The third week of regular session – Children’s Week – realized advancements in children’s policy across a range of our priority issues. Good bills are moving swiftly through the process, bad amendments were removed, legislators have abandoned long-held positions that will improve the lives of legal immigrant children without health care, and Florida’s child care regulatory framework is aligning with federal standards in order for the state to continue to receive much-needed federal dollars.
SB 386 – Juvenile Records Expunction – a bill first envisioned and promoted by The Children’s Campaign – would automatically remove certain juvenile records when a child turns 21, rather than waiting until age 24. It also provides a process for expunction prior to the age of 21 under certain conditions. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and will soon be taken up on the House floor.
A bill that addresses the issues facing Florida’s treatment of mental health and criminal justice, HB 439 – Mental Health unanimously passed the House Appropriations Committee following an amendment that removed the $4.7-million for the hospital diversion program. Many committee members voiced regret that the money was removed, including Representative Pafford (D-West Palm Beach) who stated, “With Florida being 49th in mental health, I don’t think we should underfund this.” The amendment was ultimately adopted to keep the bill moving.
HB 89 – Kidcare passed the House Healthcare Appropriations committee unanimously with an amendment that specified how covering the additional children would be funded. Chair Hudson (R- Naples) told the bill sponsor, Representative Diaz (R- Miami), “You and I have not agreed on this bill for a time, but there is power in persistence. I’m happy to see you get this win because it’s important to you and to children across the state.”
“A Child’s Best Hope Acts” are moving through the process in both chambers. In the House, HB 673 – Adoption passed the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and SB 590 – Adoption is on third reading in the Senate.
SB 700- Confidentiality of Juvenile Records will be heard in the Senate Criminal Justice committee on February 1st, at 4 pm in room 37 S. Currently, Florida law allows juvenile arrest records to be released and placed online — even if the file has been legally erased or the child has been found innocent. These records can brand a youth and bar them from important opportunities such as future employment, housing and education. Advocates are calling committee members and encouraging support for SB 700.
SB 7034 – Early Steps Bill will be heard this Wednesday, February 3, 9:00 a.m. in the Senate Appropriations Committee, 412 Knott Building. This bill is designed to force accountability standards and other process requirements onto the Florida Department of Health after years of outcries by The Children’s Campaign and other advocacy organizations over the handling of the program, inclusive of last years’ dismantling of its statewide administrative team.
Transportation bills skirting the more usual child policy committees would have created an exemption for childcare providers and other transporters from the booster seat law which was passed in 2014 after more than a decade of attempts. These exemptions which showed up in SB 1394 and HB 7063 were dropped after The Palm Beach Post brought attention to them and child advocates across the state called in opposition. Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, have found that for children ages 4 to 7 years old, booster seats reduce injury risk by 59% compared to seat belts alone. Following the amendment, both bills passed their committees.
HB 7053 – Child Care and Development Block Grant continued its uncontested and fast march forward. Several technical amendments in House Appropriations Committee aligned the legislation to the new Child Development and Block Grant federal standards. Failure to conform to the new standards could jeopardize Florida’s more than $273-million drawdown of federal dollars.
A bill that removes the ability to charge children under 18 with prostitution and instead treats them as victims, SB 784 – Sex Trafficking, passed the Senate Criminal Justice committee.
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