Will Remainder Be Good for Kids?
The first “up” was the pre-session forecast that as much as $1.5 billion in additional general revenue would be available. Child advocates had hoped funds would be earmarked for the growing and unmet needs of Florida children, as well as to restore cuts dating back to the recession. No one was giddy about the possibilities. Florida isn’t the easiest place to secure funding for children’s services. But hope reigns eternal.
There’s talk among program administrators at high levels about “getting ahead of the curve”. This means moving beyond the crisis stage in child welfare, but also in health care and other services. These goals are most difficult to achieve without resources.
Demographics warn a new tidal wave in the making. Latest numbers are 3 of every 5 children born in Florida are in homes eligible for Medicaid or one missed paycheck away from meeting basic needs. Staying out front will require investment in children of historical proportions – similar to the commitment to education. Question: what’s the impact on education if children go home to abuse, chaos and squalor at night? The sooner everyone realizes that educational success is largely impacted by what happens to children in the 16 hours each day when they’re not in school, the sooner the balance between education and children’s services will be addressed.
During the second week of January, any optimism that the balanced investment message had taken root quickly turned upside down. Updated revenue forecasts were slightly less favorable than previous ones, and other priorities took center stage such as bigger tax cuts and business incentives.
Child advocates shook their heads and slumped their shoulders, as if walking against a strong headwind. But they did keep walking.
The mood brightened with recognition that important policy gains could be achieved. Lowering the age to 21 for expunging juvenile records under certain circumstances. Removing the 5-year waiting period for health insurance for legal immigrant children. Redirecting the downward spiral that led to thousands of children being removed from the rosters of those receiving critically needed medical services. Expanding and improving Early Steps. Putting into place a crisis response service structure for victims of sex trafficking with stronger laws so that pimps are locked up instead of children. Finally passing child care health and safety standards to keep federal funds flowing into the state. A more transparent debate about trying children as adults. The policy frame has been robust and the pace has been intense. Bills came flying out of the gate in order to be positioned to cross the finish line.
Walking the halls so far this year has been more upbeat with the expressed desire of both chambers to put the recent discord behind them. The big question: will this newfound harmony continue as session moves into reconciling the budget? The House budget is about $1 billion less than the Senate. They would give the Governor most of his requested tax cuts. The Senate is only about a quarter of the way down that path. There’s also differences of opinion in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Florida’s death penalty sentencing is unconstitutional.
There have been surprises. Language was added to a large transportation package that would have undone the good work of requiring booster seats for children 6 and under. The bill was amended and the language removed after a big push back. Bills removing certain health and safety requirements for afterschool programs were filed again this year, continuing the discord with proponents of protective childcare regulations.
Another conflict involved the confirmation of Surgeon General John Armstrong, his leadership of the Department of Health (DOH) and his track record as the state’s Chief Medical Officer. Although the Senate Health Policy Committee approved his confirmation by a narrow 5-4 vote, it is clear that significant questions remain regarding the devastating impact statewide, and especially in rural counties, caused by DOH budget cuts, staffing vacancies and past vetoes of legislative budget issues. Unclear today in the confirmation hearing was any reasonable plan to contact the thousands of families disenrolled from Children’s Medical Services over the past year.
The home stretch of session awaits. Hopefully, the momentum to address policy issues will get many good bills to the finish line. The Children’s Campaign will continue to publish weekly updates and provide a recap at session’s conclusion. Of course, on the policy front, nothing is completed until it passes both chambers, is sent to the Governor, and he signs it.
Ups and Downs in Budget Picture for Children
Afterschool program funding has generated one of the more passionate budget debates. The Senate is proposing a $30 million dollar competitive pool to be distributed by an Award Committee that would determine grants to qualifying programs. The House continues afterschool funding by earmarking line items for specific organizations, such as Boys and Girls Clubs.
Funding for the Department of Juvenile Justice remains relatively stagnant while the Department of Corrections has a proposed $50 million+ increase. This mirrors the recent trend of focusing on adults and not the pipeline feeding into prisons.
Children’s Special Heath Care which houses Kidcare, Medikids, and Children’s Medical Services funding has a proposed $15 million reduction from general revenue and a small bump that has yet to be agreed upon by both chambers in Trust Fund money. Questions remain about Children’s Health Screening and a significant funding cut for which we are seeking more information.
Florida Safe Families Network (FSFN) information technology system that was specified in HB 599 staff analysis to go towards CBCs is proposed to receive $9.4 million new dollars in the Senate and $13.3 in the House.
The Senate included approximately $1 million for out-of-home care and $1.4 million for in-home care (in cases where children are 3 years or younger) for Guardian ad Litem. The House included approximately $1 million for out-of-home care only. Neither chamber included funding for certification.
The House provides a small increase for VPK ($37 per student for school year and $31 per student for summer). This is in contrast to the status quo position of the Senate. The current per pupil funding for K-12 is $4,236 and for VPK is $2,437, continuing the trend of not investing enough in early learning.
After passing all its committees of reference, SB 7034-Early Steps was placed on special order calendar for 2/10, but was temporarily postponed on second reading. It has been retained on the calendar.
A bill that seeks to expand eligibility for CMS services, SB 1240-Children’s Medical Services (CMS), unanimously passed the Health Policy Committee following a strike all amendment that gives parents more rights and children a fair chance in the health care system. This is a good change to the bill thanks to Senator Sobel (D-Hollywood).
SB 784-Human Trafficking, a bill inspired by the landmark Safe Harbor Act, unanimously passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. The bill will next be heard in Fiscal Policy, its last committee of reference, on February 17th at 4:00pm in room 412K.
SB 700-Confidentiality of Juvenile Records that seeks to seal juvenile records upon adulthood unanimously passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice and will next be heard in Fiscal Policy on February 17th at 4:00pm in 412K. The bill has a proposed amendment that will allow custodians of public records to choose not to post juvenile’s arrest or booking photographs electronically. Companion bill, HB 293 was found favorable by the Judiciary Committee. The bill has been placed on the calendar on second reading.
HB 599- Child Welfare was created to continue the 2014 legislation found in SB 1666. The bill was found favorable in Health Care Appropriations with no debate or testimony and is now on its way to the Health and Human Services Committee. This legislation has good intentions, but may result in unintended consequences. A rewrite is expected at the next committee stop.
Florida’s treatment of the mentally ill in the criminal justice system has come under much criticism and HB 439-Mental Health seeks to correct the identified issues. The bill unanimously passed its last committee of reference, the Judiciary Committee, and has been placed on the calendar on second reading.
SB 314-Juvenile Justice that seeks to limit the instances where minors are direct filed into adult court was found favorable in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. The bill will next be heard in Appropriations, its final committee of reference. The outlook in the House continues to not be as favorable.
Detert Receives Namesake Children’s Champions Award
Senator Nancy Detert (R-Venice), who plans to retire a county commission seat after the 2016 session, was presented the award created in her honor, The Nancy C. Detert Children’s Champion Award during Children’s Week at the Capitol.
Detert has been a fierce advocate throughout her years in the Florida Senate and House, devoting her career to advancing the well-being of foster children and teens, and has sponsored many successful and life-changing bills for children and families. This session, she is championing another important bill supported by The Children’s Campaign, SB 386, which by lowering the age of eligibility for juvenile record expunction would ensure young adults won’t be punished into adulthood for youthful misdeeds.
The Children’s Campaign congratulates and thanks Senator Detert for her tireless commitment to Florida’s children.
The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, partner of The Children’s Campaign, was featured in the 2016 Health Matters Summit honoring their innovative agenda and their initiative to serve child victims of sex trafficking. The Health Matters Summit, hosted by The Clinton Foundation, is a yearly convening of health leaders with the goal of identifying strategies for systemic health improvement.
Bills Funding the Removal of Bodies from Dozier on the Move
Florida’s Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna is a real-life horror story that has received national media attention. Closed since 2011, records show that nearly 100 boys ages 6 to 18 died at the Florida school between 1900 and 1973, many buried in unmarked locations across the property.
University of South Florida researchers have spent the past three years exhuming remains from the school’s land. The final report confirmed 55 burials at the site and gave credence to the many allegations of abuse suffered by Dozier students.
To help address this tragedy, both chambers have backed measures (SB 708 and HB 533) that would allocate $1.5 million for the reburial of bodies removed from the site, as well as establish a memorial at the former school’s site. The votes came less than a week after Cabinet members apologized to generations of boys who endured abuse while in the care of the school and the state.
Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa), sponsor of the Senate bill, stated, “We need to provide some measure of relief to these families, to let them know that we are concerned and share the anguish and pain that they’ve experienced as a result of all that has occurred to their loved ones.”
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