At the close of legislative session for those who work, volunteer or apprentice at American Children’s Campaign, there’s a sense of relief. We are fatigued from the endless hours of reading (and re-reading) long bills and last minute filed amendments, which pop onto our screens at crazy hours of the day and night; from working across complex siloes of children’s services to support good policy and reform;  and from digging for verifiable facts to push back against bad legislation rooted in ideology or misinformation rather than quality research or best practice. It is said for every single line of bad policy it takes 3-5 lines to debunk and dispel. It’s a communications juggernaut. 

Mixed in are feelings of exhilaration if policy we worked hard on and are passionate about passed; or prolonged groans of dejection when good bills die and bad bills become law. Usually, it’s a combination of emotions evoked by wins and losses under the larger caption of “session liberte”. 

Projected Coronavirus Impact Unknown
This year there exists an added feeling, one of dread. The coronavirus (COVID-19) crept into the 60-day policy-making not at the beginning, but in the waning days. It became apparent when the budget was finalized that the end is most likely a prolonged pause. For how long? Not known. We’ve entered a period of recommended social isolation. The projected impact of even a short quarantine is anyone’s guess. 

While this virus knows no boundaries of age, gender, race, socioeconomic status or geography, two populations are especially caught in the crosshairs: our seniors and others in frail health, who are more susceptible to complications or dying, and children throughout Florida whose educations are being interrupted, and many who already live in dangerous households prone to abuse and violence, who need access to a qualified therapist to discuss their fright and despair, who are homeless, couch surfing and hungry and who need safe places and safe people to protect them from the bad and evil.

Budget Cuts and Budget Vetoes Possible
As difficult as this may sound during this crisis, executive orders to secure the health of all residents and guests may not be the longest-lasting decisions our leaders will make in 2020. Coming on the heels will be judgments about budget vetoes and budget cuts to preserve the state’s piggybanks. If indeed a special budget session looms ahead, the ramifications will be suffered not only over the short-term, but for decades and generations. There is no vaccine or antidote for a childhood that leaves our youngest bruised, damaged and unprepared for the future.

It would seem an honorable and prudent request that our elected officials emphasize the future of children and those most vulnerable by uniting behind prison reform when corrections is now gobbling about $3-billion in the state budget. Further, is it really that difficult to reassess questionable tax breaks like this year’s $47-million and others from prior years that have made little difference to families AND have hampered the state’s capacity to protect and serve vulnerable populations without immediately resorting to the budget axe when the unexpected occurs? 

Some good work took place in the 2020-21 proposed budget for children and will be highlighted next week in our last of three Capitol Reports on this past session. But, overall, the state’s investment strategies dating back a very long time haven’t concentrated on our children and haven’t addressed their many needs forthrightly. A state doesn’t find its national ranking in the low 40’s on most indicators of child health and well-being if it has been paying the right level of attention. 

The question soon to be on the table is whether our leaders will find it wiser to truly take care of and promote prosperity by concentrating on children or simply keep kicking the can down the road.

American Children’s Campaign is getting ready to take on that debate. Are you with us?

Coming Tomorrow: Children’s Bill Highlights – the Good, and the Not so Good

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This Capitol Report is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Karen Bonsignori and Roy Miller.