REDISTRICTING & BUDGET MOVE FORWARD
As expected, the redistricting process took center stage during week two of the 2012 Legislative Session. The Senate voted Tuesday 34-6 in favor of the draft plans. The House Redistricting Committee is set to vote on its version of the plan, including House maps, next Friday. According to news reports, House Democrats may be looking to offer amendments to the maps. Continued debate between the two chambers is expected making it difficult at this point to predict when the Legislature may take a final vote on redistricting.
Meanwhile,both chambers started work on the annual budget with the House releasing budget allocations that include the $1 billion boost in education spending requested by Gov. Rick Scott. While health and human services programs should still anticipate deep budget cuts, the current House budget does not include Gov. Scott’s proposal to drastically reduce Medicaid funding for hospitals. HouseSpeaker Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) has stated that the House budget will prioritize programs and services for people as opposed to things such as transportation and that self-executing contingencies will be put in place in case there are revenue losses or increases in the coming months. The Senate has announced it will release its initial budget proposal next week.
STATE & LOCAL REVENUES
This week, the House Finance and Tax Committee approved CS/HB 107 by Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lee). A priority of the Florida Association of Special Districts, the bill revises the provisions relating to the merger and dissolution procedures for special districts. The next stop for CS/HB 107 is the House Economic Affairs Committee. SB 192 by Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Manatee) awaits consideration by the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.
Local Government/Property Taxes
Several property tax relief bills passed in the House Finance and Tax Committee this week. HJR 55 by Rep. Jeanette Nunez (R-Miami-Dade) proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would grant the Legislature authority to allow counties and cities to limit ad valorem tax assessments to the previous year’s assessed value for homestead property subject to the current local option low-income senior exemption. The limitation could apply if the market value of a homestead property is less than the market value of the property on the preceding January 1 or no more than 150 percent of the average homestead market value in the county. Next stop for the House proposal is the Community and Military Affairs Subcommittee. The first committee stop for the Senate companion, SJR 838 by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami-Dade), is the Senate Community Affairs Committee.
HJR 93 by Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Hillsborough) was also endorsed by the House Finance and Tax Committee. The joint resolution proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would allow the legislature to provide property tax relief to the surviving spouse of a veteran who died from service-connected causes while on active duty as a member of the United States Armed Forces and to the surviving spouse of a first responder who died in the line of duty. The amount of tax relief, to be set by the Legislature, can equal the total amount or a portion of the property tax owed on the homestead property. The state’s Revenue Estimating Conference projected the estimated statewide impact would be annual reductions in school tax revenues of $0.3 million, beginning in 2013-2014. Annual reductions in local government non-school tax revenues are projected to be $0.3 million in 2013-2014. Rep. Harrison’s implementing bill for this constitutional amendment is HB 95, which was also approved by the committee. SJR 1056 and its accompanying implementing bill SB 1058 by Sen. Jim Norman (R-Hillsborough) await action by the Senate Military Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee.
Relating to Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) Education ProgramSB 0856 by Sen. Nan Rich (D-Weston)/HB 793 by Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Fort Lauderdale) requires that instructors in the school-year VPK program delivered by both private providers and public schools meet new professional credentialing requirements beginning July 1, 2015. The bill also repeals provisions relating to aspirational goals for professional credentials of prekindergarten instructors. If passed, the bills would take effect July 1, 2012.
AG Audit of Early Learning Programs
The Audit of the State’s Early Learning Programs and Related Delivery Systems was discussed in two House committees this week, the PreK-12 Education Appropriations Committee and Business and Consumer Affairs. At Tuesday’s House Business and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee, House Economic Affairs Committee Deputy Staff Director Sherri Croom made a presentation focused on the Office of Early Learning and the state’s 31 local early learning coalitions. As a conclusion, Ms. Croom offered language to be considered in the re-drafting of the statue which governs the School Readiness program (Chapter 411.01, F.S.) including more standardization requirements across the early learning coalitions.
Early Steps in Critical Condition The early intervention program for infants and toddlers at risk of developmental delay is in danger of disappearing in Florida. Without an appropriation of recurring state funding of $6.9 million, Florida will be the first state unable to meet federal IDEA Part C requirements, resulting in an annual loss of $24 million dollars in federal grant funding. Early Steps provides services to more than 45,000 Florida infants and toddlers each year. With projected needs increasing each year, the value of early intervention is well documented including a study by the World Health Organization showing economic benefits of $17 for each $1 spent on early intervention. Following a compelling personal story from St Lucie County about a child who benefited tremendously from the program, Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart), chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee committed to supporting Early Steps. For more information, click here.
TAKE ACTION: Contact House and Senate appropriations committee members to urge their support for Early Steps.
Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart) filed an amendment to SB 402, which creates the Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns and includes a representative appointed by the Attorney Generalwho promotes infant, child or maternal health. An amendment to the House version, HB 227by Rep. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) is expected to follow.
Department of Children and Families Reorganization
SB 2048 by the Department of Children and Families was heard in the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs on Thursday.The bill relates to the reorganization of the Department of Children and Family Services and changes the name to the Department of Children and Families (DCF).It authorizes DCF to restructure its organizational units to be geographically organized into circuits and regions; repeals obsolete provisions relating to the establishment of the department; revises certain services provided by the department and abolishes program offices; deletes provisions providing an exemption from competitive bids for certain health services; amends provisions relating to the service areas of the Department of Health; and amends provisions relating to the State Office on Homelessness within the Department .Two major amendments were discussed to include the restoration of the requirement for Community Based Alliances, and restoration of language requiring caseloads to be at the level recommended by the Child Welfare League of America.
HB 417 by Rep. Rich Glorioso (R-Plant City) is the House companion to SB 434 by Sen. Nan Rich (D-Weston), which passed the Senate last week 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.
TAKE ACTION: Calls are needed to Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), Chair of the Health and Human Services Access Subcommittee, urging him to agenda the bill for a hearing.
Filed on Friday by the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee Chaired by Sen. Ronda Storms (R-Brandon), SB 2044 revises the definitions of the term “abandoned” or “abandonment,” “institutional child abuse or neglect,” and “abandons the child within the context of harm.” Formerly PCB 7166, this bill also revises provisions relating to criminal history record checks on persons being considered for placement of a child; requiring that a protective investigation must include an interview with the child’s parent/guardian and requiring a home study report if a child has been removed from the home and will be remaining with a parent. Committees, at this time, have not been assigned.
Trafficking of Children
SB 202 by Sen. Flores – was heard in the Budget Subcomittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations on Thursday and after much debate passed unanimously with an amendment supported by certain law enforcement.
Criminal History Records Checks
HB 803 by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) passed its second stop on Wednesday, the Civil Justice Subcommittee by an 8-0 margin. It revises provisions relating to a criminal history records check on persons considered for child placement; provides procedures for certain hotline calls that do not meet the criteria for reports 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 injunctions; requires a home study report if a child has been removed from a home and will be remaining with a parent; and provides additional requirements for case plans. The Senate companion SB 2044 will likely be heard next week.
Video Voyeurism Against Kids
On Tuesday, the House Justice Appropriations Committee unanimously approved HB 437 by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (R-Orlando), which would increase the penalties for video voyeurism against a minor – raising it to a second degree felony from a third degree felony – and requiring those convicted of video voyeurism to register as sex offenders. The bill also provides prosecutors with the ability to charge offenders with multiple counts if more than one child is involved in a case of child pornography. The measure will head to the House Judiciary Committee next.
Juvenile Justice Bills
HB 173 by Rep. Ray Pilon (R-Sarasota) revises the types of diversified and innovative programs to provide rehabilitative treatment that may be developed or contracted for by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to include mother-infant programs.The bill passed favorably in the Judiciary Committee by a 16-0 margin and has been placed on the calendar on second reading.