The next two weeks of session are the most intense. The finish line comes clearly into sight and the pace quickens. Bills moving through the process either make it or break it. Language in those not moving with savvy sponsors behind them can end up on any number of related subject bills. Good bills we have supported can move into the “no” column if the wrong language shows up. Likewise, “no” can move to “yes” with the right amendments.
The Children’s Campaign team, always vigilant, logs even more hours with less rest. We will keep you posted and here’s a quick update of last week’s movement of designated priorities.
Megan Smernoff, Senior Legislative Analyst with the Office of Public Policy and Government Accountability, reviewed a presentation on children in out-of-home care in the Senate Committee on Children, Families & Elders last Monday. Placement in group care is dependent on several factors including child’s age, behavioral problems and being in licensed family foster care for more than six months and removed more than once. Placement of siblings and availability of more family-like settings are also considered.
Ms. Smernoff focused on three aspects of care. The first being characteristics of children, which showed that 28% of children in out-of-home care consisted of those in family foster care, whereas 7% were in group care. The numbers indicated that children five years old or younger accounted for more than half the children in family foster care (61%). while children 11-14 and 15-17 combined to make up about 80% of children in group care.
Required Services and Activities were reviewed and data showed that in both group care and family foster care, medical and behavioral health care services are provided by Medicaid. Regarding activities and services in-house, the report revealed that both family foster care and group homes are responsible for medical care, case plans and services provided to the child and educational services.
SB 570, requiring CareerSource to collect data on cash assistance recipients to uncover barriers to employment compliance, was heard in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism on 4/17. Bill sponsor, Senator Rouson (D-St. Petersburg), introduced an amendment establishing a Reemployment Pilot Program in Pinellas County to “assist cash recipients in developing return to work plans with the goal of reemployment.” The amendment was adopted and the bill passed the committee unanimously. SB 570 will now move to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.
SB 852 was presented by Senator Garcia (R-Hialeah) during Senate Session on 4/18. This bill ensures child victims of commercial sexual exploitation receive the same services regardless of whether they are in the dependency system or not. There were no questions or debate and the bill passed with no votes against.
HB 23 was presented by Representative Eagle (R – Cape Coral) during House Session on 4/18.This bill requires the Department of Economic Opportunity to work with DCF and CareerSource to ensure individuals understand their sanctions and also increases sanctions for individuals who are not compliant with work requirements. Several representatives raised concerns about the bill. Representative Mercado inquired about whether there was a specific list of rules that invoke the sanctions. Eagle responded that CareerSource works with individuals to cater to individual needs. Further, he said, CareerSource has a “blanket type requirement”. For example, a two family household needs to spend 30 hours per week on work requirements, 20 hours of which should be on “core requirements” like building a resume and other similar skills. Representative Slosberg asked what happens if a parent is sanctioned and a protective payee cannot be located to reroute the cash assistance to the children. Eagle explained that children would receive the benefits no matter what; with DCF stepping in if a parent cannot meet a child’s needs. An amendment proposed by Representative White was adopted. The amendment requires asset verification for individuals applying for food stamps, implements three pilot programs around the state to enhance services for individuals with significant employment barriers and mandates CareerSource to collect data on its effectiveness in helping temporary cash assistance and food stamp recipients. The bill passed its third reading in the House, was passed to the Senate where it was referred to Appropriations.
HB 1121 passed House Session with no votes against on 4/20. Representative Stevenson (R-St. Augustine) sponsored the bill and received no questions or debate from other representatives. The bill “cuts red tape that gets in the way of those that are charged with protecting Florida’s children and vulnerable adults from abuse and neglect.” This was the third reading for the bill, which is making its way over to the Senate.
SB 468, sponsored by Senator Stargel (R-Lakeland), was heard in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on PreK-12 Education. During the meeting, a strike all amendment was adopted. The bill now requires Just Read Florida! to work with the Florida Center for Reading Research to develop curriculum, practices, and resources that assist elementary schools in using state-adopted instructional materials to increase literacy skills to meet state standards. It also expands the definition for VPK providers to include charter schools and provides a second year in VPK for struggling students at the request of the parent. Senator Montford (D-Blountstown) asked if this would be considered an expansion to the existing assessment program. Senator Stargel responded that it would implement a uniform assessment and correct the county inconsistencies. In closing, Senator Stargel expressed that SB 468 is an “optional flip tool rather than an assessment” and “gives parents more control by providing the option to voluntarily hold their child back.” The bill was reported favorably and will be heard again on 4/25 in Appropriations Committee at 9:00 am.
During the Senate Judiciary Committee on 4/20, SB 1044, was amended. The strike-all amendment incorporated new language aiming to improve the child welfare system. According to Senator Garcia (R-Hialeah), the bill sponsor, many of the changes were recommendations from the Department of Children and Families. The Florida Coalition for Children, Florida Coalition for the Homeless and the Children’s Trust were in support of the bill. With no questions or debate, and SB 1044 passed the committee with no votes against.
HB 205, sponsored by Representative Ahern (R-Seminole) was passed in Judiciary Committee. The bill expands expunction so it can be available for all diversion programs and all misdemeanors crimes. An amendment was heard and passed that included language allowing civil citations for certain eligible adults. There were many organizations present at the meeting in support and opposition. Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Florida Smart Justice Alliance, Florida Sheriff’s Association and The Children’s Campaign were all present to support the bill. Rural Justice and Reverend Bernice Powell representing churches across the state both asked for the bill to be more closely aligned with SB 196, which provides additional language on civil citation programs. The bill saw opposition from Rep. Gonzalez who was worried about the new amendment and was the only vote against. HB 205 will make its way onto the House floor in coming weeks.
HB 857, which prohibits entities that posts arrest photos from accepting a fee to remove the photos and imposes penalties for failing to comply, passed the Judiciary Committee unanimously. Representative Plakon (R-Longwood) presented a technical amendment that was subsequently adopted. The Florida Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers attended to waive in support of the bill and there was no debate from Representatives. Judiciary was the bill’s last committee stop and similar bill SB 118 is in messages to the House.
HB 233, sponsored by Representative Edwards (D-Sunrise) and Representative Plasencia (R-Titusville) was heard in the House Education committee last Thursday. A strike all amendment was adopted based on feedback provided by key stakeholders that clarifies points of confusion in the bill regarding seclusion and restraint. In support were Broward County Schools, the Crisis Prevention Institute, the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council and the Florida Education Association. The bill passed its last committee stop with a unanimous vote and is waiting to move to the House floor.
Aurora Jane Update
Many who are familiar with Amanda Ostrander, Policy Director for The Children’s Campaign, know how efficient and organized she is. True to form, she and her husband are the proud parents of a healthy baby girl. Aurora Jane was born on April 19th; seemingly, just moments after Amanda packed up her office to begin maternity leave. Congratulations Amanda!
If you like reading our publications, we need your help to keep them coming. The Children’s Campaign accepts NO government funding, and therefore donations from readers like you are necessary in order to retain our independent voice. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today!
This Legislative Connection is brought to you by Nicki Harrison, Breanna Kim, Holly McCall, Karen Bonsignori, Roy Miller and Tiffany McGlinchey