Nine days remain in the 2016 Session. Tension is growing over major unresolved budget issues – especially education – and disagreement between the two chambers and the governor’s office over his tax cut and economic incentives plans. Scott received $400 million of his tax cut plan – he requested $1 billion – and at this time none of his $250 million economic plan. Children’s policy issues and appropriations are moving forward, hoping not to get caught in the crossfire.
Budget conferences started this past weekend and while some issues were quickly resolved, almost all education funding including VPK, school readiness and a new “pooled” afterschool funding mechanism has been “bumped up” – a term used to describe a passing of the baton – to appropriations leaders.
Good news for kids in the budget negotiations include:
- $1.5 million for expansion of CINS/FINS
- $28.8 million to fund the expansion of KidCare to children of legally residing immigrants
- Healthy Families received almost $2 million for expansion
- $8.1 million for child welfare safety management services
- $400,000 increase for Healthy Start Coalitions
- $500,000 toward a network of services for sexually exploited children
- $5 million for Children’s Medical Services safety net program that serves children who do not qualify for Medicaid, but whose condition creates a financial hardship that would qualify them for care
- Guardian ad Litem received an additional $1.1 million to help represent all children in out-of-home care and an additional $1.4 million to increase staff to represent children less than three years old in in-home care. According to the DCF child fatality website, children under age three represented 80% of child fatalities following verified abuse and neglect in 2015.
The Senate Ethics & Elections Committee has postponed Surgeon General John Armstrong’s confirmation hearing a second time. The committee is not scheduled to meet again. According to its chairman Garrett Richter (R-Naples), the vote was postponed to allow for further questioning and to “make sure the surgeon general has an opportunity to…address the concerns of the committee before we proceed.” Speaking to press following the most recent postponement, Chair Richter said he would ask Senate President Gardiner (R-Orlando) to schedule another meeting. Senator Flores (R-Miami) who voted against confirmation in the Senate Health Policy Committee, has expressed concerns about the lack of data and unsatisfactory answers she has received to date. Armstrong was not confirmed last year. If not confirmed again, he will be required to leave his post.
SB 386-Expunction of Juvenile Records, which prevents youthful mistakes from derailing kids’ future success as adults, passed both chambers and is headed to Governor Scott for his signature. The bill received only two negative votes during its journey this year. It reduces the age that FDLE retains juvenile criminal records from 24 to 21. In concert with numerous organizations including the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, The Children’s Campaign has worked closely with both chambers and bill sponsors for more than 2 years. Congratulations to Sen. Detert (R, Venice) and Rep. Latvala (R, Clearwater) for all their good work supporting and sponsoring this good bill.
Florida is one of the top states for human trafficking, and legislators and advocates have been working tirelessly to reverse this trend. HB 545-Human Trafficking is part of this effort and, after a successful journey through the House and Senate without a single vote in opposition, it has been presented to the Governor. He has until 3/8/16 to sign the bill into law. The bill removes the ability to prosecute a child under 18 for prostitution while increasing penalties for perpetrators of trafficking. Honors go to Senator Flores (R-Miami) and Representative Spano (R-Riverview) for working to continue Florida’s commitment to treating those exploited by human trafficking as victims rather than criminals.
HB 599 – Child Welfare passed second reading with amendments that require input from current and former foster youth on the proposed Quality Rating System for group homes and foster parent and group home provider certification program. It is has been placed on the calendar for third reading on 3/2. Companion bill, SB 7018, received a strike all amendment that extracted pieces from both bills and married them into one proposed child welfare reform. In its current form, the bill continues to rely heavily on unproven safety plans. The bill passed the Senate Appropriations committee unanimously with a committee substitute. It has been placed on special order calendar for March 3 if received. Differences between the House and Senate versions portend a complicated path to resolution.
A bill referred to as “A Child’s Best Hope Act” that would allow a child’s best interest to be factored into adoption options proposed by a parent facing the termination of parental rights, SB 590-Adoption has replaced companion bill HB 673, passed second reading, and is scheduled to be read a third time on 3/2.
A bill that would protect juvenile misdemeanor records from public view, HB 293-Confidentiality of Juvenile Records was found favorable upon 3rd reading in the House and is on its way to the Senate. Companion bill, SB 700 has been placed on special order calendar for 3/2. The bill also provides protections for the electronic posting of certain juvenile mugshots.
HB 5101 – Medicaid, which contains language to expand KidCare to children of legally residing immigrants, is being debated in budget conferences. Similar bill, HB 89 – KidCare, which does the same thing without the additional Medicaid issues, has been placed on special order calendar in the House for 3/2. The funding for the expansion has been agreed upon by budget conferees.
HB 7053-Childcare and Development Block Grant unanimously passed the Senate and is currently back in the House in Messages. The bill was amended to absorb the content of the Early Steps bills also moving through the process (SB 7034 & HB 943). According to Senator Legg (R-Trinity), “The combining of the bills is needed because of the shared emphasis on early childhood development of our state to align with federal statute.” Thanks to Children, Families, and Elder Affairs, Representative Gonzalez (R-Venice), and Education Pre-K-12 for their work on this good bill.
HB 7085 – Civil Citation was scheduled to be in the Judiciary Committee on 2/25 but was pulled from the agenda, effectively stopping its forward progress in the House this year. The issue continued to be debated heatedly in the Senate, however, with SB 408 narrowly passing the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee. An amendment requires civil citation for children 16 and under who commit specific misdemeanors for the first time. The bill as amended cleared the Rules Committee. To be passed this year, the bill would have to pass what would be a heated debate on the Senate floor and then be brought over by the House.
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