Session delivers positive results
While the Chinese zodiac may recognize 2016 as the year of the Monkey, it has become the year of the child, thanks to a productive legislative session in Florida. More victories were achieved than anyone thought possible, exceeding the most optimistic views held at the start of session. Child advocates like The Children’s Campaign and our partner organizations and individuals work diligently year-round to bring forward positive changes for kids during the 60-day window comprising Florida’s policy making season. Currently, several priority bills benefitting children have already been signed into law, and some are still awaiting signature:
HB 5101- Medicaid, a bill that conforms statutes to the funding decisions related to the Medicaid Program was amended to include language that expands KidCare eligibility to children of lawfully residing immigrants, removing a five-year waiting period for access to health insurance. It is estimated that 13,400 new children will be eligible for health insurance allowing them access to preventative health care, and doctors when they need them. Thank you to Reps. Hudson (R-Collier), Diaz (R-Miami) and Corcoran (R-Land O’Lakes), and Sens. Lee (R-Brandon) and Garcia (R –Hialeah) for their good work on this legislation. The bill has been signed by the Governor.
A bill created to expunge certain juvenile records at age 21 instead of age 24 so youthful mistakes do not destroy children’s futures, SB 386- Expunction, has been signed into law by the Governor. In the past five years alone, there were more than 446,000 juvenile arrests. For youth who stay out of trouble, this bill will help open doors to jobs, further education, military service, and housing. Thank you to Senator Detert (R-Venice) and Rep. Latvala (R-Clearwater) and the many juvenile justice, children, state attorneys and law enforcement partners that made this bill a reality.
A bill seeking to right the wrongs of the Florida mental health system by expanding eligibility for services, HB 439- Mental Health, has been presented to the Governor and is waiting to be signed into law. This bill could eventually impact the 52,000 children with at least one mental health disorder referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice each year.
SB 590- Adoption was created to allow a judge to act in the best interest of a child while considering the wishes of the biological parent when making adoption decisions. The bill impacts any child in the child welfare system who becomes eligible for adoption, approximately 800 currently, and is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
HB 293- Confidentiality of Juvenile Records, currently awaiting the Governor’s signature, intends to close the loophole that now allows juvenile misdemeanor records to be public. This bill blocks those minor crimes from public view. It also gives law enforcement agencies the discretion not to post arrest and booking photos online. In the past five years, 62% of juvenile records have been publically available. Thanks to the sponsors, Rep. Pritchett (D-Broward) and Senator Soto (D-Orange) for their leadership on this important issue.
Building on Florida’s Safe Harbor Act, HB 545- Human Trafficking has completed its march to the finish line and was signed into law by the Governor. This critical bill reinforces the decriminalization of victims of human trafficking and ensures that they are eligible for the services and protection they deserve. It creates harsher penalties for traffickers and eliminates the ability to charge a juvenile with prostitution. In 2014-15, 39 juveniles were charged with prostitution and treated as criminals rather than victims. Thank you to Rep. Spano (R-Hillsborough) and Senator Flores (R-Miami) for their work on this good bill.
Created to align Florida with the federal health and safety standards required to receive block grant funding, HB 7053- Child Care and Development Block Grant, has completed the legislative process and only needs the Governor’s signature to officially become a law. The bill also redesigned the Early Steps program and expanded eligibility. It is estimated that 1,000 additional children with developmental disabilities will have access to Early Steps services, and over 9,300 childcare facilities will have to comply with increased health and safety standards to receive federal money. Thanks to Rep. O’Toole (R-Lake) and the Education Pre-K-12 Committee for ensuring children have access to safer childcare.
Other bills that made it through the process and will benefit children include:
- HB 139- Dental Care creates incentives for dentists to reside and practice in dental health professional shortage areas or medically underserved areas.
- HB 153- Healthy Food will help make healthy foods more accessible and affordable to low income children and families living in food deserts.
- HB 229- Bullying and Harassment improves processes of review and accountability to counteract bullying and harassment in Florida’s school system.
- SB 580- Dental Hygiene Services for Children– allows dental hygienists providing services to children in a Medicaid health care access setting to be reimbursed by Medicaid.
- In response to exhuming the remains of 55 boys from the Dozier School for Boys, SB 708- Dozier School for Boys authorizes the Department of State to authorize up to $7,500 for the cost reimbursement of each child’s funeral, reinternment, and grave marker.
- HB 837- Education Programs for Individuals with Disabilities-allows students participating in the John M. McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program to earn credits in a transition-to-work program while working off-site.
- SB 860- Foster Families– designates the second week of February of each year as “Foster Family Appreciation Week”.
- HB 1083- Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD)- adds Downs Syndrome to the list of developmental disabilities that can receive services, and requires APD to expand priority services to children in the child welfare system.
- HB 1125- Child Care Personnel- requires background screenings for all child care personnel regardless of whether their employer receives federal funding.
- SB 1322- Juvenile Detention Costs– settles a decades-long dispute on what share of juvenile detention costs are required to be paid by the state (50%) and non-fiscally constrained counties (50%).
- Under SB 228- Mandatory Minimum Sentences, persons who are convicted of only an aggravated assault offense will no longer qualify for the 10-20-Life mandatory minimum sentences. This law will give judges more discretion to appropriately sentence those convicted of aggravated assault.
- HB 241- Children and Youth Cabinet– adds a Superintendent of Schools appointed by the Governor, increasing membership from 15 to 16.
In a surprise move, Governor Scott released his relatively modest ($256.1 million compared to last year’s $461.4 million) budget vetoes prior to being presented the appropriations legislation. He quickly signed the legislation with vetoes in place once it was presented. In the $82-billion Florida First Budget, children did not make significant gains except in a few areas.
- Although per-pupil funding remained stagnant, voluntary pre-kindergarten received an additional $5.9 million to help cover increasing enrollment and other costs.
- In contrast, total per student funding for K-12 increased by $71 when looking at unweighted FTEs.
- Following debate about the funding mechanism, afterschool funding remained in the same format and received an additional $4.1 million across school and instructional enhancements and mentoring and student assistance funding pools.
- The Department of Children and Families saw an $89.4 million increase including almost $2 million for Healthy Families, over $8 million for safety management services, and new money for the Florida Safe Families Network (FSFN).
- The Partnership for School Readiness received an additional $10.8 million
- Children’s Special Health Care, which pays for KidCare, Children’s Medical Services and others, saw a $10 million reduction in funds.
- $28 million federal dollars were included for expanding KidCare to children of lawfully residing immigrants.
- Guardian ad Litem increased funding by $2.8 million, including a $1 million+ to cover all children in out of home care and $1.4 million to serve children under age three in in-home care.
- Children In Need of Services/Families In Need of Services received $500,000 new general revenue dollars.
- The Department of Juvenile Justice received an additional $1.3 million, while the Department of Corrections total funding increased by $53.2 million.
- The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center received $375,000 for the Continuity of Care Model delinquency intervention program to keep girls who do not pose a public safety risk from being committed to costly residential programs
- $6.8 million was earmarked for services to victims of human trafficking, including Voices for Florida which received $500,000 in general revenue money and $2.5 million in trust funds (requires application) to create Open Doors: Statewide Network of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children program (CSEC). The program will use survivor mentors, regional advocates, and clinicians to provide trauma-focused crisis intervention and therapeutic services for recovered victims of sex trafficking, ages 10-24.
- $6.7 million was allocated to fully fund the increased number of children with special needs adopted by Florida families.
- Healthy Start received $400,000 in new funding.
Children’s programs were not safe from veto, even if this was the Governor’s third lowest veto list in his tenure as Governor. In total, almost $13 million of the $256.1 million vetoed were for children’s services including:
- $2-million for North Florida School of Special Education Expansion Project
- College Prep & STEM Programs for Girls’ $250,000 inclusion in the budget
- $800,000 for the Mailman Center for Child Development
- $100,000 specifically earmarked for the Hillsborough Healthy Start Coalition
- $1.1-million for AMI Kids Home-Based Family Counseling and Intervention
Every session has bills that don’t make it to the finish line, for better or for worse. Not all hope (or relief) is lost. These bills often “rise from the dead” in future legislative sessions and go on to become law. Here are obituaries for some of this session’s fallen children’s bills.
HB 129- Juvenile Justice and its counterpart SB 314 fought a long and hard battle to reduce the use of direct file to send youth to adult courts. The bill sponsors fought valiantly to the last, attempting to provide a starting point by reducing the impact of the bill in the final days and minutes of session, but it was not to be. We offer our recognition to Rep. Edwards (D-Broward) and Senator Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) for their hard work on this important bill.
Related bills SB 156 and HB 1423- After School both died swift and sudden deaths, one in Education and the other in Education Pre-K-12. These bills attempted to reduce the health and safety of children in not-for-profit after school programs.
HB 599- Child Welfare, a bill dedicated to improving the out-of-home care system in Florida died in Messages between the House and the Senate when they couldn’t agree on which version of the bill to adopt. Its companion, SB 7018 died a quiet death when it was laid on the table in favor of HB 599. While created with good intentions, the bill contained problematic language regarding in-home safety plans and both chambers could not agree on the final level of impact to group home care. Some provisions of these bills may be revived by a DCF rule making procedure.
Similar bills SB 1240 & HB 1117-Children’s Medical Services (CMS) died on the same day, one in Appropriations on Health and Human Services and the other in Health Quality. These bills fought hard to have children with special needs who were dropped from CMS program to be rescreened and re-enrolled into the program. Once death loomed near, life saving measures were attempted by adding it with proviso language into the budget, but the language was left on the table in final budget conferences. Thank you to Senator Sobel (D-Broward) and Rep. Jones (D-Jacksonville) for their continued advocacy for Florida’s most vulnerable children.
After a difficult journey through both chambers, SB 408- Civil Citation and its companion HB 7085 died on Calendar and in Judiciary. The bills were created to require civil citations for certain juvenile crimes rather than placing them in the justice system. However good the intentions, the potential of erasing law enforcement discretion at this time eventually laid these bills to rest.
Surgeon General Armstrong Not Approved – State Needs New Health Leader
In other news, Surgeon General Armstrong became the first agency head since 1995 not to be confirmed. Governor Scott responded by appointing Armstrong as the Department of Health’s deputy secretary for administration.
Under Armstrong’s tenure as Surgeon General, thousands of sick and disabled children were dropped from a state-run health insurance program, Early Steps administration was decimated, HIV rates in South Florida rose dramatically, and hundreds of Department of Health workers in localities across the state were laid off due to budget cuts.
The issues faced by children underscore the need that Florida’s next surgeon general must demonstrate commitment to doing what’s best for the health of the state, especially its most vulnerable populations, in actions as well as words.
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