AS THE 2014 LEGISLATURE ADJOURNS, SOME MAJOR CHILDREN’S LEGISLATION PASSES, WHILE OTHERS FALTER
The 2014 Legislative Session ended this past Friday, bringing with it a mixed bag of improvements for Florida’s children. While succeeding to advance a slew of improvements overhauling the child welfare system, as well as long overdue bills requiring booster seats for four and five-year-old children, modernizing the juvenile justice system, providing an attorney for children with disabilities in foster care and offering in-state tuition to undocumented children, the Legislature ran out of time before approving a much-needed proposal related to early learning. Children’s health advocates were also dismayed to see the Legislature again ignore bills expanding health care to low-income adults and children of legal immigrants.
Funding for children’s programs in the state budget was largely encouraging, with modest infusions to expand programs, and recurring funds replacing nonrecurring funds, though many felt that more could have been done to restore and expand some services, given the historic size of the spending plan.
The 2014 legislative budget (also known as the General Appropriations Act or HB 5001) was approved by both the House and Senate on the last day of session by surprisingly bipartisan majorities. The $77 billion spending plan, which is the largest budget in the state’s history, provides for numerous, but modest, expansions to fund programs that benefit children in need. Though many of the increases appear modest, many programs were awarded recurring funding to replace one-time increases from last year, which should ensure that these vital services are maintained for years to come. One of the most notable aspects of the budget was an increase of approximately $50 million to bolster the child welfare system and provide families with needed services.
The Legislature was also able to achieve another major goal by adding more than $3 billion to the state’s reserves, vital to funding services during times of recession and natural disasters. One of the largest budget items was a $500 million tax cut (a major priority of the Governor and both chambers), which was comprised primarily of a rollback of motor vehicle fee increases that were instituted during the recession, as well as tax cuts for items such as back to school purchases, hurricane preparedness, energy efficient products, child safety seats and bicycle helmets. While presented as a fair and balanced budget, many questioned the need for tax breaks of this magnitude in light of areas of critical need that came up short of expectation. The budget also featured a large number of local spending projects, some of which may be vetoed by the Governor in the coming days.
Some highlights of the budget include:
Intensive Reading Instruction
For a full comparison of the budget items that most affect children, please see the table at the end of this report.
For the second consecutive year, early learning programs received considerable attention. As the budgets were presented on the House and Senate floors on the very last day of session, leaders acknowledged the worthiness of investments in the education of our youngest children. The budget was passed with an additional $3 million for the School Readiness program and a 2 percent increase (or $50 per child) to the base student allocation for the Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) Education Program, which serves 80 percent of all four-year-old children. Moreover, for the first time in the history of the School Readiness program in Florida, a pilot to demonstrate higher quality standards within the program was established. In proviso language in the 2014-2015 budget bill (HB 5001), a pilot was created that will pave the way for incentivizing higher quality standards in School Readiness classrooms across the early learning system.
Under the leadership of House Education Appropriations Committee Chair Erik Fresen (R-Miami), the creation of the Early Learning Performance Funding Pilot Project was appropriated $10.5 million. On floor on Friday, Rep. Fresen recognized the importance of early learning and informed members that this was the first time that performance funding for early learning matched the expectations established in the K-12 system. He stated that the additional early learning funding not only increases the accessibility of programs, but more importantly, the quality of programs.
Early Learning Bill Dealing with Safety and Standards Dies in Final Minutes of Session
Health and safety was a significant priority this year with Rep. Marlene O’Toole’s (R-The Villages) leadership as the Chair of the House Education Policy Committee, HB 7069. The intent of the bill was to increase provider health and safety requirements and personnel quality by requiring:
The bill aimed to reduce regulatory burdens on state agencies and child care providers by requiring Early Learning Coalitions, the Office of Early Learning and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to cooperate in reducing paperwork and duplicative regulations; expanding DCF’s authority to conduct abbreviated inspections; and extending to large family child care homes certain protections regarding zoning, property insurance, and utility rates currently available to family day care homes.
Senate Education Committee Chair John Legg (R-Lutz) sponsored the companion bill, SB 1702. Though the bills were substantially similar, the fate of the legislation hung in the balance until the very last moments of legislative session.
Weighed down with several unrelated and last minute amendments, HB 7069 and SB 1702 did not pass. It is anticipated that Rep. O’Toole will engage stakeholders and legislative support to focus on achieving these improvements during next year’s session. In the meantime, there is opportunity to begin to expand quality efforts through the quality pilot project slated to begin in Fall 2014.
A comprehensive bill bringing major policy changes to the state’s child welfare system was passed by the legislature on Friday, May 2, and now heads to the Governor for final authorization. The bill, SB 1666 (and its companion HB 7169 by the Healthy Families Committee), marks the culmination of months of panels, debates and workshops in both houses by advocates, stakeholders, and experts. With Senate sponsor Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) by her side, Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie) declared that the bill would establish a renewed focus on child safety, significantly improve transparency and accountability, and provide for numerous improvements to workforce development. Both sponsors also pledged to return to the issue next year if more improvements are needed. The legislation was a top priority of leadership in both houses following heightened coverage of a rash of deaths of children in the welfare system, beginning early last summer and culminating with an extensive investigation by the Miami Herald.
SB 1666 “Child Abuse and Child Welfare Services” by Children, Families, and Elder Affairs; Sen. Sobel
Immediately following the passage of the child welfare reform bill, HB 7141 by the House Healthy Families Committee/SB 1724 by the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee was passed by the House and also now goes to the Governor for final approval. The legislation contains language to ensure that child trafficking victims in residential treatment facilities receive a variety of services, including:
The bill was amended on the floor of the Senate by Senator Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) to add several provisions appropriating funds related to improving the child welfare system (as provided by SB 1666), including:
A strike all amendment added during an earlier committee meeting had removed all provisions for the “secure safe house” pilot program, which could have detained certain child victims of human trafficking against their will for up to 10 months. During committee meetings, several child advocates testified that the policy would further victimize these children.
HB 989 by Rep. Carlos Trujillo (R-Doral)/SB 768 by Sen. Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens) was passed unanimously by the legislature on the final day of session and now goes to the Governor for final approval. Specifically, the bill:
The Legislature passed an omnibus transportation bill, HB 7005, on Friday that contains a section that will require the words “Sexual Predator” to appear on the driver’s licenses of sexual violent predators. The provision also contains language that will terminate parental rights for convicted sexual predators and require them to register with a designation as such.
Motor Vehicle Insurance and Driver Education for Children in Care
This week, the legislature passed a bill that would establish a statewide pilot program to pay for the costs of driver’s education, licensure, the costs incidental to licensure, and motor vehicle insurance for a child in licensed out-of-home care. HB 977 by Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow)/SB 744 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) was passed unanimously by the Senate early in morning on the last day of session, and then later in the afternoon by the House on Friday, May 2. The day before, Sen. Detert added an amendment that reintroduced language that would create the three-year pilot program, which had been removed during an earlier House committee stop. Rep. Albritton stated at the time that the removal of the bill’s most important components were necessary to keep it moving through the legislative process, but he hoped that the bill’s major provisions could eventually be restored. The bill now goes to the Governor for final approval.
Attorneys for Dependent Children with Disabilities
HB 561 by Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami)/SB 972 by Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) was approved on a 36 to 0 vote by the full Senate on Wednesday, April 30. The bill, which had passed the House last week, now goes to the Governor for final approval. The legislation will provide $4.1 million to require the appointment of an attorney to represent dependent children with disabilities.
SB 260 by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater)/HB 203 by Rep. Daniel Raulerson (R-Plant City) was passed by the House on April 22 and will go to the Governor for final authorization. The bill will allow certain unaccompanied youths to consent to medical, dental, psychological, substance abuse, and surgical diagnosis and treatment themselves.
CHILDREN’S SAFETY AND HEALTH
Child Safety Devices in Motor Vehicles
After 15 years, a bill that would require the use of booster seats for children was finally passed by the Senate on Tuesday, April 29, and now goes to the Governor for final approval. HB 225 by Rep. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville)/SB 518 by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) will require an approved child restraint device for all children between four and five years of age, unless the child is being transported by someone who is not a member of the child’s family. According to the staff analysis, only Florida and South Dakota still allow the use of adult seat belts without a booster seat for children younger than five years of age. The use of an adult belt without a booster seat (average cost less than $18) is not recommended as it fits these children improperly and, upon impact, may cause fatalities. Some children have been ejected through their still fastened adult belts, while others have had their spinal cords severed or spleens or intestines ruptured. In her closing remarks, Sen. Flores recognized Sen. Thad Altman (R-Melbourne), who had been the bill sponsor for many years prior.
Newborn Health Screening
The Senate unanimously passed HB 591 by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie)/SB 722 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) on Thursday, April 24. The House had approved the proposal unanimously nearly one month ago. The bill will allow the State Public Health Laboratory to release the results of a newborn’s hearing and metabolic tests, or screenings to the newborn’s health care practitioner, a term which is expanded to include a physician or physician assistant, osteopathic physician or physician assistant, advanced registered nurse practitioner, registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, midwife, speech-language pathologist or audiologist, or a dietician or nutritionist. The bill must now go to the Governor before becoming law.
Bills that would have allowed the children of legal immigrants, who have lived in the United States for less than five years, to be eligible for KidCare were not adopted this session. Both bills stalled largely due to the high and incorrect fiscal notes provided by the Agency for Health Care Administration, which thankfully have recently been corrected. Sen. Rene Garcia’s (R-Hialeah) SB 282 passed the Senate Health Policy Committee on March 25, while Rep. Jose Felix Diaz’s (R-Miami) HB 7 passed unanimously out of the Health Innovation Committee on February 11. The bills would have taken advantage of generous federal dollars to cover approximately 20,000 children who are currently not eligible for the state’s subsidized children’s health care program as result of having lawful residency status of less than five years, despite meeting all other eligibility requirements. Despite a number of erroneous bill analyses, Rep. Diaz was able to work with the various state agencies to reduce the estimated fiscal cost of the bill from approximately $28 million to $14 million. The myriad bipartisan organizations and groups supporting the bills are to be commended and are eager to see the bill pass next year.
Juvenile Justice, Chapter 985 Rewrite
HB 7055 by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Rep. Ray Pilon (R-Sarasota), which was substituted for SB 700 by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), passed the Senate on Monday, April 28, on a 38 to 0 vote. The bill now goes to the Governor for final approval. Following years of development, this legislation proposes a variety of changes to Chapter 985 of the Florida Statutes, relating to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, its duties, and its programs. The bill will incorporate and align themes of the Roadmap to System Excellence into Chapter 985, by focusing on prevention and rehabilitation, and pivoting away from the idea of punishment, to consequence and care. Some specific provisions of the bill include:
Juvenile Justice Education Programs
Provisions of SB 598 by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach)/HB 173 by Rep. Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach) passed as part of a large education bill, SB 850 on Friday, May 2. These provisions enhance transition services by requiring that local school districts, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice reentry personnel and local workforce personnel be part of a youth’s transition planning. They also require that school districts consider the needs of individual youth when they return to school, and enhance career and technical training. Additionally, the bills improve accountability, enhance access to virtual education, and require state and federal education dollars to follow the youth who generate them.
OTHER BILLS AFFECTING CHILDREN
Resident Status for Tuition Purposes
A bill that would allow undocumented immigrant students to receive in-state tuition at state colleges and universities was passed by the legislature this week. HB 851 by Rep. Jeanette Nunez (R-Miami)/SB 1400 by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) had faced stiff opposition from Senate leadership, but was eventually allowed to come to a floor vote, despite concerns last week that it would die in its final committee. During the extensive and emotional debate, Sen. Latvala estimated that about 1,300 individuals would qualify annually under this bill, while Sen. John Legg estimated that the bill would cost universities and colleges about $9 million in the first year. The Senate’s approval of the measure on Thursday, May 1, allowed the House to pass the amended bill the following day on May 2. Rep. Nunez’s bill had originally passed the full House with the strong support of Speaker Weatherford about six weeks ago. The bill now goes to the Governor, who has already announced his support of the legislation and intention to sign the bill into law.
Special Districts: Chapter 189 Reorganization
SB 1632 by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) and its companion, HB 1237 by Rep. Larry Metz (R-Groveland), passed the House unanimously on Monday, April 28. The Senate had approved it unanimously last week. The enrolled bill, which will now be sent to the Governor, proposes to reorganize Chapter 189 of the Florida Statutes into eight parts, as well as:
2014 BUDGET COMPARISON (BY LINE ITEM)
|HB 5001 (2014)
|SB 1500 ER (2013)
|Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK)
|Total Base Student Allocation (BSA)
|Partnership for School Readiness
|Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY)
|Early Learning Performance Funding Pilot Project
|Expand Help Me Grow Network
|University of Florida Lastinger Center Online Early Learning Professional Development System
|Early Learning Standards and Accountability
|Increase for VPK pre- and post- assessment
|Implement VPK accountability standards, as per s. 1002.67
|Total Early Learning Services
|Children’s Medical Services Network
|Total Children’s Special Health Care
|Therapeutic Services for Children
|Healthy Start Coalitions
|Healthy Start Services
|Early and Periodic Screenings for Children
|Developmental Evaluation and Intervention Services/Part C
|Developmental Evaluation and Intervention Services/Part C
|Communication/Autism Navigator to FSU College of Medicine through the Early Steps Program
|Total Medicaid Services to Individuals
|Total Medicaid and TANF
|Total AHCA Budget
|Child Abuse Prevention and Intervention (Healthy Families)
|Healthy Families Increase (net additional $2 million)
|Grants and Aids Child Protection
|Family Safety and Preservation Services Salaries and Benefits
|– Total Positions
|Grants to Sheriffs for Protective Services
|Guardian ad Litem
|Community Based Care
|Increase in case manager and case manager supervisor staffing, salaries, or recruitment and retention activities
|Increase in direct services for children and families to improve child protection and abuse prevention services
|Increase to serve the needs of children who are victims of sexual exploitation as defined through the screening assessment in HB 7141
|Miami-Dade County Foster and Adoptive Parent Association
|Total Family Safety and Preservation Services
|Children’s Action Teams for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
|Children’s Mental Health Services
|Purchased Residential Treatment Services for Emotionally Disturbed Youth
|Domestic Violence Program
|DCF Total Budget
|Children’s Medical Services
|Children’s Medical Services Network
|Medical Services for Abused/Neglected Children
|Total Children’s Special Health Care
|Children/Families In Need of Services (CINS/FINS)
|Juvenile Redirection Program
|DJJ Total Budget
|Mentoring/Student Assistance Initiatives
|Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID)
|Big Brothers and Big Sisters
|Boys and Girls Clubs
|Take Stock in Children
|YMCA State Alliance/YMCA Reads
|Daily, Afterschool Reading Instruction For The Lowest 300 Performing Schools
|APD Total Budget
|Total Budget (All Sections)
* Reduction in VPK spending reflects lower enrollment forecasts. No children will lose access to services.
** Reduction in Children’s Medical services reflects the migration to Medicaid as a result of Medicaid expansion for children. KidCare is fully funded.