Leadership is huddling about budget issues which heralds the end of session quickly approaching. How will the story of the final week read? Will the bills that have made it all the way through the process just need to pass the finish line be successful? Will legislators come to an agreement on the hot button budget issues before the white handkerchief drops? There is potential for this to be a banner year for children.
Already, good children’s bills have completed the legislative process and are being presented to the Governor: expunction and confidentiality of juvenile records, removing the ability to charge juveniles as prostitutes, and allowing for the best interest of a child to be weighed in adoption in dependency cases. On their heels is the removal of the waiting period for legal immigrant children to quality for health care.
Children’s issues still being debated in budget conference include funding for the Partnership for School Readiness, VPK, and After Care and Mentoring. The majority of funding for children’s issues has been allocated and additional funds approved to many good programs. Those monetary issues – and many others – should be known within the next 48-72 hours.
A bill that seeks to expand healthcare eligibility to all legally residing children, HB 89-Kidcare was read for a third time and found favorable on the House floor. Representative Diaz (R-Miami) attributed his tireless efforts to make the bill a law to his belief that “kids are the most important thing we should be focused on because they are our future”. The language is also included in HB 5101-Medicaid, which conforms statutes to the funding decisions related to the Medicaid Program. That bill is currently being negotiated in budget conferences.
HB 293-Confidentiality of Juvenile Records was found unanimously favorable on third reading and is now on its way to the Governor’s desk. This bill closes a loophole that allows juvenile misdemeanor records to be seen by the public, regardless of whether the child was simply charged or found guilty of a crime. It’s Senate counterpart, SB 700, has been laid on the table. Thanks to Representative Pritchett (D-Miramar) and Senator Soto (D-Kissimmee) for their efforts on this good legislation.
Referred to by Representative Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach) as “a good bill for children,” SB 590-Adoption completed the legislative process and is now waiting to be signed and presented to Governor Scott. Thank you to Senator Detert (R-Venice) and Representative Adkins for their hard work on this bill.
SB 314-Juvenile Justice seeks to limit the circumstances where a prosecutor can transfer a juvenile to adult court, a process known as direct file. The bill unanimously passed the Appropriations Committee following waives in support from varied organizations including The Children’s Campaign, The Florida Public Defender Association, Inc., Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Wansley Walters former secretary of the FL Department of Juvenile Justice. It has been placed on the calendar on second reading. Its prospects though in the House remain doubtful.
HB 604-Mental Health, a bill that would allow every county to set up mental health courts and expand eligibility for the veterans courts, passed the Appropriations Committee, its final committee of reference. Companion bill, HB 439 has been received by the Senate and referred to committees.
HB 599-Child Welfare has been taken up by the Senate and placed on third reading for 3/4/2016. The bill has been amended to be identical in content to the Senate version, SB 7018 that was laid on the table. The bill has been placed on third reading for 3/4. Both chambers have worked diligently on their proposed child welfare reform, and the bills are different in many ways. The current version takes pieces from each bill, but with the time constraints remaining and the differences in core issues housed in the bill between each chamber, it seems unlikely that the House will accept the new version of their bill if it passes the Senate.
Governor Scott has seven days to sign or veto legislation presented to him during legislative session or the bill will become law without his signature. Two bills impacting children have been signed by officers and presented to the governor, starting the countdown. SB 386-Expunction, a bill created to expunge juvenile records upon adulthood so youthful mistakes do not keep kids from future opportunities has until 3/10/2016 for the Governor to take action. HB 545-Human Trafficking seeks to build on the Safe Harbor Act by adding further protection for victims of human trafficking and expanding penalties for perpetrators of trafficking. Governor Scott has until 3/8/2016 to either sign or veto this bill.
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