individuals and employers; and
  • Creates the Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program (Partner Program) to recognize business entities that demonstrate commitment, through employment or support, to the independence of individuals who have a disability.

The bill also makes several appropriations to fulfill the requirements and implement the programs created by the bill.

HB 1043 by Rep. Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) revises priority classifications for clients on the waiting list for Medicaid home and community-based waiver services. The bill passed the Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee on January 13 and now heads to the Health Care Appropriations Committee. The bill allows individuals with developmental disabilities needing both waiver and extended foster care child welfare services to be prioritized in Category 2 of the waiver waiting list and, when enrolled on the waiver, to be served by both the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) and community-based care organizations.

The bill delineates responsibilities of the different entities providing services. The bill also permits waiver enrollment without first being placed on the waiting list for individuals who were on an HCBS waiver in another state and whose parent or guardian is an active-duty military service member transferred into the state. The bill provides that individuals remaining on the waiting list after other individuals are added are not substantially affected by agency action and not entitled to a hearing under s. 393.125, F.S., or administrative proceeding under chapter 120, F.S. The bill also permits waiver enrollees to receive increases in their allotted funding for services if the individual has a significant need for transportation to waiver-funded adult day training or employment services and has no other reasonable transportation options. Finally, the bill adds Down syndrome to the definition of “developmental disability.”

The Senate companion, SB 936 by Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) is awaiting action in the Criminal Justice Committee.

Students with Disabilities

SB 672 by Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Destin) creates the “Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program Act” The bill passed the Senate on January 13, 2016 on a vote of 39 Yeas, 0 Nays and was immediately certified to the House. On January 14, 2016, the House passed SB 672 on a vote of 119 Yeas to 1 Nay. The bill was sent to the Governor on January 14, 2016. The House companion, HB 7011 by Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) and Rep. Michael Bileca (R-Miami) was substituted for SB 672.

The bill establishes mechanisms for the approval of unique postsecondary education programs tailored to the needs of students with intellectual disabilities and the statewide coordination of information about programs for students with disabilities. Specifically, the bill includes two key components:

  • A process through which postsecondary institutions in Florida can voluntarily seek approval to offer a Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program (FPCTP) for students with intellectual disabilities; and
  • A Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities (statewide coordinating center) for statewide coordination of information regarding programs and services for students with disabilities and their parents.

The bill awards incentive payments to school districts and charter schools that implement district wide or school wide, standard student attire policies applicable to students in kindergarten through grade 8.

The bill also amends a number of provisions of the Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Account (PLSA) program to increase student access, tighten accountability, and streamline administration.

HB 585 by Rep. Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) requires school districts to provide instruction to homebound or hospitalized students. The bill passed its final committee, the Education Committee on January 14, 2016. Accordingly, the bill provides the state board with express rulemaking authority regarding instruction for homebound and hospitalized students, and clarifies that districts must provide instruction to eligible students in accordance with state board rule. The rules must establish, at minimum:

  • Criteria for eligibility of K-12 homebound or hospitalized students for specially designed instruction.
  • Procedures for determining student eligibility.
  • A list of appropriate methods for providing instruction to homebound or hospitalized students.
  • Requirements for initiating instructional services for a homebound or hospitalized student once the student is determined to be eligible.

The bill requires the school district in which a children’s specialty hospital is located to provide educational instruction to an eligible student until it enters into an agreement with the student’s school district of residence. The bill requires the Department of Education to develop a standard agreement for use by school districts to provide seamless educational instruction to students who transition between school districts while receiving treatment in the children’s specialty hospital. The Senate companion, SB 806 by Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz) is scheduled to be heard in the Education Pre-K-12 Committee on January 20, 2016.

OTHER BILLS AFFECTING CHILDREN

Children and Youth Cabinet

HB 241 by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) expands the total membership of the cabinet to 16 by adding a superintendent of schools who is appointed by the Governor. The bill passed the Health and Human Services committee on January 14, 2016 and now heads to the Education Committee. The bill also changes the title of the ninth member of the cabinet from “the director of the Office of Child Abuse Prevention” to “the director of the Office of Adoption and Child Protection.” The Senate companion, SB 500 by Sen. Bill Montford (D-Quincy) is scheduled to be heard in the Education Pre-K-12 Committee on January 20, 2016.

Temporary Cash Assistance Program

HB 563 by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) adds proof of application for employment to eligibility requirements for receiving temporary cash assistance; decreases lifetime cumulative total time limit for receiving temporary cash assistance; and, adds proof of application for employment to work activity requirements for participation in the temporary cash assistance program. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee on January 20, 2016. The Senate companion, SB 750 by Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) was temporarily postponed in the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee on January 14, 2016.

Child Pornography

HB 7055 by Rep. Ross Spano (R- Riverview) which repeals existing provisions relating to child pornography was voted favorably in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on January 13 and now heads to the Judiciary Committee. “Morphing” refers to a process in which a computer user distorts or transforms one picture into another. It is a relatively simple technique using inexpensive and readily available software. In recent years, individuals have used this technique to create “morphed” child pornography (e.g., images depicting sexually explicit conduct in which an actual child’s head has been superimposed onto an adult’s body).

While the possession, distribution, transmission, etc., of traditional child pornography has long been illegal, criminalizing such acts that involve morphed child pornography has been more problematic. Congress first attempted to do so in 1996, when they passed the Child Pornography Prevention Action (CPPA). In the years that followed, portions of the CPPA were deemed an unconstitutional violation of First Amendment rights. Congress’s latest attempt to criminalize morphed child pornography came in 2003, with the passage of the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act (Protect Act). While this legislation has been challenged, it has thus far been upheld by the courts.

Unlike the federal statutes, Florida’s child pornography laws are not as specific in addressing morphed child pornography. As a result, Florida courts have determined that persons who possess, distribute, transmit, etc. such images may not be held criminally liable.

The Senate companion, SB 1396 by Sen. Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington) is awaiting action in the Criminal Justice Committee.

 


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