Allegations of sexual misconduct, pinhole cameras, public outings of affairs, vacancies due to multiple resignations for related and unrelated reasons and, of course, election year maneueverings all are competing for the attention of lawmakers while they are trying to focus on the legislative process. Add the early start of session, a hurricane related forecasted budget shortfall exacerbated by previous tax exemptions and an overall tense environment at the capitol have this session shaping up to be a nail-biter.
Media outlets across the state listed what they believed would be top issues for 2018 session – increased penalties for texting while driving, addressing Florida’s opioid epidemic, backup generators and hurricane preparedness, the budget and tax cuts. Unfortunately, no media outlet believes children’s issues overall will reach that top level.
While juvenile justice reform and foster care were part of Governor Rick Scott’s 35-minute “State of the State” address last week, his last of eight, they garnered only brief mentions.
Yet, thanks to the work of child advocates like you, The Children’s Campaign and strong passionate leaders, several important issues for children are advancing despite the multiple distractions. This includes policies that could ban child marriage, improve children’s access to health care, continue the state’s commitment to addressing human trafficking and make better parts of the child welfare system.
The Children’s Campaign has been working collaboratively with the Ban Child Marriage Coalition for Florida to become the first state in the nation to outlaw child marriage. We have reached out several times and asked supporters to change this practice, which is devastating in the vast majority of cases. Many responded.
SB 140, passionately sponsored and guided by Senator Benacquisto (R-Ft. Myers), has passed its final committee and is on the way to the Senate floor. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which recently published an article utilizing research compiled by The Children’s Campaign, a bipartisan push by state lawmakers appears “likely” to end the practice of marrying before the age of 18 in Florida. While encouraged, we know a lot of work still needs to be done.
In the last two years alone, 706 children have married in Florida. Children are not marrying other children — in the past five years almost 87% of child marriages were to adults and 13 children 10-14 years old were married in the state.
Child marriage leads to dramatically worsened outcomes for children and families, and creates even more problems. Removing dangerous loopholes that currently exist in law that allow marriage under age 18 will keep child victims from being forced to marry their abusers, as is the case in too many heartbreaking instances, as was heard during public testimony.
The bill has one more committee stop in the House before reaching that chamber’s floor as well.
Lawmakers and advocates continued to keep Florida the premier state for addressing human trafficking and the way the law handles victims of commercial sexual exploitation. People streamed into the Donald Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee on January 11 to pause, reflect and take action as part of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The event started with a prayer breakfast led by a trafficking survivor, followed by three breakout sessions focused on human trafficking awareness (led by AmyLynn Smoot and Jodi Bennett, The Porch Light/Open Doors Outreach Network); reflection (led by Porch Light executive director Christa Hicks and One Purse Executive Director Heather Case); and advocacy (led by The Children’s Campaign president Roy Miller and Robyn Metcalf, Voices for Florida Open Doors statewide director).
Non-profit professionals and volunteers, lawmakers, advocates and faith-based leaders also participated in a unity march to the south steps of the Historic Capitol for a press conference featuring Mike Carroll, Secretary of the Department of Children and Families and Dr. Jerry Haag, president of Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, The Porch Light and Orphan’s Heart.
In 2017, Florida was #3 in the nation for reports of human trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Lawmakers and influencers throughout Florida have developed a reputation as some of the most decisive in the country for creating legislation that protects vulnerable individuals and prosecuting and punishing predators.
Three different legislative committees heard child health presentations ranging from the troubling number of children receiving involuntary mental health examinations under the Baker Act, to the severe impact if the federal government fails to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), as well as how reforms to managed care will change Children’s Medical Services (CMS).
The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs received a presentation by John Bryant, DCF Assistant Secretary on Substance Abuse and Mental Health, who delivered results from the Task Force on Involuntary Examinations of Minors. Overall, there has been an 86% increase in Baker Acts since FY 2000-2001 although population of the same age has increased only 11%. According to Bryant, the Task Force was unable to specifically link the increase in examinations to any root cause, although possibilities include social stressors, mental health conditioning and utilizing Baker Acts as an alternative to expulsion or referral to law enforcement. This could explain the lower numbers children caught in the gears of the school to prison pipeline, which would indicate a shift in handling the problem, not a solution.
Acting Deputy Secretary for Children’s Medical Services (CMS) in the Department of Health, Jeffrey Brosco, expressed optimism for future reforms of the CMS Managed Care Plan in a presentation to the Senate Health Policy Committee. About 80,000 children with medical complexity or serious and chronic medical conditions rely on CMS for their health care. Brosco spoke of the introduction of CMS 3.0 to create a vendor-based approach by 2019. This new model hopes to expand and improve access to high quality services through telemedicine, permitting vendors to negotiate reimbursement with providers, and increasing access to clinical and specialty services. Brosco stated, “In moving to the new vendor we can increase the number of days children go to school.”
The federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), known in the state as Florida KidCare, provides insurance to children who would otherwise fall into a dangerous coverage gap, and has not yet been renewed by the U.S. Congress. The Deputy Secretary for Medicaid from the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), Beth Kidder, presented an update regarding the status of CHIP in Florida to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. During this presentation, Kidder mentioned that the federal allocation of $2.85 billion nationally to temporarily continue CHIP on December 21st is estimated to take Florida CHIP through the end of March; however, this temporary funding from Congress may be subject to change. While the Agency stated optimism in Congress’s ultimate support of this program, the health care of hundreds of thousands of Florida children is at stake.
Kidcare continued to be a hot topic as HB 293 by Representative Duran (D- Miami) unanimously passed the Health Innovation Committee. This bill creates the Kidcare Operational Efficiency and Health Care Improvement Workgroup, which promises to maximize the return on investment and enhance operational efficiency. The workgroup will examine successful service models to improve health care outcomes, develop recommendations to streamline Kidcare, and provide transition plans for implementation.
Several other bills heard and passed unanimously in committee would improve outcomes for vulnerable children.
The House Appropriations Committee advanced HB 281 by Representative Williams (D-Fort Lauderdale). The bill will strengthen the case planning process in the state’s child welfare system by involving eligible incarcerated parents in planning their children’s futures and expanding opportunities for family reunification. According to the KidsCount Data Center, 11% of Florida children have had a parent or guardian serve time in jail, ranking the state in the bottom ten in the nation. HB 281 is set to be heard next in the Health and Human Services Committee. Its companion bill, SB 522 by Senator Bean (R-Jacksonville), is scheduled for its second committee of reference on 1/18 at 10am.
SB 146 by Senator Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) moved out of its final stop, Senate Appropriations. The bill would require the state to pay the due process fees of pro bono attorneys who represent dependent children with special needs, ensuring that attorneys providing these services do not personally take on the burden of high court-related expenses. The bill will allow children with special needs to have the best representation possible, and, given its fast movement through the legislative process, appears to be a Senate priority. Both SB 146 and its companion bill, HB 57 by Representative White (R-Pensacola), are on second reading in their respective Chambers.
A bill that would protect children with disabilities in public schools from indiscriminate use of restraint and eliminate seclusion, HB 63 by Representative Edwards (D-Sunrise) and Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers), also is moving forward. The House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee approved this bill, a version of which has been filed the past several sessions. Its next stop is the House Education Committee. Similar bill, SB 260 by Senator Book (D-Plantation) has been referenced to its committees.
Legislative Connection and Other Tools to Help Navigate Session’s Impact on Florida’s Children
Thank you for keeping up with the issues facing Florida’s children and how lawmaking in Tallahassee will impact all the children of the state.
In addition to Legislative Connection, The Children’s Campaign offers the following tools to help you stay up-to-date:
- Every other week of session a Legislative Connection – Bill Update will focus on the movement of legislation pertaining to children, providing information about bills heard and/or scheduled;
- Action Alerts when immediate action is needed to support or speak against a scheduled piece of legislation;
- Up-to-date tracking of children’s legislation in our Legislative Center; and,
- Quality analysis of The Children’s Campaign’s priority legislation found on our Key Issue pages.
If you like reading our publications, we need your help to keep them coming. For 25 years now, The Children’s Campaign has accepted NO government funding, and therefore donations from readers like you are necessary in order to retain our independent voice and continue championing major reforms for kids. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today!
This Legislative Connection is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Sabrina Abboud, Courtney Reed, Karen Bonsignori, Roy Miller and Tiffany McGlinchey.