EARLY SESSION OPENS THIS WEEK
Thanks to the decennial (every 10-year) redistricting process, Florida legislators arrived in Tallahassee two months earlier than usual and kicked the 2012 Legislative Session off on Tuesday. Lawmakers will once again face a $2 billion budget shortfall that will undoubtedly lead to cuts in state-funded programs. While the budget will be at the top of lawmakers’ “to-do” list, other issues likely to consume legislators’ time and attention include the redistricting process, gaming and auto insurance fraud.
The opening of session also brought Gov. Rick’s Scott’s second “State of the State” address. In it, the Governor highlighted his commitment to a quality public education system for our children, and pledged his support for significantly increasing state education funding by $1 billion. Gov. Scott also addressed the critical role education plays in the workforce pipeline ensuring Florida will have the talented and educated workforce necessary to compete in the 21st century. However, the Governor proposed the additional funds come from cuts to Medicaid obtained by the standardization of inpatient hospital rates.
This session, the Florida Children’s Council and its partners will work closely with the Legislature and the Governor to preserve funding for Early Learning, VPK and Healthy Kids and to enhance, where possible, the quality and availability of services to a greater number of children. Please stay tuned to the Council’s weekly Capitol Connection for the latest updates on bills affecting Florida’s children and families.
As the 2012 Session begins, the two chambers differ on how to proceed with the budget process as part of an accelerated session start due to reapportionment deadlines. Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-Merritt Island) wants to focus on reapportionment and wait for the March estimating conference to address the budget thereby extending session beyond the 60-day call. House Speaker Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) is eager to complete business within the 60-day time frame. The January 12, 2012, estimating conference indicated little change over the previous estimate. The Governor’s budget director says it is unlikely the $2 billion shortfall will change materially.
The Governor’s $66.4 billion budget was presented to the House Appropriations Committee by Jerry McDaniel, the Governor’s Budget Director. He indicated that 2012 spending remains $20 billion below 2008 pre-recession levels. Health and Human Services is the largest portion of the state’s budget at 42.2 percent with Medicaid expenditures accounting for $19 billion. These increasing costs prompted state leaders to pursue a Medicaid managed care pilot project in five counties in the state and a statewide Medicaid reform bill last year. A three-year waiver extension request the Agency for Health Care Administration was approved on December 15, 2011 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Education is the next largest expense at 30 percent of the budget. The Governor is recommending a $1 billion increase in education spending. Of the $1 billion, $190 million will account for the 31,000 extra students coming into the school system next year, $224 million restores nonrecurring funding from the current year, and $220 million offsets an anticipated decline in property tax revenue that would have gone to schools. Those funds restore the current level per student funding, but Gov. Scott is also proposing an additional $381 million to double funding for reading programs and to increase the amount of the award of the School Recognition Program from $70 to $100. That would increase the level of per student funding by $142, up to $6,372 for each pupil.
STATE & LOCAL REVENUES
The first week of session brought renewed interest in examining Florida’s special district governments. Gov. Scott unveiled his Executive Order Number 12-10 (Review of Special Districts) directing the Governor’s Office of Policy & Budget to undertake a comprehensive review of special taxing districts.
The Legislature also continues its focus on special districts this session. Moving through the process isHB 107 by Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lee) and SB 192 by Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Manatee). A priority of the Florida Association of Special Districts, the bill revises the provisions relating to the merger and dissolution procedures for special districts. Both bills await consideration by their respective Finance & Tax Committees, with HB 107 scheduled to be heard by the House Finance & Tax Committee on January 17.
Local Government/Property Taxes
Legislation is moving in the Florida Senate to revamp the property tax relief constitutional amendment passed during the 2011 Session, HJR 381, and appearing on the November 2012 ballot as Amendment 4. CS/SJR 314 relating to Ad Valorem Taxation and CS/SJR 312 relating to Rescinding and Withdrawing HJR 381 by Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) both await a committee hearing by the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Finance & Taxation. CS/SJR 314 would prohibit increases in the assessed value of homestead and certain nonhomestead property if just value of the property decreases. The proposal also reduces the limitation on annual assessment increases applicable to nonhomestead property from 10 percent to 7 percent. Further, the joint resolution creates an additional homestead exemption. This exemption would be equal to 30 percent of the homestead property’s just value in excess of $75,000 but less than or equal to $200,000, plus 15 percent of the homestead property’s just value in excess of $200,000 but less than or equal to $400,000. A comparable bill has been filed by Rep. Jason Brodeur (R-Orange), HJR 1289, which mirrors the additional homestead exemption provisions of Sen. Simmon’s SJR 314. HB 1291 also by Rep. Brodeur implements in law the constitutional amendment granting this additional homestead exemption. The first committee stop for the House proposals is the Finance & Tax Committee.
Relating to Early Learning
Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) filed a bill relating to Early Learning revising the duties of the Office of Early Learning (OEL) within the Department of Education. SB 1758 proposes significant changes to the governing statute of the School Readiness program and would require:
If passed, SB 1758 would take effect July 1, 2012.
Child Care Facilities
Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) has filed a bill relating to child care facilities, SB 1222. This bill requires minimum standards for a written plan for the daily provision of varied activities at the facilities to include requirements for the appropriate use of confining equipment, periods of physical activity, and limited screen time. SB 1222 has been referred to the Senate’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs and Budget committees. If passed, the bill would take effect July 1, 2012.
AG Audit of Early Learning Programs
On Thursday, the Economic Affairs Committee ran out of time to allow for a scheduled presentation of the Audit of the State’s Early Learning Programs and Related Delivery Systems. Chair Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange) recognized that the topic and report deserved the committee’s full attention, and that the remaining time did not allow for this consideration. Chair Hukill asked that Subcommittee Chair Doug Holder (R-Sarasota) be given the task of drafting legislation around the audit findings related to efficiencies.
In the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education PreK-12 Appropriations meeting on January 12, Lance Kerwin made a presentation on the development of the state’s Early Learning and Information system (ELIS). Although members expressed their disappointment in the delays and work of the vendor, Chair Simmons made a formal request to get the project back on track and for the Office of Early Learning to submit quarterly reports on the status and progress of ELIS. Once completed, this system will provide for greater efficiencies in the system, and will minimize paperwork, expedite payments and enable child care providers to track child progress and provide information to parents.
Florida KidCare Program
Several bills have been filed that would affect the Florida KidCare Program. SB 510 by Sen. Nan Rich (D-Sunrise) would allow children of state employees who quality for KidCare to enroll in the program. Sen. Rich’s bill was unanimously passed by the Senate Health Regulation and Budget committee on Thursday. The House companion for this bill, HB 849 by Rep. Elaine Schwartz (D-Hollywood), has not yet been heard.
Sen. Rene Garcia’s (R-Hialeah) SB 1294 would allow children of legal immigrants in the United States less than five years to be eligible for KidCare since the federal government now provides a match for these children thanks to changes to federal legislation by former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart. This bill has been referred to the Senate Health Regulation and Budget committees. Currently, there is no companion bill in the House. However, Speaker-designate Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) has offered support to amending another KidCare bill in the House.
School districts could be required to provide data on students participating in free and reduced-price lunch/breakfast programs for enrollment in KidCare should Sen. Eleanor Sobel’s (D-Hollywood) SB 1088pass. Referred to the Senate Education PreK-12, Health and Budget committee, Sen. Sobel’s bill does not have a House companion.
Department of Health Reorganization
Legislators are once again looking at the reorganization of Florida’s health and human services program and, specifically, the Florida Department of Health (DOH). Bills outlining changes within the DOH has been filed in both chambers, SB 1824 by Sen. Garcia and HB 1263 by Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples). While the bills in their current form do not call for drastic changes, Rep. Hudson has indicated that the bill will be much different than the one now filed and could result in significant changes to the DOH.
SB 434 by Sen. Nan Rich (D-Weston) passed the Senate by a 40-0 margin. It will provide critical assistance to middle and high school children in foster care, including school stability, school transfers, transportation, and identification of an education advocate. The bill brings Florida in line with guidelines established in the 2008 federal “Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act.” Furthermore, it proposes that youth turning 18 be given the option to stay in “extended foster care” until the age of 21. Rep. Rich Glorioso (R-Plant City) has the House companion, HB 417, which is currently in the Health and Human Services Access Subcommittee.
In addition, HB 803 by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) passed the Health & Human Services Access Subcommittee by an 8-0 margin. It revises provisions relating to criminal history records check on persons considered for child placement; provides procedures for certain hotline calls that do not meet the criteria for report of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect, but indicate the need for assistance; revises requirements for child protective investigations; revises provisions relating to required services; revises requirements for DCF’s training and quality assurance programs; revises provisions relating to child protective injunction; requires a home study report if child has been removed from a home and will be remaining with parent; and provides additional requirements for case plans. There is no Senate companion bill at this time.
DCF CBC Scorecard
The Florida Department of Children and Families and the Florida Coalition for Children unveiled a first-of-its-kind “scorecard” targeted at measuring the success of the state’s Community Based Care (CBC) agencies. The scorecard was developed in concert with the CBC agencies and will be updated monthly. It evaluates these lead agencies on 12 key measures to determine how well they are meeting the most critical needs of these at-risk children. The scorecard and an explanation of the measurements are available online.
Trafficking of Children
Bills to prohibit the trafficking of children (and adults) are working their way through the legislative process. These bills stand a good chance of passage this year and provide support services for victims of these crimes – Florida Safe Harbor Act/HB 99 by Reps. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) and Jeanette Nunez (R-Miami), and SB 202 by Sen. Flores – as well as give the state increased authority in the prosecution of these crimes, allow for the increase in the penalties for perpetrators, provide the ability to seize property, and permit wiretapping, among other things (SB 1880 by Sen. Flores, SB 1816 by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Ft. Myers), HB 1355 by Rep. Chris Dorworth (R-Lake Mary)and PCB JDC 12-01by Rep. William Synder (R-Stuart) and the House Judiciary Committee).
Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Secretary Wansley Walters gave a presentation to the Senate Criminal justice Appropriations Committee on January 12 entitled DJJ Implementation Update on legislative Initiatives focusing on legislation and budget initiatives passed last year such as the civil citation program, misdemeanants in residential care, residential facility closures, and county-run detention centers.
Questions from the committee centered on what would be done with the $5.4 million reinvestment to serve misdemeanant youth, as well as the status of the closure of residential beds. The Secretary would like to reinvest in the front-end of the system to rebalance the continuum of care.
The Secretary has also announced the creation of a work group to look at a complete rewrite of the juvenile justice laws next year as a way of introducing real reform into the system.
Juvenile Justice Bills
Recent activity on juvenile justice bills includes:
SB 504 by Sen. Greg Evers (R-Crestview), which revises the types of diversified and innovative programs to provide rehabilitative treatment that may be developed or contracted for by the department;; authorizes a mother-infant program if the child’s mother is committed as a delinquent; and authorizes DJJ to pay toward funeral expenses. The bill passed through its first two committee stops (Criminal Justice and Judiciary) and is now referred to the last two committees – Criminal Justice Budget subcommittee and the Budget committee.
Sen. Stephen Wise’s (R-Jacksonville) SB 834 provides legislative intent regarding juvenile justice education and workforce-related programs. The bill passed through its first committee stop, but was temporarily postponed prior to being heard at the second committee stop. A new strike-all amendment will be introduced at the next meeting.
Also filed this week by Sen. Wise was SB 1886, which requires that school districts adopt a policy for reporting acts that pose a serious threat to school safety; requires acts that do not pose a serious threat to school safety be handled within the school’s disciplinary system; requires that a child accused of a misdemeanor offense not be arrested and formally processed in the juvenile justice system; and requires that minor incidents be diverted from the juvenile justice system or handled within the school system’s disciplinary system.