Unusual Session Begins

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state-of-florida-capitol-buildingIf it weren’t for the unusual opening day speeches by Florida’s top leaders, it would have been easy to become distracted from the official start of legislative session to watch a viral live feed of a pregnant giraffe, the fearless girl statue challenging the Wall Street bull or Wolverine’s return to the movie theatre. But, alas, there was enough theatrics in Tallahassee to make the unusual interesting.

In his State of the State address, Governor Rick Scott, when not feuding with House Speaker Corcoran over Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, promised to “wake up every day fighting for Florida because I want to make it a better place for my grandchildren.” It wasn’t as clear though what policy issues were attached, as children weren’t a substantive part of his overall speech. Speaker Corcoran, as expected, stayed the course of reforming how Tallahassee works (or doesn’t) in his remarks, and Senate President Negron was more traditional in outlining his policy priorities of higher education, water and not punishing children’s futures for youthful misbehavior.

Meanwhile, The House appeared to challenge Senate leadership’s priority of investing in higher education by questioning openly if the universities are struggling due to lack of appropriate funding or a “misappropriation of money.” Many examples were given revolving around the university controlled foundations. Gun bills that would expand “carry” options also saw potential challenges arise as Senator Flores (R-Miami) publicly stated, “I do not support having guns on campus, I do not support having guns in airports. I do not support having guns in school zones.”

Changes in House rules, which many thought would make the budget process between the two Chambers even more contentious than in recent years, were agreed to by the Senate. The joint rule requires that any project in the final state budget to have been included in the spending plans initially passed by the House and Senate. Even with this early agreement, there is so much unknown that talk is circulating already about the budget going into overtime, known as special session.

To date, The Children’s Campaign has culled through almost 3,000 filed bills to identify ones that appear to have the most impact Florida’s children and families or advance systemic improvements or reform.

Readers can track these bills in real time on our online Legislative Center.

    • HB 23 & SB 570 – increases temporary cash assistance penalties for individuals who are noncompliant with their work requirements.
    • SB 60 & HB 217 – provides foster children with the means and access to obtain a driver license.
    • SB 62 – creates a Pediatric Cardiac Care Advisory Council to improve service delivery for children with congenital heart disease.
    • HB 71 & SB 252 – eliminates the sales and use tax on diapers and certain incontinence products.
    • SB 118 & HB 857 – bars individuals and groups from charging fees to take down arrest booking pictures and provides penalties if they do not comply.
    • HB 151 & SB 416 – expands the usage of support animals for minors in cases of child abuse, neglect and abandonment.
    • SB 192 – reduces the number of juveniles transferred to adult court by revising circumstances for transfer for state attorneys.
    • SB 196 – expands the use of civil citation and similar diversion programs.
    • HB 205 – expands expunction for juveniles who have completed a diversion program for a first-time misdemeanor.
    • HB 233 & HB 810 – bans the use of certain types of seclusion and physical restraint for students with disabilities in public schools.
    • HB 273 & SB 578 – prohibits licensed health practitioners from providing conversion therapy to minors.
    • SB 286 & HB 665 – requires health courses in public schools to teach children in 7th grade to 12th grade warning signs and indicators of human trafficking.
    • SB 358 – authorizes the Department of Children and families to approve, designate and monitor behavioral health care receiving and treatment facilities.
    • SB 468 & HB 757 – requires voluntary prekindergarten providers to provide parents with pre- and post-assessment results and Just Read, Florida! to provide specialized training for pre-K to 3rd grade teachers, reading coaches and principals.
    • HB 693 & SB 1102 – revises the threshold amount for certain theft or money-related offenses to define how an offense would be charged.
    • SB 754 – prohibits placement of child victims of commercial sexual abuse in non-specialized shelters when safe-harbor or trauma-informed housing is not available.
    • SB 852 & HB 1383 – 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.


Florida’s Working Poor Make Up 45% of Households 

The United Way’s Asset Limited, Income Constrained, CPIEmployed (ALICE) Project recently released a report detailing the number of working Floridians who cannot afford to meet their basic needs. When the Federal Poverty Level and ALICE households are combined they make up 45% of households in the state. Between 2007 to 2015, the number of working poor households rose from 1.7 million to 2.2 million as prices of basic needs, including housing, transportation, food and health care, increased 17 percent for single person households and 21 percent for a family of four.

During Governor Scott’s State of the State address, he lauded his role in job creation. Over the last four years, the state has added 297,000 state positions and 728,000 private sector positions. The ALICE report, however, is providing data that raises questions about the number of jobs providing financial security for Florida families.

Households are working hard to reach financial security and remain self-sufficient, but instead are feeling burnt out, hopeless and stuck. They are unable to save up for an emergency and earn too much to receive public assistance. Bills have been filed this session that would increase sanctions for those receiving Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA), block grant Medicaid and make it more difficult to use food stamps.

If the goal is to remove people from relying on the state for benefits, then those families putting in the work need to be rewarded for the effort they are putting in, not punished or left out of programs that would help them keep their heads above water.


Bill Updates

An amendment passed for SB 118 – Criminal History Records this week in Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee. The amendment was proposed by the Judiciary Committee and Senator Brandes (R-St. Petersburg). The amendment was technical in nature, but it did allow individuals to seek expunction of a criminal record if they had not been convicted of a misdemeanor in the past 10 years since the original offense. It became clear during the hearing that some Senators had issues with whether the booking websites and newspapers would be restricted by this bill in relation to freedom of speech. Senator Steube (R-Sarasota), sponsor of this bill, assured that this wouldn’t contradict the constitution and the language had been discussed with the Florida Press Association to ensure support. Other organizations in support along with The Children’s Campaign include Florida Sheriff’s Association and Southern Poverty Law Center. The bill passed with 5 Yeas and 2 Nays. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Appropriations committee on 3/16 at 1:00pm in room 412 K. A similar bill, HB 857, is on the agenda to be heard in its first committee, Criminal Justice Subcommittee on 3/15 at 9:00am in room 404 H.

Driver takes the car keyHB 217 – Children Obtaining Driver’s Licenses passed the House Health Care Appropriations with a unanimous vote. Representative Albritton (R-Bartow) testified before the committee about the legislature’s intent to bring further normalcy to Florida’s foster kids. This bill would establish a permanent program to help youth receive driver’s licenses while in foster care. Along with support from the legislators, Florida’s Coalition for Children and Guardian Ad Litem were in attendance to waive in support for this bill. The bill passed with a unanimous vote from the committee. HB 217 will continue moving through its committees with its next stop being House Health and Human Services. The companion bill, SB 60, is in its last committee stop, Senate Appropriations and will be heard on 3/16 at 1:00pm in room 412 K. 

A bill that would expand the utilization of civil citation, SB 196 – Juvenile Civil Citations and Similar Diversion Programs was heard in Senate Appropriations on Criminal and Civil Justice. Senator Flores (R-Miami) proposed an amendment specifying that at least one program must be countywide but allows counties to work together. It also stated that the programs must report annually on the best practices of the program and provides discretion for law enforcement officers to issue a civil citation to juveniles with a pending felony charge if it is their first misdemeanor. Organizations including the Florida Public Defenders and Florida Association of Counties were in attendance to waive in support of the bill. The Florida Sheriff’s Association and Florida Police Chiefs Association raised concerns about mandating civil citations and the impact on law enforcement discretion. The amendment and bill passed the committee.

This week, HB 205 – Juvenile Diversion Programs, the former companion bill, was completely changed by committee substitute including the title. The bill now expands the expunction process to include all diversion programs, guarantees that a juvenile may receive an expunction for a misdemeanor of any kind and removes the requirement for local agencies’ approval of expunctions. The Florida Sheriff’s Association supported this bill, believing that it kept intact the discretion of the law enforcement officer. The discussion was lengthy between legislators and many questions were raised about the correct solution for Florida’s juveniles. HB 205 was reported favorably with a unanimous vote by the committee. The bill will move on to House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

HB 693 – Criminal Offenses sponsored by Rep. Alexander (D-Tallahassee) passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee with a vote of 9 Yeas to 3 Nays. The bill would increase threshold amounts for certain theft or money-related offenses. For example, the bill would increase the threshold from $300 to $1,000 for certain types of grand theft to be a felony rather than a misdemeanor. These amounts have not changed since 1986 and 1996, when items cost a lot less. Representatives argued that the change would keep up with inflation rates. Organizations such as Southern Poverty Law Center and The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida waived in support of the bill. Florida Sheriff’s Association and Florida Retail Federation opposed the bill arguing that raising the threshold would only increase crime rates. The bill now moves on to House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. Similar bill, SB 1102 has been referred to its committees but has yet to be scheduled.


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This Legislative Connection is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Nicki Harrison, Breanna Kim, Karen Bonsignori and Roy Miller

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Unusual Session Begins