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
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.