Before providing our weekly update of legislation moving along, it’s important to recognize Carol Jenkins Barnett, honored at the Children’s Week banquet with the Chiles Advocacy Award for her 30+ years of charitable leadership. The award, named after former Governor Lawton Chiles, and first lady Rhea Chiles, is presented annually to a Floridian who exemplifies integrity, passion and dedication to engaging others in promoting policies and programs benefitting children. Barnett has served on numerous boards of nonprofits across Florida and has steered hundreds of millions of dollars to nonprofits supporting child well-being.
HB 233 – Students with Disabilities in Public Schools passed the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee unanimously. This bill, sponsored by Representative Edwards (D-Sunrise), provides requirements for the use of physical restraint and seclusion in public schools, and prohibits the use of these techniques by school personnel who are not certified. A committee substitute amendment was presented and passed that specifies a definition for prone restraint and who is protected in order to need physical restraint, modifies the level to which school personnel and peers need to be in danger in order to use restraint, as well as prohibits the use of threats to achieve compliance. The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council (FDDC) testified that they had serious concerns about the use of these practices, including sharing a story of a child who had been secluded for 18 months without her mother ever having any knowledge of the practice. The FDDC spoke about how they were looking forward to working with Representative Edwards in order to improve this legislation and move it forward so there would be more protections for students with disabilities. The next stop for HB 233 is the House Education Subcommittee. The companion bill, SB 1418 by Senator Flores (R-Miami) has been referred to committees but has not been scheduled.
Senator Campbell (D- North Miami Beach) presented SB 1654 relating to Florida Kid’s Care to the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. The bill creates a healthcare improvement workgroup to maximize efficiency of the children’s insurance program. A technical amendment adding the Florida Dental Association to the workgroup was adopted. During the meeting, Senator Garcia, the chair of the committee, stated, “This is one of the best run public-private partnerships we have in the state of Florida and there’s no reason why no child in the state of Florida should go without health insurance. I think it’s incumbent upon all of us in this committee to get the message out, work through our schools, to ensure that people know that they have this program that will give their children access to insurance”. SB 1654 passed the committee unanimously and is scheduled to be heard in the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on 4/03 at 4:00 pm in room 401 S. Similar bill, HB 637, has received its committees of reference but has yet to be scheduled.
SB 1102 was presented by sponsor Senator Rouson (D- St. Petersburg) to the Criminal Justice Committee. The bill would increase the threshold levels for certain larceny offenses. The majority of states in the nation have raised their thresholds with no increase in crime. There were several individuals at the committee meeting to testify. Barney Bishop with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance and Sheriff Gualtieri of Pinellas County opposed the legislation. Bishop stated that the “message that we would be sending is that it’s okay to steal up to $999.” Supporting the bill were Scott McCoy of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Chelsea Murphy of Right on Crime, Andy Thomas of the Florida Public Defender Association and Colleen Mackin of The Children’s Campaign. McCoy countered Bishop’s claim and stated, “All this bill does is make a rational decision about where to set that threshold based on economics, the time value of money.” The bill passed the committee favorably with 4 yeas and 2 nays. The bill’s next stop is the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. Similar bill, HB 693 is scheduled in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on 4/3 at 3:00 pm in room 17 H.
SB 1670 labels juveniles meeting certain criteria as “prolific juvenile offenders” and would hold them in detention pending secure residential placement. In his opening to the Criminal Justice Committee, bill sponsor Senator Latvala (R-Clearwater) said SB 1670 “deals with some bad dudes” and explained that Florida currently has 371 children who would meet the definition of prolific juvenile offenders. Advocates in support and opposition were present and lively debate ensued. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri stated, “This is a very real public safety issue.” According to Gualtieri, there are often times when there are no available beds in residential programs, leaving these juveniles to commit more crimes in their communities. This concerned Senator Clemens (D-Lake Worth), who asked how many beds are lacking. The sheriff responded, “It’s a significant number, it’s not insignificant”. Meredith Stanfield, a representative from the Department of Juvenile Justice, stated the Department does not take a stance on this issue, but opined that it would fully stop re-offense in the community and absconds”. In opposition, Andy Thomas, representing the Florida Public Defender Association, stated, “We’re throwing away some children when we do this”. Additionally, Senator Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) raised concerns that the bill does not mention services for these children while they are in detention. The bill passed unanimously and is on its way to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. Similar bill, HB 7059 has been scheduled in Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on 4/3 at 3:00 pm in room 17 H. The Children’s Campaign will weigh in on this bill as it moves along.
Representative Brodeur (R-Sanford) presented HB 151 on the floor of the House. This bill expands the use of therapy dogs in court for children or individuals with an intellectual disability in cases of abuse, abandonment and neglect. Current law only allows for use of therapy dogs in cases of sexual abuse. Representatives had no questions or amendments. The bill passed third reading unanimously, passing the House without ever receiving a vote against. Similar bill, SB 416, sponsored by Senator Montford (D-Quincy), was heard in the Senate Rules Committee. Chuck Mitchell with the TMH Animal Therapy Program, Alan Abramowitz with Florida Guardian Ad Litem and Ronald Book with Lauren’s Kids spoke in support of SB 416. Ronald Book, Senator Lauren Book’s father, stated, “A survivor can talk about walking in their shoes, but as a parent, walking in the shoes as someone who didn’t hear that voice that was silenced by a perpetrator, by a pedophile, by an abuser, is different. The animals help these young victims and they help adult victims…. get that strength, get that courage to stand in court and face their abusers and bring them to justice”. The bill passed the committee with all in favor and has been placed on special order calendar for April 4th.
Also calendared for April 4th, SB 118, a bill that bars individuals and groups from charging fees to take down arrest booking pictures and provides penalties if they do not comply is scheduled for third reading. Sponsored by Sen. Steube, (R-Sarasota) this bill expands the work of The Children’s Campaign and partners last year to remove the stigma and negative consequences of long-term records for youthful misdeeds. Similar bill, HB 857, has been scheduled in its second stop, Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on 4/3 at 3:00 pm in room 17 H.
SB 358, a bill sponsored by Sen. Garcia (R-Hialeah), makes improvements to last session’s sweeping mental health and substance abuse reform legislation. These changes include requiring collected data be published on the Department’s website and specifying court hearings for involuntary services be held within five court working days. The bill passed the Senate without having a vote against.
Last week in House Health Care Appropriations, HB 1121 – Relating to Child Welfare was heard. The bill, sponsored by Representative Stevenson (R-St. Augustine), works to fix issues in the child welfare system. Some of the highlights of the bill include providing more rights to fathers in the legal system to expedite permanency, allows for more participation of the child in their case planning and provides for stricter background screenings for residential group homes. The bill had an easy ride through the committee with no debate and a unanimous vote. The bill will move on to its last committee stop in House Health and Human Services. The companion bill, SB 1044 sponsored by Senator Garcia (R-Hialeah), is in the Senate Judiciary Committee but has not yet been scheduled.
HB 23, the bill that would lengthen the time that families and individuals could be without Temporary Cash Assistance after they receive sanctions, passed the Health & Human Services Committee with a vote of 11 to 6. While answering questions, bill sponsor Representative Eagle (R-Cape Coral) stated that the purpose of the bill was “trying to curb out the fraud and abuse, not punish the people who are trying.” The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, The Children’s Campaign and Florida Legal Services rose in opposition. Representative Williams (D-Fort Lauderdale) made an impassioned plea to the committee stating, “These people are only living off $200 a month, if that, and we want to take part of that for 30 days? I cannot as a parent, try to increase any injury on a person that’s struggling trying to keep a roof over their head and food in their children’s mouth…I will not be able to rest tonight, tomorrow night, next year this time if I vote for this bill, so I will be voting against it.” The bill will cost the state $1 million in the first year and save the state $2.5 million in the following years. This was the final committee stop for the bill. Similar bill, SB 570 has been scheduled to be heard on 4/3 at 1:30 pm in room 401 S by the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.
Other legislation scheduled to be heard next week includes:
SB 60 (Senator Bean) and HB 217 (Representative Sullivan) – bills that would provide foster children with the means and access to obtain a driver’s license have both been placed on the House special order calendar for 4/4.
HB 205 (Representative Ahern) – a bill that would expand expunction for juveniles who have completed a diversion program for a first-time misdemeanor has been scheduled in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on 4/3 at 3:00 pm in room 17 H.
SB 468 (Senator Stargel) – a bill that requires voluntary prekindergarten pre-and post-assessment results be provided to parents, and Just Read, Florida! to provide specialized training for pre-K to 3rd grade teachers, reading coaches and principals is scheduled in the Education Committee on 4/3 at 1:30 pm in room 412 K.
SB 852 (Senator Garcia) – a bill that requires the Department of Children and Families and Sheriff’s offices to conduct multidisciplinary staffings for suspected and verified child victims of commercial sexual exploitation and collect follow up data following completion of child abuse investigations is scheduled in Senate Appropriations on4/6 at 8:00am in room 412K.
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 Amanda Ostrander, Nicki Harrison, Breanna Kim, Tiffany McGlinchey, Karen Bonsignori and Roy Miller