Week 4 featured the 2017 Children’s Week at the Capitol, starting on Sunday with the official “Hanging of the Hands” children’s artwork collected from across the state in the Capitol Rotunda, aimed at showing lawmakers a visual representation of the vast number of children their decisions affect. Monday night brought The Children’s Week Awards Dinner and Reception to honor and recognize Children’s Week partners and non-profit organizations which dedicate their lives to children. This year’s Lawton Chiles Advocacy Award was given to Carol Barnett, a long-time child advocate who worked closely with United Way and David Lawrence of the Children’s Movement to establish some exemplary children’s programs in Florida, including Reading Pals. Tuesday morning brought the “Children’s Capitol for a Day” activities attended by thousands of children while the Children and Youth Cabinet held a youth town hall meeting, fielding questions from youth from YMCA’s and youth committees across the state followed by a Press Conference on the steps of the Historic Capitol to share the mission/vision and priorities of the cabinet with regards to children’s issues and teen town hall meeting sponsored by The Children’s Trust Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) focused on youth violence.
The House and Senate will start budget negotiations with a gap of $2 billion between the two proposals, fueling the speculations that lawmakers will not complete “a spending plan by the scheduled May 5 end of the legislative session. The Senate on Thursday published an initial draft of its budget totaling $83.2 billion for the year that begins July 1. Shortly afterward, House leaders announced that their spending plan would total approximately $81.2 billion.” (Brandon Larrabee, NSF, March 30, 2017)
Next week, both chambers will continue work on the proposed 2017-2018 state budget. The budget is then scheduled to be debated and voted on the House floor on April 13. The Senate has not provided a definitive schedule at this time. Highlights of the budget recommendations may be found at the back of the report.
The week also saw many bills of interest to child care advocates moving rapidly through the process.
SCHOOL READINESS AND EARLY GRADE SUCCESS
SB 806 by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) creates the Committee on Early Grade Success within the Department of Education to develop a proposal for establishing and implementing a coordinated child assessment system for the School Readiness Program, the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program, and the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. The bill provides for membership of the committee; provides committee meeting requirements; requires the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning to provide necessary staff for the committee; and requires the committee to submit a report by a specified date. The bill has been referred to four committees and is awaiting action in the Education Committee. The House companion, HB 1229 by Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) was voted through unanimously by the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee on Monday, March 27 and is scheduled for PreK-12 Education Appropriations Committee on Monday April 3.
HB 757 by Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Naples) relating to Voluntary Prekindergarten Education (VPK) was reported favorably in the PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee on March 21. The bill requires the Just Read, Florida! office to provide teachers, reading coaches, and principals in prekindergarten through grade 3 with specified training; and requires VPK providers to provide parents with pre- and post-assessment results within a specified timeframe. The Senate companion SB 468 by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) will be heard in the Education Committee on Monday April 3.
SB 78 by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) has 18 co-sponsors and is ready for final passage on April 4. The bill will require school districts to provide 20 minutes of unstructured recess for Kindergarten-5th grade students. The House companion, HB 67 by Rep. Rene Plasencia (R-Titusville) has 51 co-sponsors and was amended in the PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee on March 28 to allow school districts to substitute 100 of the 150 minutes of mandated elementary physical education for recess. The bill now heads to the PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee.
Children with Unique Abilities
HB 15 by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan (R-Eustis) relates to Educational Options. The bill revises provisions relating to expanding eligibility of the Gardiner Scholarship Program, John M. McKay Scholarship Program, and Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program; as well as provides appropriations. The House bill was reported favorably in the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee on March 28. The Senate companion, SB 902 by David Simmons (R-Longwood) is scheduled to be heard in the Education Committee on April 3.
SB 1314 by Sen. Denise Grimsley (R-Lake Placid) was just filed and not yet assigned to committees. The bill specifies the Department of Education’s duty to approve or deny an application for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program within a specified time; requires an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization to allow certain dependent children to apply for a scholarship at any time; revises parent and student responsibilities for program participation; authorizes the Learning Systems Institute to receive compensation for research under certain circumstances; and authorizes specified eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations to develop a professional development system. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Education Committee on April 3.
High School Apprenticeship Program
HB 525 by Rep. David Silvers (D-Palm Beach) authorizes students to use credits earned upon completion of an apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship program to satisfy specified high school graduation requirements. The bill is awaiting action in the Education Committee.
The Senate companion, SB 978 by Sen. Bobby Powell (D-W. Palm Beach) was reported favorably by the Education Committee on March 27, and is headed to the Appropriations Subcommittee on PreK-12 Education.
Florida Kidcare Program
HB 637 by Rep. Nicholas Duran (R-Miami) and SB 1654 by Sen. Daphne Campbell (D-North Miami Beach) creates a Kidcare Operational Efficiency and Health Care Improvement Workgroup to maximize the return on investment and enhance the operational efficiencies of the Florida Kidcare program. The House bill has been referred to 3 committees and is awaiting action in the Health Innovation Subcommittee. SB 1654 was reported favorably by the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee on Monday, March 27 and is scheduled to be heard in the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on April 3.
HB 963 by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Fort Myers) and SB 1124 by Sen. Lauren Book (D-Broward County) requires the Department of Health, upon the advice of the Genetics and Newborn Screening Advisory Council, to expand the statewide screening of newborns to include any condition on the federal Recommended Uniform Screening Panel; and requires the council to determine whether a condition should be included in the state’s screening program within a specified period after its addition to the federal panel. HB 963 is awaiting action in the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee. SB 1124 was reported favorably by the Health Policy Committee on March 27 and now heads to Appropriations.
SB 358 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah)authorizes the Department of Children and Families to approve receiving systems for behavioral health care; requires the department to post certain data on its website; and specifies that certain court hearings must be scheduled within 5 court working days. The bill was passed unanimously on the Senate floor on March 29. The House companion, HB 1327 by Rep. Kathleen Peters (R-St. Petersburg) is awaiting action in the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee.
SB 1756 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) provides responsibilities of the Department of Children and Families for a comprehensive statewide mental health and substance abuse program; revises the rights of individuals receiving mental health treatment and services to provide for the use of health care surrogates or proxies to make decisions; and, designates receiving facilities to permit access authority to an agency designated by the Governor to serve as the federally mandated protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities. The bill is scheduled to be heard in Children, Families, and Elder Affairs on April 3.
Temporary Care of a Child
HB 363 by Rep. Frank White (R-Pensacola) and Rep. Patricia Williams (D-Ft. Lauderdale) and SB 200 by Sen. Kathleen Possidomo (R-Naples) authorizes certain organizations to establish programs to assist parents and legal guardians in providing temporary respite care for a child, providing that such placement does not constitute abuse, neglect, or abandonment; and authorizes the Department of Children and Families to refer children to such programs under certain circumstances. HB 363 is awaiting floor action. SB 200 is scheduled to be heard in the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee on April 3.
HB 23 by Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral) was reported favorably in the House Health and Human Services Committee on March 30. The bill increases the penalties for the first three instances of noncompliance with the Temporary Case Assistance (TCA) work requirements to align with the food assistance program’s sanctions, and creates a fourth sanction. SB 570 by Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) is a similar bill, and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee on April 3.
HB 1121 by Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (R-St. Augustine) is similar to SB 1044 in that it provides that central abuse hotline information may be used for employment screening of residential group home caregivers; and requires the court to inquire as to the identity and location of the child’s legal father at shelter hearings; requires the court to consider maltreatment allegations against parents in evidentiary hearing relating to dependency petition; and, requires the court to conduct an inquiry under oath to determine the identity or location of the unknown parent after filing of termination of parental rights petition. The bill was reported favorably by the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee on March 28.
Foster Care/Driver’s Licenses for Children in Foster Care
SB 60 By Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) has been placed on the House Special Order Calendar for April 4. The bill requires the child’s transition plan and the court to assist children in foster care in obtaining a drivers license. The bill also expands the program to include, under certain conditions, children in non-licensed out-of-home care who have reached permanency or turned 18. HB 217 by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan (R-Eustis) has been also been placed on the House Special Order Calendar for April 4.
HB 1165 by Rep. Ross Spano (R-Riverview) provides civil cause of action by victims of human trafficking or the Florida Compensation Trust Fund for Survivors of Human Trafficking against certain persons; provides for damages, attorney fees and costs; provides for civil penalties; provides for civil forfeitures; provides procedures for forfeiture actions; provides that actions have no statute of limitations; and, adds functions and duties for Statewide Council on Human Trafficking. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on April 3. The Senate companion, SB 970 by Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Ocoee) is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on April 3.
HB 1167 by Rep. Ross Spano (R-Riverview) creates a Florida Compensation Trust Fund for Survivors of Human Trafficking within DLA; provides for purposes and sources of funds; provides for administration of the fund by the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking; requires the fund to develop guidelines and plans; requires an annual report; requires that applications for compensation be made available in English and Spanish; and, provides for future review and termination or re-creation of the fund. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on April 3. The Senate companion, SB 970 by Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Ocoee) is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on April 3.
HB 329 by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) is awaiting action in the Health and Human Services Committee. The Senate companion, SB 762 by Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Lady Lake) prohibits time-sharing plans from requiring a visitation at recovery residences between specified hours. The bill was reported favorably by the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee on March 27.
SB 1318 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) renames service districts as service circuits, and district medical directors as child protection team medical directors; requires that each child protection team medical director be a licensed physician and be board certified in specified specialty areas; and, requires the department’s Children’s Medical Services program to develop, maintain, and coordinate the services of one or more sexual abuse treatment programs. The bill was reported favorably by the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee on March 27. The House companion HB 1269 by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) is awaiting action in the Health and Human Services Committee.
SB 1454 by Sen. Doug Broxon (R-Pensacola) adds the Statewide Medical Director for Child Protection as an official who must be consulted in the screening, employment, and termination of child protection team medical directors statewide; and, requires the Children’s Medical Services program within the Department of Health to convene a task force to develop a standardized protocol for forensic interviews of children suspected of being abused. The House bill has been referred to 3 committees and is awaiting action in the Healthy Quality Subcommittee. SB 1454 was reported favorably by the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee on March 27.
Prolific Juvenile Offenders
SB 1670 by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) and HB 7059 by the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Rep. James Grant (R-Tampa) revises requirements for the placement of a child in detention care; provides that a child who is a prolific juvenile offender does not require a risk assessment to be placed in detention care; provides that children meeting specified criteria shall be placed in detention care until the detention hearing; provides criteria for determining whether the child is a prolific juvenile offender; requires secure detention for all children awaiting placement in a commitment program until the placement or commitment is accomplished; and, specifies the time period for hearings for prolific juvenile offenders. HB 7059 is scheduled to be heard in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on April 3. SB 1670 was reported favorably by the Criminal Justice Committee on March 27.
OTHER BILLS AFFECTING CHILDREN
Children with Disabilities
HB 233 by Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Sunrise) and SB 810 by Sen. Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) which provides requirements for the use of physical restraint and seclusion for students with disabilities in public schools passed the Criminal Justice Subcommittee. The bills amend provisions relating to the use, prevention, and reduction of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities; prohibit the use of physical restraint by school personnel who are not certified to use district-approved methods for applying restraint techniques; and require continuing education and in-service training for teaching students with emotional or behavioral disabilities. The House bill was reported favorably by the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee on March 27. SB 810 has been referred to three committees and is awaiting action in the Education Committee.
HB 849 by Rep. Neil Combee (R-Auburndale) was reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee on March 23 and is now ready for consideration by the full House. The bill provides that persons licensed to carry concealed weapons and firearms are not prohibited from carrying firearms on certain private school property. SB 1330 by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) is scheduled to be heard in the Education Committee on April 3.
Witness to Murder Bills
SB 550 by Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Ocoee) was reported favorably by the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on March 27. The House companion, HB 111 by the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Representatives Cynthia Stafford (D-Opa Locka) and Kionne McGhee (D-Cutler Bay) passed on a vote of 113:3 on March 30. Rep. Stafford commented on her presentation of the bill that “the bill is aimed at motivating people to come forward and provide information to police about murders. She said similar records exemptions already are provided for sexual-assault victims and child-abuse victims, and that this bill is about bringing “perpetrators to justice.” (NSF, March 30, 2017). The bill would provide an exemption for identifying information about witnesses for two years after murders are witnessed. Stafford said many murder cases are unresolved because witnesses do not come forward because of fear of retaliation. “Witness intimidation is real, and so is retaliation,” Stafford said.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Pinwheels for Prevention, a national campaign creating a community-wide commitment to healthy child development, is an annual awareness campaign in partnership with Prevent Child Abuse Florida (PCA Florida), the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida and the Florida Department of Children and Families.