Welcome to The Children’s Campaign’s Legislative Connection – Bill Update. These editions focus on the movement of legislation pertaining to children, providing up-to-date information about bills that were heard and/or scheduled. Children’s legislation separated by issue area can also be tracked in our Legislative Center, and deeper analysis of our priority legislation area is featured in our Key Issue pages.
Children’s Week was celebrated with the annual “hanging of the hands” and other events hosted by a range of organizations. Congratulations to Dr. Wil Blechman, this year’s recipient of the Lawton Chiles Advocacy Award. His decades-long advocacy spans early childhood, children’s health and social justice.
Seeking to close the dangerous loopholes in Florida’s law, a bill that would prohibit child marriage, SB 140, has reached its third and final reading on the Senate floor on 1/31. While presenting the bill for second reading, Bill Sponsor Senator Benacquisto (R-Ft. Myers) spoke about marriage license loopholes being used to disguise the sexual abuse of young women across the country and stated the bill was inspired by Sherri Johnson and women like her who enter cycles of abuse because of child marriage. House companion, HB 335, is in its second and final committee of reference.
SB 774, sponsored by Sen. Bean (R-Jacksonville), passed its first committee, Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs. The bill aligns procedures for the identification of prospective biological parents and their subsequent treatment within dependency proceedings with the procedures for private adoptions. These changes are intended to streamline the dependency process and move children toward permanency more quickly. However, testimony by the Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel highlighted possible unintended consequences. Even though questions were raised, the bill’s sponsor, as well as the Florida Guardian Ad Litem Program, which brought the bill to Senator Bean, are committed to resolving the issues. The bill passed to give the sponsor time to amend the bill and remove the unintended consequences, but still maintain this valuable opportunity to decrease the time children languish in the child welfare system while awaiting adoption. Similar bill, HB 505 by Representative Roth (R-Palm Beach Gardens), has passed its first House committee and is awaiting scheduling in Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee.
Sen. Powell’s (D-Palm Beach) SB 936 passed its first committee, Senate Criminal Justice, after the adoption of four amendments, most of which were technical. One substantive amendment removed the provision that would have allowed for the restoration of civil rights for children convicted as adults for felonies, but according to the sponsor it was determined to be running afoul of the requirement to address it in the State Constitution, not legislatively. SB 936 will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice while its companion, HB 509, is awaiting scheduling in its first committee, Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
HB 487, by Representative Olszewski (R-Orlando) unanimously passed the House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee following a proposed committee substitute. The bill now allows a residential treatment center or hospital to prioritize the delivery of required services to victims of commercial sexual exploitation to best meet the needs of the child. This includes services such as counseling; behavioral health care; treatment and intervention for sexual assault; mentoring by a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation; substance abuse screening and access to treatment; and planning services for the successful transition of each child back to the community. The bill as amended does not have a companion.
HB 1005 by Representative Roth (R-Palm Beach Gardens), which shifts the responsibility of Child ProtectiveInvestigations (CPI) in Walton County away from the Department of Children and Families to the Sheriff’s Department, passed unanimously in the House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee following an amendment that clarified funding would be equal to what would have been spent by DCF for CPIs. Having local law enforcement agencies oversee CPIs is a proven model that strengthens child safety. The bill is now waiting to be scheduled in the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee. Similar bill, SB 846, by Sen. Gainer (R-Panama City) has not yet been heard in the Senate.
HB 57 by Representative White (R-Pensacola), which provides attorneys for dependent children with special needs, has been temporarily postponed and awaits rescheduling. Its Senate companion, SB 146 by Sen. Bean (R-Jacksonville) has been calendared for its third and final Senate reading on January 31st.
A bill that would prevent the use of seclusion and clarify the standards for using restraint on students with disabilities, HB 63, passed the House Education Committee unanimously. The bill was presented by its sponsor, Representative Edwards-Walpole (D-Sunrise) who passionately spoke about bringing these good changes into law. After she discussed the bill’s provisions, such as parental notification requirements for incidents of restraint and training for all teachers on proper timing and use of restraint procedures, she was thanked by Chair Bileca for her “intensity and persistence” and getting to the “root of real solutions” on the topic. The bill has been placed on the House calendar on second reading. Companion bill, SB 260 by Sen Book (D-Plantation), has not been heard in the Senate.
SB 522, sponsored by Sen. Bean (R-Jacksonville), allows for incarcerated parents to have a role in the case plan of their child in the dependency system. Following the addition of a technical amendment that gives judges who preside over child welfare cases more flexibility, the bill passed unanimously in its final committee of reference. During debate, Sen. Montford (D-Quincy) expressed his support, stating it was a “good bill for the kids.” The companion bill, HB 281 sponsored by Rep. Williams (D-Fort Lauderdale) and Rep. Daniels (D-Jacksonville), is on the House calendar on second reading on 1/31.
An Early Childhood Court would be established in state statute by SB 1442 – Sen. Lauren Book (D-Sunrise) and HB 1351 – Rep. Bobby Payne (R-Palatka). Contained in the bill is authorization for the FSU Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy to manage a clinical oversight team along with a statewide clinical consultancy. HB 1351 passed the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee. SB 1442 will be heard in Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs on Monday 1/29.
The budget process began in earnest this week as the House and Senate released their first versions of the appropriations package, and substantive committees heard proposals from both chambers broken down by department or agency. Immediate concerns in the Senate involve Florida’s Healthy Start Coalitions, which in the Chairman’s budget was slated for as much as a 40% cut. More budget information will be forthcoming.
In a 5-2 vote, proposal #40 was reported unfavorably by the Declaration of Rights Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission. The proposal, which sought to establish a constitutional right to counsel for children in dependency proceedings, faced concerns from Commissioners about the impact on the current system, costs and the actual help that the proposal would bring to children. The sponsors were encouraged to bring their issues forward to the legislature, which could fully address the impact on the dependency court process.
Prior to the meeting, The Children’s Campaign released our opposition to the proposal, highlighting our concerns about unintended negative consequences, the impact of the program on Guardian ad Litem, and the use of outdated and limited data. For our in-depth review of the proposal, click here.
Due to the short-term deal to fund the government through February 8th and to end the three-day government shutdown, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has received $124 billion in funding through September 2023. This brings a sigh of relief to millions of low-income families who rely on CHIP to insure their children – an estimated 9 million children and 375,000 pregnant women nationally, and 374,884 children in Florida.
For the first two years of CHIP’s reauthorization, federal money will pay for at least 88% of the program’s expenses in every state. After that, the federal share of funds will decrease to that before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010. As of December 2017, before Congress reauthorized the budget for CHIP, 11 states (including Florida) were expected to deplete funding for CHIP by the end of January 2018.
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This Legislative Connection is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Sabrina Abboud, Courtney Reed, LeOndra Strowbridge, Karen Bonsignori, Roy Miller and Tiffany McGlinchey.