On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, new leadership took the helm of the Florida Legislature.
Juvenile justice is a top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, specifically not criminalizing adolescents for youthful mischief. This could portend more rigorous reviews of civil citation laws in an effort to increase utilization rates. Statewide, the numbers remain below 50% but the differential is great – in some areas they approach 90%. In other areas, they lag in the 20’s and 30’s or are barely used at all. Not yet mentioned specifically (but important for the continued reform of juvenile justice) are services to children with special abilities, especially girls. Programs for children with special abilities in the community are scarce and highly specialized residential care does not exist, so they are put into the general confined residential population with all the challenges that generates.
Other Negron priorities, as previously announced, include preserving the environment, proposing a $1.2 billion program to fight devastating algae blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. He also believes that Florida universities and colleges need a significant bounce upward in funding and should be made more affordable. The financial demands of both of those priorities could easily overshadow the growing gaps in the number of children needing a wide range of services and the state’s investment in them.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran in his inaugural speech delivered a more populist message, even singling out education groups for criticism for their aggressive legal challenge against the state. He also reiterated his opposition to Governor Scott’s business development incentive requests.
He also called for changes in federal health care policy, possibly portending a call for a shift in more Medicaid control to the states, as has been undertaken in Indiana and a few other places. Regardless of the extent of changes to be proposed, this renewed health policy debate comes at a time when national media coverage raised the issue of medical refugees. These are families fleeing Florida for their children to receive even lifesaving care after experiencing months and years of difficulty in working with Florida’s current Medicaid program http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/28/health/health-care-refugees-part-1/index.html.
A major change to the House rules is that all appropriations must be filed as stand-alone bills by the first day of Legislative Session so all members of the House and the public can review them. It is unclear how the new time demands will impact policy issues that must go through the same committees.
These new rules are not reflected by the Senate, possibly making the process of combining House and Senate budgets more complicated.
Other House rules are intended to curb the influence of lobbyists. They will no longer be able to provide plane rides to legislators, and restrictions will be placed on business dealings and some employment opportunities. One of the more significant changes is a ban on legislators from becoming lobbyists within six years after leaving their elected office. While not reaching as far with its reforms, the Senate now requires three additional hours of ethics training every other year. lobbyists allowed on the Senate floor will be tightened and lawmakers will no longer be able to send their aides to present bills to committees.
New Committee Leaders Tapped – What Will it Mean for Children?
Leadership of both the Senate and House have appointed the members that will head the committees overseeing the different policy and budget areas controlled by state government. The Senate has named all of the committee chairs and members. The House has introduced the committee chairs, but is waiting until mid-December to name the subcommittee chairs and member assignments in alignment with House Speaker Corcoran’s intention to break with the past practice of the Speaker making all appointments.
Some brief highlights from their past experiences:
- Senate Appropriations Committee- Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater)
Last year sponsored a bill that would have increased education for professionals about the issues relating to human trafficking, and a bill that created a new cost sharing methodology between counties and the state over the cost of juvenile detention centers.
- Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice – Senator Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville)
Sponsored a bill that would have created the Pediatric Cardiac Advisory Council within the Department of Health and one that would restrict individuals who are registered as a sex offender from being employed by a child care provider. Has also worked to support individuals with disabilities, juvenile justice education and independent living for foster youth.
- Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services – Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami)
Is the Senate President Pro Tempore. Has sponsored bills related to human trafficking and education. Co-sponsored the bill relating to the creation of civil citation and similar diversion programs for minors.
- Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on PreK-12 Education – Senator David Simmons (R-Longwood)
Has sponsored three education bills over the past several years, including a reduction of the class size amendment that redefined “core” classes, a bill relating to high school athletics and a bill that revises violations and penalties for individuals who do not stop for a school bus.
- Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on PreK-12 Education Vice Chair – Senator Dana D. Young (R-Tampa)
As a member of the House of Representatives, Senator Young was an avid supporter of bills relating to human trafficking, including a bill that condemned the actions of Boko Haram in abducting over 200 girls in Nigeria. She has also worked extensively in the healthcare sector.
- Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee – Senator Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah)
Was a vocal champion of the bill that allowed children of legal immigrants to be eligible for the Florida Kidcare program. Supported many bills relating to class sizes, newborn health, mental health and overall improvements for health care access for the children residing in Florida.
- Senate Criminal Justice Committee – Senator Randolph Bracy (D- Orlando)
Newly elected, has been an ardent supporter of improving access to higher education. Also has been a strong supporter of reducing the pathways that lead minors to come into contact with the juvenile justice system and result in them being unfairly punished as adults.
- Senate Education Committee Chair- Senator Dorothy L. Hukill (R- Port Orange)
A former public school teacher, has advocated for improvements in K-12 schools and for increased K-12 funding.
- Senate Judiciary Committee – Senator Greg Steube (R- Sarasota)
Last session in the House of Representatives, co-sponsored bills that expanded punishment for perpetrators of human trafficking and prohibited charging minors with specified prostitution offenses, as well as supporting the bill for expunging the criminal history of minors.
- House Appropriations Committee – Representative Carlos Trujillo (R-Miami)
Last year supported bills related to expunging of criminal records for minors and to improve confidentiality laws. Has also been vocal on issues such as human trafficking and child safety.
- House Education Committee – Representative Michael Bileca (R- Miami)
A long-time advocate for education for children with disabilities, including increasing the McKay Scholarship program, which allows children with developmental disabilities can attend private school. Sponsored a bill last year that created a transition-to-work program for students with disabilities.
- House Health & Human Services Committee – Representative Travis Cummings (R-Orange Park)
Has sponsored and co-sponsored bills relating to health care and child welfare. Last year he sponsored a bill relating to Attorneys for Dependent Children, which revised requirements for dependent children to be appointed an attorney and mandates that all attorneys and organizations be entitled to funding for litigation costs. He also co-sponsored legislation that helps “normalize” the lives of foster children.
- House Judiciary Committee – Representative Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor)
Sponsored bills relating to education, as well as CPR Training in public schools. Focused on expunging the criminal history records of minors last session, which kept youthful misdeeds from affecting children into adulthood. He also sponsored a bill relating to DCF, which provided referrals and delivery of services to families of veterans.
More to come in the next edition regarding House appointments and budget choices.
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This Legislative Connection is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Nicki Harrison, Karen Bonsignori, Gerrit VanLent, Roy Miller and Tiffany McGlinchey