The House (PCB APC 17-01) and Senate (SPB 2500) Appropriations committees have approved their budget proposals with several billion (that’s a B not an M) differences. It has been a long time since those who walk the halls of the capitol have seen such a wide gap at this point in the process ($81.2 billion proposed in the House and $83.2-billion in the Senate with upwards of a more than $2 billion separation over financing for higher education).
Other hot buttons include the Governor’s business recruitment strategies, reducing property taxes that are especially being opposed by cities and counties, hospital reimbursements, gambling, tourist promotion and Lake Okeechobee cleanup. The budget process will not move this week as these big-ticket items are examined.
As with every year, discussion rolls around the halls replete with speculation on whether May 5th will truly mark the end of session. This year the questions appear more profound: significant divide on budget priorities; new appropriations rules; differing positions than the Governor’s priorities, etc. suggest there’s a lot of common ground to be sought in order to avoid overtime.
During debate about the budget bills, both of which were overwhelmingly approved, the Senate reviewed more than 100 amendments to the proposal, while the House reviewed eight.
The following are some budget highlights that would impact Florida’s children and families:
- Children’s Medical Services (CMS): This collection of programs that serve children with special healthcare needs is proposed to receive an almost $13.2 million increase from both chambers, while the CMS safety net program faces an almost $2.5 million cut.
- Guardian ad Litem (GAL): GAL received a $3.3 million boost for salary adjustments in the Senate, but not yet in the House.
- Healthy Start: Both the House and Senate propose no funding increase for Healthy Start, a comprehensive program promoting optimal prenatal health and developmental outcomes for all babies and pregnant women.
- Healthy Families: A support and coaching program that helps parents provide safe and stable environments for their children is continued at its current level ($28.4 million) in both the House and the Senate.
- Community-Based Care: Community-Based Care’s budget line item is set at $679.6 million in the House and $681.3 in the Senate. Proviso language awards $14.3 million of the House funding to Community-Based Care lead agencies to be distributed through the Equity Allocation model. In the Senate, the total is $20 million. The Senate also includes proviso language requiring a comprehensive, multi-year review of the revenues, expenditures and financial position of all Community-Based Care lead agencies.
- VPK: The base student allocation for Florida’s Voluntary Pre-kindergarten is at $396.8 million in the House and $411.7 million in the Senate. Both chambers include an additional $1.6 million for workload in the amount and the Senate increases the Base Student Allocation to $2,529.
- School readiness funding: The Senate has a proposed increase of more than $25 million and the House is almost $38 million. The House increase includes $12 million historically used in a different category for the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, an organization that provides high-quality childcare and early education for children of migrant farm workers and other rural, low-income families.
- Early Steps: This early intervention program for infants and toddlers with significant delays or a condition likely to result in a developmental delay is proposed to be flat funded in both chambers. This is following a request for an additional $2 million for increased eligibility following last session’s changes to the program.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health: The Senate proposes a $54.3 million increase, while the House proposes a $17.9 million increase. The House budget includes a $13 million allocation for community-based programs that is not in the Senate proposal.
- Juvenile Justice: The Department of Juvenile Justice has a proposed increase of $7.7 million in the House and $33.5 million in the Senate. The Senate proposal includes a $3.8 million transfer for aftercare and mentoring programs, and an additional $2.7 million for PACE, and $1.7 million for CINS/FINS. The House at this time includes a reduction for PACE and an increase for CINS/FINS
The Children’s Campaign will continue to navigate the budget process for its impact on children and families and keep you up to date. If you have any specific questions or concerns about the budget situation of a program that we didn’t review, please let us know.
Formal Apology for Victims of Dozier
The Senate resolution (SR 1440) sponsored by Senator Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee following emotional testimony from victims of the abuse and neglect perpetrated by officials at the school.
The embattled school was shuttered in 2011 after advocates, including The Children’s Campaign, worked for many years to raise awareness about the continued abuse at the institution. It wasn’t until its closing that the on-going problems were put to rest, but the painful memories endure. Over 500 former residents of the “school” have alleged physical, mental and sexual abuse.
Last year, a University of South Florida team of forensic anthropologists identified 55 burial sites. That is 24 more than had been officially recorded. The Senate resolution and a similar resolution in the House, HR 1335, includes plans for two memorials for victims.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes called the apology resolution, “a good, solid minimum first step.”
HB 581, sponsored by Representative White (R-Pensacola) was significantly amended in the House Health & Human Services committee. The bill no longer brings income eligibility back to pre-recession numbers. Now, the bill allows the state to request the ability to implement an asset test set at the federal minimum. If applicants exceed the federal minimum, they would be ineligible for benefits. According to a federal SNAP report, it is estimated that 156,575 Florida recipients would be ineligible for benefits. If the same number of children were proportionately impacted as the estimates for the original bill, over 107,000 children would lose benefits. Following the adoption of this amendment, Representative Berman asked the sponsor about the fiscal impact of the bill and whether the amendment would have an effect. Representative White said the impact would decrease from $4 million to $3.3 million. Several representatives raised concerns about the high cost. Representative Massullo asked if there would be a way to get competitive bids from other vendors to bring the cost down. Representative White responded that he would ensure there would be a competitive bid process if the bill passes. During debate, Representative Baez expressed her opposition citing that money is being spent in ways that have no guaranteed return on investment. The bill passed the committee, its final stop, with a vote of 12-5. The Senate companion, SB 1016, has yet to be scheduled.
On 4/4, SB 570, sponsored by Senator Rouson (D-St. Petersburg), passed the Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs with no votes in opposition. During the meeting, an amendment was adopted. This change erased the most controversial portion of the bill that increased penalties for noncompliance with work requirements. The amendment also requires CareerSource to report additional employment statistics, clarifies that a child would still be able to receive benefits if a relative or nonrelative caregiver loses eligibility for TANF payments, and instructs the Office of Public Policy and Government Accountability to conduct a study to identify why families have issues complying with the work requirements, barriers to compliance, and assistance to help families comply. In closing, Senator Rouson stated, “The reason why we took the penalties out is we didn’t want to punish families without finding out why they were out of compliance and then find a way to get them into compliance. It’s not about a continued hand out; it’s about a supportive hand up.” The next stop for the bill is the Commerce and Tourism Committee. Comparable bill, HB 23, which still includes the increased sanctions language, has been placed on the House calendar on second reading.
SB 468 – Relating to Voluntary Prekindergarten Education by Senator Stargel (R-Lakeland) is a bill that requires the Just Read, Florida! Office to provide teachers and other staff with specific training and requires VPK teachers to provide pre- and post-assessments to the participant’s parents. In Senate Education, Senator Stargel stressed that the bill would provide an opportunity to assist young, struggling students and restore accountability to voluntary prekindergarten. The Common Ground Foundation was in attendance to speak against the bill. They brought forward that research has shown that spending $10 million on reading curriculum does not work. They also argued that labeling children as deficient can actually harm a child’s progress. The bill passed with a unanimous vote and will now move into Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on PreK-12 Education. Similar bill, HB 757, is awaiting scheduling in the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.
Representative Ahern (R-Seminole) presented HB 205 to the House Judiciary Committee last week. The bill that once expanded civil citation now works to expand expunction for certain misdemeanor offenses and expedite the process for juveniles. The bill also calls for data collection on diversion programs across Florida. There were some organizations present to speak against the bill including First United Church of Tampa and other churches across the state that believe that expunction of records does not go far enough for juveniles. Organizations such as Florida Public Defender’s Association, Florida Police Chief Association, and The Children’s Campaign all waived in support. The bill has the full backing of Florida Sheriff’s Association. The bill was passed unanimously and will advance to its last committee stop in House Judiciary.
HB 693 was presented to the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee by sponsor Representative Alexander (D-Tallahassee). He explained that the bill raises the threshold in Florida for certain criminal offenses in order to keep up with inflation. The current threshold in Florida is $300 (set decades ago) and the bill would raise thresholds for some offenses up to $1000. This change allows for the appropriate judicial response to the level of a crime. Debate, led by Representatives Eisnaugle and Plakon, surrounded the origin of the $1000 limit, specifically their assertion that an inflation calculator sets the current $300 limit closer to $670 in today’s dollars. Ultimately, Representative Alexander said he would be willing to bend on some numbers in order to make the bill more true to inflation. Multiple organizations waived in support including Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform, Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and The Children’s Campaign. The Florida Retail Federation opposes this bill, alleging that raising the threshold could increase theft. The bill passed with a vote of 10 Yeas and 5 Nays and it will move on to House Judiciary Committee. Similar bill, SB 1102, is scheduled to be heard in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice on 4/13 at 1 p.m.
House Justice Appropriations Committee heard HB 857 last week. The bill, sponsored by Representative Plakon (R-Longwood), prohibits entities that publish photos of arrests (mugshots) from accepting money to remove photos and requires removal of photos for individuals whose records have been expunged. There was a technical amendment adopted requiring the Criminal Justice Information Program to administratively seal adult criminal records. The amendment was in line with an amendment made to the companion bill and was proposed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The bill easily passed with a unanimous vote and will move on to House Judiciary Committee.
Similar bill, SB 118, was presented by sponsor Senator Steube (R-Sarasota) to the Senate Session. An amendment was adopted on the floor that would allow the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to “administratively seal the criminal record of a person found not guilty or where the charges against that person have been dismissed.” The provision is in lieu of court-ordered expungement allowed in previous language. Senator Bracy brought up a question attempting to clarify that “if a record is sealed it can’t be expunged”. Senator Steube replied that there is nothing in the bill that would prevent expungement. SB 118 passed with a unanimous vote, and the bill has been engrossed with the amendment. The bill is now in messages to the House.
HB 7059 labels youth meeting certain criteria as “prolific juvenile offenders” and requires them to be held in detention until a residential bed opens up. The bill, sponsored by Representative Grant (R-Port Charlotte), was discussed in the House Justice Appropriations Committee on 4/4. A strike all amendment clarifying that juveniles either may be kept in secure detention or at home with electronic monitoring, decreasing the fiscal impact on the state, was adopted. The amendment also mandates Department of Juvenile Justice programs to provide free birth certificates to juveniles so they can obtain identification cards once released back into their community. DJJ Secretary Christy Daly attended the meeting and thanked the sponsor and committee members for addressing the Department’s concerns. Further, she stated that a very balanced approach to juvenile justice is needed and lauded the addition of helping youth get birth certificates. There was no debate on the bill as amended and it passed unanimously. It will now move to the Judiciary Committee. Similar bill, SB 1670, will be heard in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice at 1 p.m. on 4/13.
During House Session, HB 217 was laid on the table and replaced by SB 60. Representative Sullivan (R-Eustis), the House sponsor, presented the bill in Session on third reading. During debate, Representative Berman discussed how beneficial the Keys to Independence Program has been for foster children around the state over the span of the pilot phase. Aside from his comment, there was no other discussion by House members. In closing, Representative Sullivan stated, “This isn’t just a bill that hopes it will affect change, this isn’t a bill that possibly will help children’s lives, this is a bill that already has positively affected children’s lives and will continue to do so with over a thousand students enrolled right now to get their driver’s license in foster care.” SB 60 passed the House with no votes against.
SB 416, sponsored by Senator Montford (D-Quincy), was laid on the table for HB 151 (Brodeur). The bills expand the use of therapy dogs in court for children or individuals with an intellectual disability in cases of abuse, abandonment and neglect. HB 151 was withdrawn from its committees of reference in the Senate, read a second and third time on the floor and quickly passed the Senate 37-0.
The Senate Appropriations Committee heard and passed SB 852 sponsored by Senator Garcia (R-Hialeah). The bill is in response to a report on human trafficking released by the Office of Public Policy and Government Accountability. The report indicated a gap in services for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation who are not currently in the dependency system. SB 852 attempts to bridge this gap. Senator Garcia noted, “Human trafficking is an ever-growing epidemic. We are now number three as it relates to new cases and this [bill] goes a long way to ensure that we protect our children”. During the committee meeting an amendment was adopted. It was proposed by Senator Latvala and adds a comprehensive continuing education course on human trafficking to the hours a nurse must meet to maintain their license. In discussing his amendment, the Senator stated, “We’re finding that training health professionals is a great way to identify people that are being trafficked.” The bill has been placed on special order calendar for 4/13 if received. Similar bill, HB 1383 passed its final committee of reference, Health & Human Services, with a vote of 17-0. The stop included the adoption of a similar amendment as SB 852.
HB 1121 passed its final committee of reference, House Health & Human Services. Representative Stevenson (R-St. Augustine) presented the bill by expressing its goals of loosening the restraints on the Department of Children and Families and the judiciary, streamlining reunification and eliminating court case backlogs. A technical amendment was adopted. Representative Massullo discussed his support of the legislation and his belief that it unties the Department’s hands, helping them do a better job. In closing, Representative Stevenson stated, “This bill is a collection of fixes in a broader system to make it better and keep children and families and vulnerable adults safer.”
SB 196 (Flores), a bill that requires a law enforcement officer to issue a civil citation or require the juvenile’s participation in a similar diversion program when the juvenile admits to committing certain misdemeanor offenses has been scheduled in the Appropriations Committee on 4/13 at 9:30 a.m. in room 412 K.
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This Legislative Connection is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Nicki Harrison, Breanna Kim, Tiffany McGlinchey, Karen Bonsignori and Roy Miller