News & Events
APPROPRIATION SUBCOMMITTEES RELEASE INITIAL BUDGET RECOMMENDATIONS THIS WEEK
The third week of session marked the ramping up of the state budget process, as chairmen of the legislative appropriations subcommittees announced their recommended budgets. The funding proposals, which were released ahead of schedule, will provide a basis for the development of a single comprehensive appropriations bill by both the House and Senate. These budgets will now be sent to the full appropriations committees in each of the respective chambers.
Early Learning Budget Highlights
- Total School Readiness funding in the House budget ($558.5 million) includes a $6 million increase in slots for serving additional children, which is not included in the Senate budget ($552.5 million).
- The Base Student Allocation (BSA) for the Voluntary Pre-kindergarten Program increase included in the House is $108 per student, which totals nearly $17.7 million. The Senate does not recommend an increase to the BSA.
- VPK pre- and post-assessments of $1.6 million is included in the House budget, but not included in the Senate budget.
- The Senate budget has $10.5 million in non-recurring general revenue for performance based funding. The House has $10 million with $3 million recurring.
- The House appropriated $2 million for the Help Me Grow Florida Network, a national initiative that is designed to identify children at-risk for developmental or behavioral disabilities, and connect them with community-based programs for health and developmental services. It is not currently funded in the Senate Budget.
- The Senate appropriated an additional $2.5 million in non-recurring funds for the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program, an evidenced-based early learning program, while the House has proposed a funding level of $2 million.
Early Learning Bill Gets Senate Companion; Both Bills to Be Heard in Committees this Week
The House bill (HB 7069) by Chair Marlene O’Toole (R-The Villages) and the Committee on Education that will address early learning health and safety standards, licensing, and more, has received a Senate companion. SB 7114, by Chair John Legg’s (R-Lutz) Senate Education Committee, will be heard by that same committee on Tuesday, March 25 at 9 AM. This is its only committee assignment before going to the full Senate. Some notable components of the bill include the following:
- Renames the School Readiness program as the Child Care and Development program
- Requires that private providers must be licensed or, if the provider is a licensed-exempt faith-based provider or nonpublic school, agree to substantially comply with specified child care licensing standards and submit to inspections by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or local licensing agency
- Denies providers with serious health and safety violations in the previous year program eligibility unless certain requirements are met
- Requires that by January 1, 2016, personnel must be at least 18 years of age and hold a high school diploma (or equivalent); practitioners must be trained in developmentally appropriate practices aligned to the age and needs of children served
- Requires the Office of Early Learning (OEL) to develop online training on School Readiness program performance standards, and provider personnel to complete the training
- Requires the Office of Early Learning to conduct a 2-year pilot project to study the impact of assessing the early literacy skills of Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program participants who are English Language Learners, in both English and Spanish
The House bill, HB 7069 by Chair Marlene O’Toole (R-The Villages) and the House Education Committee, today will be heard in Chair Erik Fresen’s (R-Miami) Education Appropriations Subcommittee. This is the bill’s only committee assignment.
Licensing of Facilities that Offer Health and Human Services
SB 394 by Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) was passed unanimously on Monday, March 17, by the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. It is now in its final committee, Senate Appropriations. The bill makes the following changes to the regulation of family day care homes, child care facilities, and large family child care homes:
- Amends the definitions of “child care” and “child care facility” to delete the requirement that a payment, fee, or grant be made for care in order to be considered a child care facility
- Requires that child care facilities exempt from licensing requirements include the state or local agency license number or registration number of the facility when advertising
- Requires licensed or registered family day care homes and large family child care homes to conspicuously display the license or registration in the common area of the home
- Requires that the substitute for a registered family day care home meet the screening and training requirements of DCF
- Specifies that background checks are required for the operator, each household member, and the designated substitute of a registered family day care home
The bill’s companion, HB 303 by Rep. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) was passed by the Healthy Families Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 5, and is currently waiting to be heard in the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.
On Sunday, March 16, the Miami Herald unveiled their much anticipated, extensive investigation of Florida’s child welfare system. The series, titled “Innocents Lost,” detailed subtle shifts in state policy that resulted in more children remaining in the homes of unfit caregivers. Compounding the matter, as this policy shift was being implemented and the economic recession was intensifying, the state began to experience funding cuts for preventative social services for at-risk families, such as drug treatment, domestic violence prevention, and family skills. A tragic spike in children’s death soon followed. Heartbreaking accounts detailing the deaths of hundreds of children were also included as part of an interactive, online database. The story elicited an immediate response from several lawmakers, including Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood), chair of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee and a leading figure on the Senate’s child welfare reform effort, who swore that the Senate would heed the lessons illustrated by the stories.
Some highlights from Chair Matt Hudson’s (R-Naples) recommended budget in the House Health and Human Services Subcommittee include:
- $44 million in recurring funding for the child welfare system, including:
- $13 million to hire 191 child protective investigators, reducing the caseload ratio to 1:10
- $8.1 million for the six county Sheriffs Departments that engage in child protective investigations
- $7.5 million for the Healthy Families program that provides in-home support services for families
- $2.8 million additional funds to the Department of Health for Child Protection Teams
- $10 million to Community-Based Care (CBC) Agencies for case managers recruitment and retention
- $3 million to CBCs for sexually exploited youth
- $10.6 million in recurring funds to fully restore community-based substance abuse and mental health services
- Increased funding and expansion of mental health Community Action Teams (CAT) for young adults
- $20 million to end the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities waitlist for services, which will provide care to an additional 1,260 people with the greatest health care needs
- $5.5 million in recurring funding restored for the Ounce of Prevention and Early Steps programs
House Healthy Families Subcommittee Discusses Proposed Bill; Looks at Child Welfare Workforce Issues
Building on last week’s release of proposed legislation to reform the state’s child welfare system, the House Healthy Families Subcommittee met on Tuesday, March 18 to continue to discuss and workshop their committee bill. The comprehensive bill already contains many similar provisions to a package of bills moving through the Senate, but differences remain between the two approaches, and even more may emerge as amendments are filed in the coming weeks.
At the start of the meeting, Chair Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie) acknowledged the Miami Herald investigation and urged all of the committee members to read it. She stated that she and the committee staff had been working hard to accommodate members’ concerns and suggestions since the bill’s release last week.
One concern raised by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Fort Myers) related to the increased oversight role of Community Alliances over Community-Based Care agencies. Seeking more information, Chair Harrell called Florida Department of Children and Families Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo to discuss the current state of the alliances. Describing the alliances as a “mixed bag,” Secretary Jacobo illustrated the disparate makeup of the organizations:
- Some alliances concentrate on CBCs, while others look at the whole continuum of care
- While some do, many do not have money to hire support staff
- Although some alliances are currently inactive, others are starting up again
- Some might not have members that are qualified to assume these new expanded oversight duties
- Some alliances are excited about the new responsibilities detailed in the proposed legislation, while others are wary of this expanded role, and preferred to act more as a community forum
Child Welfare Workforce Panel
The main focus of Tuesday’s meeting was a discussion regarding the workforce component of the bill by a panel of speakers. First to speak was Secretary Jacobo, who offered the Florida Department of Children and Families’ perspective on the issue of prioritizing CPIs with investigative skills or social work training. She stated that investigators must have a hybrid of both skill sets, and that unfortunately, there was no “magic bullet” that could solve the workforce problem. She emphasized that no one graduates from college prepared to be a CPI and that further training is always required. She concluded that if the House followed the Senate’s lead by requiring social work graduates, the department would not be able to hire enough staff.
Maj. Rob Bullara from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office was up next to discuss the makeup and training requirements of the Sheriffs’ CPI workforce, and while all of whom have college degrees, only a handful have social work degrees. He shared that child protective investigators spend 18 weeks in training with experienced investigators before being certified to work independently in the field. Training is continuous, and CPIs must achieve 40 hours of annual recertification, which includes a 2-step process, featuring both classroom and field training components. He agreed with Secretary Jacobo that no graduate from any field of study is properly prepared for the work straight out of college. He also mentioned that his department was promoting public awareness of the dangers of co-sleeping, which he said was the leading cause of death of these children.
Next, Pam Graham, director of Bachelor of Social Work degrees from Florida State University, testified on behalf of current measures to promote social work graduates for investigator and case manager positions. She touted her students for achieving a total of 1,000 hours of training through their degree, and gaining an understanding of family dynamics, cultural impact, and poverty. Though Ms. Graham acknowledged that social work graduates do not have experience with criminal investigations, she reminded the committee that most cases are not of a criminal nature. She indicated that social workers are less likely to “burn out,” and are thus the best suited to solve the worker retention problem. Ms. Graham assured the committee that the Florida education system, which includes nine public and five private colleges and universities, was sufficient to train enough social workers, as it already graduates 1,700 students every year with either a Bachelor of Social Work or a Master of Social Work degree.
Finally, John Cooper from Family Central CBC in Ocala discussed workforce recruitment and turnover issues. Citing studies on child welfare workforces, some notable points from his testimony include:
- In one study, 100 percent of child protective service workers were dissatisfied with their rate of pay.
- There is very little evidence that education has any correlation with workforce retention or recruitment.
- A study indicated that many Masters students only stay until their payback period is over for Title IV-E tuition reimbursement or loan forgiveness funds.
- Child welfare workers and services are so poorly represented in movies and on television, that he believes that it raises additional challenges in workforce recruitment.
See below for more information on the current provisions of the House bill, which will once again be discussed by the Healthy Families committee on Tuesday, March 25 at 11:30 AM:
PCB HFS 14-03 “Child Protection and Child Welfare Services” by Healthy Families
- Establishes an Assistant Secretary of Child Welfare to lead the department in carrying out its duties and responsibilities for child protection and welfare
- Increases education and training requirements of new child investigators by requiring them to have either:
- A Bachelor of Social Work or Master of Social Work degree
- A relevant human services degree with 12 hours of social work coursework
- A relevant human services degree and social work training within 3 years
- Values individuals specializing in medically complex children or investigations
- Provides tuition reimbursement/loan forgiveness provisions, provided the student maintains a B average
- Increases transparency
- Requires basic information about child deaths to be reported on the DCF website
- Sets up rapid response teams
- Creates the Florida Institute for Child Welfare to be placed at the FSU School of Social Work, that would be a “brain trust” for conducting research and making recommendations to DCF
- Creates a taskforce within that Institute to come together and make specific recommendations
- Addresses sibling relationships and ensures that siblings have contact with each other
- Addresses and criminalizes rehoming and abandoning a child
- Addresses “safety plans” and ensures that there are consequences to not following them
- Addresses medically fragile children
- Updates statutes on CBCs
- Facilitates community control of CBCs
- Requires representation of local entities, including school districts, United Way, and law enforcement
- Ensures that members of the local Community Alliances are involved in the CBC procurement process, which is to take place locally
- Ensures that reliable data is gathered
- Adds a new goal to ensure that children become responsible adults
- Ensures that the entire system is accountable
Senate Child Welfare Legislation
Three major child welfare bills, which the Senate released and voted out of committee last week, have not been discussed publicly since. However, child welfare advocates are working behind the scenes with legislators to improve them. Major provisions of the three bills are listed below:
- Sec. 1: Requires the creation of an Assistant Secretary of Child Welfare to provide greater attention and responsiveness
- Sec. 2: Recognizes that current employees do not need to be child welfare certified, because it would be too burdensome on the workforce
- Sec. 3: Requires social work degrees for child investigators and supervisors, including 80% of new hires. Current workers without a social work degree would be grandfathered in.
- Sec. 4: Creates a tuition exemption program for certain employees based on performance standards
- Sec. 5: Provides a $3,000 payment each year for up to 4 years to employees who have social work degrees
- Sec. 6: Addresses rehoming issue; creates a criminal penalty for the abandonment of children
- Sec. 7: Creates the university partnership (likely based out of Florida State University’s School of Social Work) to provide policy analysis and recommendations, and develop on-the-job training for CPIs and case workers
- Sec. 8: Amends school code to put CPIs and supervisors on the list of those exempted from fees
- Secs. 9 & 10: Repeals old statutes
- Establishes that if one sibling is abused, the rest may be removed from the home as well
- Establishes critical incident rapid response teams to send teams onto the scene of a child death or incident
- Requires DCF to publish more information on child deaths on the website
- Expands the scope of child death reviews from just deaths from abuse and neglect to all deaths for a child who had been reported to the DCF hotline
- Authorizes payment to nonrelative caregivers who are providing the same support as relative caregivers
- Modernizes outdated statutes, reorganizes Community Based Care (CBC) statutes
- Adds a definition of medical neglect to help provide additional guidance to DCF
- Requires Child Protection Teams from DOH to consult with certain trained physicians when needed
- Clarifies that the state will make every possible effort to try to keep children at home
- Further defines the state Managed Medicaid program to ensure that children in the foster care system receive services, such as dental, medical, and behavioral health
OTHER BILLS AFFECTING CHILDREN’S WELFARE
HB 7141 (Formerly PCB HFS 14-02) by Healthy Families will provide comprehensive services for children trapped in the illicit sex trade. Some of the provisions of the proposed committee bill include:
- Creates new administrative requirements to ensure that DCF and CBCs have the infrastructure to respond to the needs of these victims
- Creates clearer guidelines for “safe houses” and safe foster homes, and ensures that those who work there provide the quality care that these victims deserve
- Creates a pilot program to test a secure safe house
- Responding to the concerns of advocates, the PCB ensures that education was part of the treatment and discharge plan
- Makes substantive changes to the process of being placed in a secure safe house: mandates that an individual must have a lawyer, not just a Guardian ad Litem
After the House language was adopted into SB 7088 by the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee, the bill was Temporarily Postponed during a committee meeting on Tuesday, March 18, due to concerns over the secure safe house provisions. Proponents of the provisions cite stories of trafficking victims being lured out of the safe houses by former pimps and assaulted all over again, as well as the inability to provide long term therapeutic treatment to the girls or to gather sufficient testimony to prosecute the perpetrators, thus ending the cycle of trafficking. However, many child advocates and some legislators have expressed reservations over further victimizing child human trafficking victims by forcibly detaining them in the “secure safe houses” called for in the legislation.
Attorneys for Dependent Children with Disabilities
SB 972 by Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) passed the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee on Tuesday, March 18. It now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill requires the appointment of an attorney to represent dependent children with disabilities. Its companion, HB 561 by Rep. Fresen (R-Miami) and the Civil Justice Subcommittee, was unanimously approved by the Civil Justice Subcommittee on February 19, but is still waiting to be heard by the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.
HB 989 by Rep. Carlos Trujillo (R-Doral) was passed unanimously by the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 19. It will now go to the House Judiciary Committee, its final assignment. The bill makes many changes with regards to human trafficking:
- Includes human trafficking in the definition of term “sexual abuse of child”
- Includes human trafficking within provisions providing for confidentiality of court records concerning certain offenses involving children
- Includes human trafficking victims within provisions prohibiting disclosure of identifying information of certain crime victims
- Provides that victims of human trafficking are eligible for crime victim compensation awards and allows them to be eligible for financial relocation assistance
Its companion, SB 768 by Sen. Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens), will be heard on Monday, March 24, in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, its first committee of reference.
Florida KidCare Program
SB 282 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) will finally be heard in the Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday, March 25 at 2 PM. The bill would allow children of legal immigrants, who have lived in the United States less than five years, to be eligible for KidCare. Its companion, HB 7 by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami), still 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.
Thanks to your tireless efforts, Chair Aaron Bean has put Senator Garcia’s SB 282 on Tuesday’s agenda of the Health Policy Committee. Please call and thank Chair Bean for doing so. Also, please contact the other members of the committee and ask them to support the bill. A list of committee members may be found below.
Currently, legally residing immigrant children are forced to wait five years before becoming eligible for Florida KidCare, our state’s subsidized health care program for children. By removing this five-year ban, Senator Garcia’s bill will expand health care coverage to over 25,000 children.
Please contact the following members of the Senate Health Policy Committee NOW to let them know how important this bill is to you.
Senator Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood)
Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg)
Senator Oscar Braynon, II (D-Miami Gardens)
Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami)
Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton)
Senator Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring)
Senator Arthenia L. Joyner (D-Tampa)
Senator Rene Garcia (the bill sponsor) and Senator Anitere Flores (the co-sponsor) are also on the committee, but it is not necessary to call them, except to thank them.
Newborn Health Screening
HB 591 by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie) was passed unanimously by its final committee, House Health and Human Services, on Thursday, March 20. The bill 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 is expanded 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. An amendment was added that would require physicians who diagnose a child as deaf or hard at hearing to ask parents if they would like more information regarding American Sign Language and other resources.
Its companion, SB 722 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah), is currently in the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee.
Juvenile Justice, Chapter 985 Rewrite
HB 7055 by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Rep. Ray Pilon (R-Sarasota) was passed unanimously by the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 19. It now goes to the House Judiciary Committee, its final committee assignment. The bill proposes a variety of changes to Chapter 985 of the Florida Statutes, relating to the Florida 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:
- Update legislative intent language and definitions applicable to Chapter 985 of the Florida Statutes
- Modify procedures relating to jurisdiction, contempt of court, fingerprinting and photographing, and intake assessments
- Expand the continuity of care system for children in detention
- Provide authority to the department to develop, within existing resources, evening reporting centers and community re-entry teams
- Expand the department’s notification requirements to a school or victim when the custody status of a youth has changed
- Allow technical violations to be resolved through alternative consequence programs
- Broaden the application of transition-to-adulthood services to youth of all ages
- Expand when a misdemeanant youth may be committed to a residential program
- Create a new offense relating to “willful and malicious neglect” of juvenile offenders
- Enhance the performance accountability system for service providers
- Limit the amount paid to hospitals and health care providers that do not have a contract with the department for health care services provided to juveniles
The bill’s companion, SB 700 by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), was heard and passed by the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 19. The bill will now go to its final committee of reference, Senate Appropriations.
Juvenile Justice Education Programs
SB 598 by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) will be heard by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday, March 24. Its companion, HB 173 by Rep. Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach), was passed unanimously by the full House on March 12 and recently received committee assignments after it passed through Messages to the Senate. These bills 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. They would also require that school districts consider the needs of individual youth when they return to school, and enhance career and technical training. Additionally, these bills seek to improve accountability, enhance access to virtual education, and require state and federal education dollars to follow the youth who generate them.
On Friday, March 21, HB 7035 by Rep. J.W. Grant (R-Tampa) and Criminal Justice passed its last committee, House Judiciary. It will now go to the House floor. 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 companion, SB 384 by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) is on the Calendar on Second Reading after passing its final committee, Senate Appropriations, on Thursday, March 13.
OTHER BILLS AFFECTING CHILDREN
Resident Status for Tuition Purposes
HB 851 by Rep. Jeanette Nunez (R-Miami) passed the full House on Thursday, March 20. The bill would allow undocumented immigrant students to receive in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. An amendment added on Wednesday will require undocumented students to have been attending a Florida high school for at least four years, instead of the three-year requirement currently written in the Senate version. The amendment allowed the bill to pass the House of Representatives on a contentious 81:33 vote. The strong support of Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) was considered a major reason for the bill’s surprisingly quick passage through the House. The bill now goes to the Senate, which can either vote on the House version or continue to work on its own legislation.
The companion bill, SB 1400 by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) passed its first committee, Senate Education, by a close 5:4 vote on Tuesday, March 18. To garner more support, provisions were added to the bill that will cap how much universities can raise tuition rates, as well as prohibit undocumented students from receiving any other financial aid benefits beyond in-state tuition. The bill’s future remains far from certain, with both Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) having expressed reservations about the proposal, and Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) voting against it. Galvano is the chair of the bill’s next assigned committee, Senate Education Appropriations, and he could decide not to put the measure to a vote.
Special Districts: Chapter 189 Reorganization
SB 1632 by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) passed out of the Ethics and Elections Committee on Monday, March 17. It now goes to the Senate Community Affairs Committee. The bill proposes to reorganize Chapter 189 of the Florida Statutes into eight parts, as well as:
- Revise the Governor’s power to suspend public officers to include members of governing body of special district
- Revise provisions relating to suspension and removal from office of municipal officers to include members of a governing body of a special district
- Provide requirements for the chair of a governing body
- Provide special district reporting requirements; provide for suspension of special districts under certain conditions
- Provide penalties for special districts that fail to comply
Its companion, HB 1237 by Rep. Larry Metz (R-Groveland), has not yet received a hearing by the House Local and Federal Affairs Committee, its first committee of reference.