Budget Talks Continue as Governor Weighs In

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piggy-bank-frontWhile media articles scream about the deepening rift between the House Speaker and Governor the past two weeks, mostly over business incentives and tourism marketing, committees heard presentations on the Governor’s $83.5 billion “Fighting for Florida’s Future Budget,” a $1.5 billion increase over the previous year. Senate and House leaders however, have outlined a different approach, based on Legislative Budget Commission projections suggesting the state will experience a $1.3 billion shortfall in the next two years at a time when the overall health of the economy continues to improve.

Governor Scott’s plan includes: tax cuts for businesses and additional investment in Enterprise Florida; increased funding for tourism promotion; significant cuts for health care programs and funding for hospitals, including Medicaid reimbursement and the amount hospitals would be reimbursed for uncompensated care to low income patients; and an increase in K-12 education funding by $216 per student.

A few line items in the Governor’s budget recommendations that impact children and families:

  • A $36.1 million increase for Early Learning services, including a $11.3 million increase for base student allocation for Florida’s VPK program, which equates to $50 per child during the school year and $42 per child in summer programs- taking total BSA to $2,487 during the school year and $2,123 for summer programs.
  • An increase of $25 million in federal funding to allow access to more than 4,600 additional children into School Readiness programs.
  • Mental health and substance abuse services would receive a $25 million boost.
  • $1 million new dollars for enhanced services for human trafficking victims, not including non-recurring dollars specifically allocated to programs serving trafficking victims last year.
  • A $7.1 million increase for Child Protection, which is $4 million less than the agency requested.
  • A $1.4 million increase for Children’s Medical Services.
  • Continued funding for Early Steps at almost the same level as last year’s increase, but moves most of the non-recurring funding to recurring. No new funding was allocated.
  • A $16.1 million increase for the Department of Juvenile Justice, including $4.8 million for delinquency prevention initiatives for DJJ to enhance evidence-enhanced based prevention services

The House and Senate budget committees have publicly reviewed sections of the governor’s recommendations that impact their subject area. Irritation from policy makers surfaced about specific issues including the proposed increase in the amount of taxes for homeowners. According to Office of Policy and Budget Director Cynthia Kelly, the millage rate would remain the same, stressing that it was not a tax increase. Following pointed questions, she did concede that the actual amount of taxes would go up because of increased property values. Policy makers also took issue with tax breaks on camping and fishing equipment, performance-based funding for early learning and school readiness and millions earmarked for state park repairs and enhancements.

Funding for mental health services, the elimination of the critical needs waiting list for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), dental sealant program and the overall budget for the justice committee were areas that policy makers seemed to agree with the governor. Support was expressed as well for pay increases for corrections guards and some law enforcement positions.

The budget debates will continue as the process moves forward.

Child Victims of Trafficking Focus of Senate Meeting

iStock_000012269920_LargeFlorida’s tourist-friendly climate, multiple large airports and cities, geographical location and number of children in poverty are some of the many factors that make it a prime destination for human traffickers. The problem was once again highlighted when the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee heard presentations by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) and the Miami-Dade State Attorney.

The OPPAGA presentation reviewed their report and identified placement issues for child victims of sex trafficking, otherwise known as commercial sexual exploitation. According to the report, not only do problems arise in finding placement for these victims, but providing the right resources and treatment is difficult. Placement is troublesome in part due to co-existing issues experienced by child victims of sexual abuse. Children who are victims but not yet under DCF care and victims over the age of 18 were found to be the most underserved populations.

Policy makers continue their work in expanding Florida’s groundbreaking Safe Harbor laws for sex trafficking victims. This session, SB 754 has been filed by Senator Steube (R – Sarasota) and will prohibit a child who has suffered sexual exploitation from being housed in a generic shelter when safe harbor or trauma-informed housing is not available. Senator Garcia (R – Miami-Dade) filed SB 852, which will require the Department of Children and Families or a sheriff’s office to conduct a multidisciplinary staffing on child victims of commercial sexual exploitation to determine the child’s service and placement needs. HB 665 sponsored by Representative Spano (R-Hillsborough) and similar bill SB 286 filed by Senator Steube revises required health education in public schools to include information regarding dangers & signs of human trafficking.

Florida’s Child Welfare System Faces Continued Federal Scrutiny

The Federal Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) is a periodic analysis of state child welfare systems. The purpose is to confirm that state programs comply with federal requirements, determine what children and families experience while involved with the system and assist states in achieving positive outcomes. Florida’s third round of CFSR was released in late January and a review of the report was presented to the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs committee. The House Children, Families and Seniors Committee will hear the presentation on Thursday, 2/23 at 9:30 in room 12 HOB.

In the first two CFSR rounds, Florida was fined more than a million dollars per penalty for failure to meet requirements. The state appealed or made changes in order to avoid the fine. This third round of CFSR found that in 11 of 14 categories the Department of Children of Families were rated as needing improvement. One of the major problems in Florida is safety for children and their families, especially those in foster care. The report found that there were serious gaps in providing services as well as safe placement options.

iStock_000023398432_LargeJoShonda Guerrier, the assistant secretary of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), stated that while Florida had not passed once again, improvements were made. She stressed that Florida was performing better than the national level on 4 out of 7 outcomes overall. Ms. Guerrier also discussed issues in assessments, service array, placement stability and recruitment of foster families.

Overall, the presentation focused mostly on how the data was collected rather than the proposed solutions for the many problems that face Florida’s child welfare system.

This is especially concerning in a budget environment where cuts are being floated to help Florida mitigate projected budget shortfalls. It is clear that a well-defined path with achievable long-term goals is needed for the system to serve abused and neglected children to the best of the state’s ability. What is needed is a comprehensive look at the system. Key stakeholders need to come together to clearly define the issues and set forth solutions. Those solutions need to guide the policy and budget decisions related to services to children and families. Until that happens, policymakers need to ensure that budget constraints don’t result in children and families in crisis fall further away from national standards.

Bill Updates:

Sponsored by Senator Garcia (R – Miami-Dade), SB 358 – Mental Health and Substance Abuse, which authorizes the Department of Children and Families to approve receiving systems for behavioral health care, was passed unanimously in the Senate Children, Family and Elder Affairs Committee. The bill is scheduled to be heard by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services on 2/22/17 at 12:30 pm in room 401 S. The bill does not have a companion bill at this time.

SB 192 – Juvenile Justice had a delete all amendment, both the bill and the amendment were filed by Senator Powell (D – Palm Beach). The updated Children Tried as Adults bill passed by a small margin with a vote of 4 yeas and 3 nays. The new version includes extensive data collection requirements, the ability of the court to apply juvenile sanctions even if the child is in the adult court, specifying violence as a predictor for transferring a juvenile to adult court, the requirement that if a child is deemed incompetent the child cannot be transferred to adult court and the removal of mandatory waivers. The next stop for the bill is the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. The bill does not have a House companion bill at this time.

SB 154 – Autism Awareness Training for Law Enforcement Officers had a technical amendment that was filed by Senator Thurston Jr. (D- Broward) and passed unanimously in the Criminal Justice Committee. The bill, also filed by Sen. Thurston, focuses on establishing continued training for law enforcement officers related to individuals with autism spectrum disorder and how to appropriately interact with them. The bill is scheduled to be heard by its next committee, Children, Families and Elder Affairs, on 2/21/17 at 9:00 am in room 401 S. Similar bill HB 39 also had an amendment that makes the language almost identical to the Senate bill. HB 39, sponsored by Representative Jenne (D – Broward) and Representative Stafford (D – Miami-Dade), is scheduled to be heard by the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on 2/22/17 at 3:30 pm in room 17 H, after a unanimous vote in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

iStock_000016817208_LargeA bill working to create a Pediatric Cardiac Care Advisory Council and designate certain facilities as Pediatric and Congenital Cardiovascular Centers of Excellence, SB 62 – Pediatric Cardiac Care in the Children’s Medical Services Program had an amendment filed and passed. The amendment added two more members to the advisory council and specifies requirements for rules for pediatric cardiac care facilities participating in the Centers of Excellence program. The bill, filed by Senator Bean (R – Nassau), was reported favorably in the Government Oversight and Accountability with a unanimous vote. The bill now moves on to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

HB 217 – Children Obtaining Driver’s Licenses, sponsored by Representative Sullivan (R – Eustis) and Representative Albritton (R – Bartow), was heard by the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee and passed unanimously following a technical amendment. The bill will expand a program that helps pay for children in foster care to complete a driver’s education program and receive a driver’s license. The next committee of reference for the bill is the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee. Companion bill, SB 60 sponsored by Senator Bean (R – Nassau) was reported favorably in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. The bill was passed unanimously and moves on to the Appropriations Committee next for its last stop in committees. Staff analysis places the fiscal impact at $800,000 per year, which is already in the budget.

A technical amendment was introduced and passed for HB 151 – Proceedings Involving Minors or Certain Other Persons on its way through the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee. The bill would allow the use of certain therapy animals or facility dogs in proceedings involving abuse, neglect or abandonment. Representative Brodeur (R – Seminole) presented it to the committee as “the feel good bill of the year”. The bill will now move on to the Judiciary Committee. The similar bill SB 416 has been scheduled to be heard by Senate Judiciary on 2/21/17 at 3:30 pm in room 110 S.

 

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Budget Talks Continue as Governor Weighs In