News & Events

End of Session Report

The 2012 Legislative Session was punctuated by an early January start, the drawing of new district maps, uncertainty in the Senate over future leadership positions and a relatively low number of bills passed. Despite the unconventional session, legislators fulfilled their constitutional requirement to pass a budget for the next fiscal year, and ended session on time one minute before midnight this past Friday. However, legislators were required to report back to Tallahassee on Wednesday to begin work on drawing new Senate district maps following the Florida Supreme Court’s Friday ruling that found the Senate’s redistricting plan unconstitutional.

Slightly higher than last year, the $70 billion spending plan agreed to by both chambers includes more than $1 billion in funding for public education, a top legislative priority of Gov. Rick Scott. While education funding fared better than in previous years, deep cuts were made to health care services, and counties will be forced to pay the state millions of dollars in disputed Medicaid charges. Nonetheless, the budget picture for children, youth and family services is brighter this year with many reductions averted and funds restored to programs that suffered hefty cuts last year.

The majority of children’s programs remain funded at last year’s levels. In addition, funding for KidCare and Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) was increased to support additional enrollment in each of these programs. Given the nearly $2 billion budget deficit facing the Legislature this year, the increases to some programs and overall maintenance of funding is quite an accomplishment for child and family advocates.

In addition, the combined efforts of advocates across the state resulted in the successful defeat and reshaping of proposals that would have severely harmed support services for children and families. Key amongst this was the unified effort to stave off legislation that would have irrevocably altered the state’s early learning system by stripping it of educational standards and accountability for providers. Fierce advocacy yielded a much-improved bill that now includes pre- and post-assessments for school readiness and some flexibility for local Early Learning Coalitions.

Health care advocates were also able to convince the Senate to drop a proposal to shift hundreds of thousands of people enrolled in the MediPass program into Medicaid HMOs or other managed care plans. On the budget side, a proposed cut to the Road to Independence program, which provides support to former foster children, was stopped. Likewise, in the reorganization of the Department of Health, very detrimental proposals were changed to more acceptable ones.

The Children’s Budget

Children’s Programs Held Harmless; Some Programs Restored
Child advocates were instrumental in communicating to lawmakers the importance of programs that impact children and families, thereby preserving and restoring funding for several programs, including Healthy Start, Independent Living for youth aging out of the foster care system, and children’s mental health. Additionally, during budget negotiations, the Senate and House agreed on additional funding of $6.8 million to continue the Early Steps program, which helps children at risk of developmental delays become self-sufficient, productive citizens. Also, $2 million needed to make Healthy Families completely whole was found. After sustaining this cut last year, the Legislature agreed that the program (proven to be 98 percent effective in eliminating abuse and neglect among the high-risk families it serves) should not be further cut.

In addition, most of the juvenile justice system’s front end was held harmless with full funding for proven prevention programs, such as Children and Families in Need of Services (CINS/FINS), Intensive Delinquency Diversion Services (IDDS) and Juvenile Assessment Centers (JACs). Further, an additional $6 million was provided to expand the successful redirection program.

The budget provides $413.3 million, an increase of $28.7 million or 7.5 percent, for an expected additional 11,555 students. Unfortunately, the base student allocation remains the same at $2,383.

State & Local Revenues

Property Tax
CS/HB 107 – Special Districts by Economic Affairs Committee; Finance and Tax Committee; Community and Military Affairs Subcommittee; and Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Ft. Myers) and others/SB 192 by Budget Subcommittee on Finance and Tax; and Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) relating to special district merger and dissolution procedures is pending final approval by Gov. Scott.

This bill creates a new procedure that allows two or more contiguous independent special districts with similar functions and governing bodies to voluntarily merge. The bill allows merger proceedings to be initiated either by joint resolution of the governing bodies of each district or by a petition signed by 40 percent or more of the qualified electors in each district. The independent special districts must adopt a merger plan that outlines the specific components for the proposed merger which shall be subject to a public hearing and a voter referendum.

The bill states that a voluntary merger under the new procedure preempts any special act to the contrary, but that the procedure does not apply to independent special districts whose governing bodies are elected by district landowners voting for the acreage owned within the district.

This bill also provides that for voluntary dissolutions of independent special districts operating pursuant to a special act, the dissolution may be effectuated only by the Legislature. For all other dissolutions of independent special districts, a special act dissolving the district must be approved by a referendum. If the district meets the requirements for being considered “inactive,” no referendum is needed.

Statutory provisions addressing the merger of independent special fire control districts are repealed and the Department of Economic Opportunity is authorized to declare a special district inactive if the district’s governing body unanimously adopts a resolution declaring inactivity. If approved by the Governor, these provisions take effect July 1, 2012.

CS/HJR 93 and HB 95 by Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Temple Terrace) passed the Legislature and has gone to the Governor for final action. The constitutional amendment will be placed on the November 2012 ballot for voter consideration. If approved, the joint resolution proposes a state constitutional amendment to allow the Legislature to provide ad valorem homestead property tax relief to a surviving spouse of a military veteran who died from service-connected causes while on active duty or a surviving spouse of a first responder who died in line of duty. The implementing bill for the amendment, HB 95, also passed and was sent to the Governor.

CS/HJR 169/HB 357 by Rep. Jose Oliva (R-Miami) passed the House and Senate, and now makes its way to the Governor for final consideration. This constitutional amendment would give counties and cities the authority to provide additional property tax relief for low-income seniors.

CS/HJR 1003 by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (R-Orlando) passed the House by a 112-2 margin and the Senate by a 40-0 vote. This constitutional amendment will go before the voters on the November 2012 ballot. If passed, it would provide an additional property tax exemption on tangible personal property valued at more than $25,000 but less than $50,000. It also authorizes counties and cities to provide additional tangible personal property tax relief for businesses.

HB 7087 by the House Finance & Tax Committee is an omnibus economic development package passed by the Legislature this session. Included in the legislation is a “sales tax holiday” that provides for a three-day sales tax break for back to school shoppers from Aug. 3-5. Shoppers would not pay sales tax on clothing, shoes and textbooks valued at $75 or less, and on school supplies at $15 or less. The Governor is expected to sign the legislation.

Last week, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford ruled that the law requiring members of the Florida Retirement System (FRS) to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to the pension fund was unconstitutional. The state has said it will appeal the ruling. However, if upheld, the state would need to repay and replace the nearly $2 billion in savings achieved through last year’s legislation. If lawmakers are forced to take this money from reserves, it could have a negative fiscal impact next session.

This session also included the passage of additional legislation affecting the FRS. HB 5005:

  • Reduces the employer share of retirement allocation into the investment plan and employer contributions into the optional retirement plans to align with the actuarial normal costs determined in the July 1, 2011, valuation.
  • Accounts for an increase to the normal costs of the Florida Retirement System that is necessary to adequately fund the program.

Early Learning/Child Care

The Early Learning budget was held harmless and, despite early opposition, funding to continue the development of the Early Learning Information System (ELIS) was provided. The system will play an important role in ensuring increased provider accountability and payments. In addition, funding for the Teacher Education and Compensation Helps (T.E.A.C.H.) program was maintained.

Office of Early Learning (OEL)
The final early learning bill that passed is a huge deviation from the four bills originally filed that could have ultimately dismantled the entire system. The Florida Children’s Council’s top three priorities of screening, assessment and curriculum were all preserved in the final bill. Overall, the changes and modifications to current law preserve educational and accountability requirements, and the potential limits to quality spending put into place have the greatest flexibility possible. Though this was a much-improved piece of legislation, child advocates remain concerned about the caps on quality expenditures, and the impacts to school-age children. If the bill becomes law, it will take effect July 1, 2012.

Specifics on the legislation are provided below.

House Bill 5103: School Readiness Programs

  • Prioritizes services to eligible children from birth to kindergarten.
  • Requires definitions for expenditures and reports for direct expenditures for services to children, administrative costs, non-direct expenditures and quality.
  • Requires the OEL to adopt a list of approved curricula, identify a pre-assessment and post-assessment, adopt a statewide standardized contract to be used by coalitions with each school readiness provider, coordinate with other agencies to perform data matches on individuals or families participating in the school readiness program and submit annually a recommended allocation of funds to the School Readiness Allocation Conference including payment rates, parent co-payment percentages and the Gold Seal premium rate percentage.
  • Revises procurement requirements and requirements for the expenditure of funds by early learning coalitions.
  • Requires coalitions to merge if they are unable to comply with expenditure requirements.
  • Allows the OEL to provide a waiver for merging coalitions for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 years if justification for excess expenditures are provided.
  • Incorporates existing licensing guidelines which are identified in other areas of statute.
  • Revises the eligibility criteria for the enrollment of children in the school readiness program and provides the following priorities by which children are enrolled:
    • First priority is a child under 13 from a working family receiving Temporary Cash Assistance for Needy Families also known as TANF;
    • Second priority is an at-risk child under 9;
    • Third priority is a child under 6 from an economically disadvantaged family, and children younger than 6 who are disabled;
    • Fourth priority is a child ages 9 through 13 who is a sibling of a younger child in the school readiness program through the at-risk provision;
    • Fifth priority is a child ages 6 through 13 who is a sibling of a younger child in the school readiness program through the economically disadvantaged provision; and
    • Last priority is for a child who is also concurrently enrolled in the Head Start and VPK programs.
  • Requires the OEL to submit by May 31, 2012, a recommended allocation of school readiness program funds, including standardized provider payment rates, Gold Seal premium rate percentage, and a parent co-payment percentage to the School Readiness Allocation Conference for review.
  • Requires quarterly recalculation of the funding allocations by the OEL.
  • Deletes provisions for the establishment of an allocation formula by the OEL.
  • Defines and limits expenditures for administrative activities, quality activities and non-direct activities.
  • Provides for fraud investigations and provides penalties for school readiness providers and parents who knowingly submit false information related to child eligibility and attendance in a school readiness program.
  • Creates the School Readiness Allocation Conference, whose duties are to review allocation recommendations by the OEL.
  • Establishes a due date for school readiness providers to submit market rates to be used as part of the prevailing market rate schedule.

Healthy Children

Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Children’s mental health programs were fully funded, and adult mental health and substance abuse programs were eventually funded at continuing levels. The Director of Substance Abuse position in the Department of Children and Families (DCF) was also preserved.

The final budget contains the restoration of funds in the DCF budget as follows:

  • $6.9 million for children’s substance abuse services
  • $8.1 million for community adult substance abuse services
  • $3.6 million for children’s mental health services
  • $24.3 million for community adult mental health services
  • $3 million for County Criminal Justice Grants (adult community adult mental health services)

KidCare – Budget
Highlights of the KidCare budget according to the Florida Healthy Kids (HK) Corporation include:

  • A $4.6 million increase to fund 4 percent growth (an additional 11,600 children)
  • Funds for premium adjustments that will permit Healthy Kids to reach an anticipated medical loss ratio of 85 percent in its next health plan contract year
  • Provides a dental rate adjustment of up to 5 percent in the next contract year
  • Extends subsidized coverage to dependants of state employees 

Legislation Impacting the Florida KidCare Program
HB 5301 – Medicaid Services incorporated stand-alone language from SB 510 by Sen. Nan Rich (D-Weston) to re-establish KidCare eligibility requirements for children of public employees who meet other eligibility requirements. The bill also directs the DCF and the AHCA to work together to develop a single system of eligibility determination for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program.

SB 1294 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) would have provided coverage and a federal match for an additional 20,550 immigrant children who are lawfully residing in Florida and otherwise eligible for the KidCare program. Despite passing unanimously in the Senate Health Regulation Committee, the bill died and similar language was never heard in the House.

Department of Health Reorganization
After a three-year effort to revamp the Department of Health (DOH) and institute changes, the House passed Rep. Matt Hudson’s DOH reorganization bill (HB 1263) aimed at creating a more streamlined, efficient agency. An initial version of the bill drew criticism because it shifted many public health responsibilities and thousands of jobs from the state to counties; however, that provision was later removed. Many advocates acknowledge that the final version of this bill no longer does the damage to the DOH it originally did and provides protections for the Children’s Medical Services Network, child protection teams and poison control unit. However, the bill does remove many duties of the state’s surgeon general, including being the leading voice on wellness and disease prevention and promotion of healthy lifestyles.

Child Welfare

The Legislature provided full funding for Community-Based Care Core Services, including $16 million in Maintenance Adoption Subsidies. Additional funding for child protection investigators was also provided.

Road to Independence Program
A proposed $11.6 million cut to the Road to Independence program was taken off the table toward the end of session. This program, which provides support for young adults aging out of Florida’s foster care system, will remain available to eligible recipients until age 23 as the measure to limit participation to age 21 was shelved. Rep. Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) was instrumental in maintaining this appropriation.

Extended Foster Care/Education
SB 434 by Sen. Nan Rich (D-Weston) failed to pass the House after being approved by a 39-0 margin in the Senate. The bill would have tightened oversight of funds for young people aging out of foster care, provided them with education advocates to ensure their money is well-spent, and attempted to keep youth in their original schools when at all possible. It would have also guaranteed that credits would transfer with high school students if it becomes necessary for them to move schools. Furthermore, this bill would have provided that youth turning 18 be given the option to stay in “extended foster care” until the age of 21.

Child Protection
CS/CS/HB 803 by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) passed the House on a 119-0 vote and the Senate by 39-0. The bill makes substantial changes to various provisions in statutes relating to child abuse, the Florida Abuse Hotline, child protective investigations, and the dependency process. It redesigns the process of child protective services by strengthening the investigation process, streamlining activities and providing a more focused framework for on-going services to be provided. If approved by the Governor, these provisions take effect July 1, 2012.

Specifically, the bill:

  • Enables the central abuse hotline to accept a call from a parent or legal custodian seeking assistance for themselves when the call does not meet the statutory requirement of abuse, abandonment or neglect;
  • Allows the DCF to discontinue an investigation if it is determined that a false report of abuse, abandonment or neglect has been filed;
  • Requires the department to maintain one electronic child welfare case file for each child;
  • Requires child protective investigators (CPIs) to determine the need for immediate consultation with law enforcement personnel, child protection teams, and others prior to the commencement of an investigation;
  • Eliminates the current bifurcated investigative process and provides for a single procedure for every case accepted for investigation;
  • Requires that monitoring of protective investigation reports are used to determine the quality and timeliness of safety assessments, and teamwork with other professionals and engagement with families;
  • Makes changes to the protective injunction process to prevent child abuse and to mirror language in the civil injunction process;
  • Amends requirements relating to criminal background and records checks for individuals being considered for placement of a child;
  • Amends provisions relating to termination of parental rights that apply to incarcerated parents;
  • Provides specific circumstances in which the court may order maintaining and strengthening families as a permanency goal in a child’s case plan when the child resides with a parent; and
  • Revises the number of times per year the Children and Youth Cabinet must meet (at least four times, but no more than six times per year).


  • Require that a petition for termination of parental rights contain facts supporting the allegation that the parents of the child are informed of the availability of private placement of the child with an adoption entity;
  • Remove legislative intent that all placements of minors for adoption be reported to the DCF;
  • Exempt adoption proceedings which were initiated under ch. 39, F.S., from the requirement to search the Florida Putative Father Registry if the search was previously completed;
  • Require the use of an adoption entity for all adoptions of minor children, unless the adoption is by a relative or stepparent;
  • Require that a newborn who tests positive for illicit or prescription drugs or alcohol, but who shows no other signs of child abuse or neglect, be placed in the custody of a licensed child placing agency;
  • Prohibit DCF from being involved with a properly surrendered newborn who tests positive for illicit or prescription drugs or alcohol, except when reasonable efforts to contact an adoption entity to take custody of the child fail;
  • Prohibit a court from ordering scientific testing until the court determines that a previously entered judgment terminating parental rights is voidable;
  • Prohibit a court from increasing contact between an adopted child and siblings, birth parents, or other relatives without the consent of the adoptive parents;
  • Prohibit an attorney from removing a child, who was voluntarily surrendered to the attorney, from a prospective adoptive home without a court order unless the child is in danger of imminent harm;
  • Revise the obligations and responsibilities of an unmarried biological father seeking to assert his parental rights with regard to his child;
  • Require a court to permit an adoption entity to intervene in a dependency case and outlines the responsibilities of the adoption entity throughout the proceedings;
  • Authorize the prospective adoptive parents to waive receipt of certain medical records;
  • Outline the duties of the court when considering a petition for termination of parental rights and, when the petition has been denied, providing for placement of the child;
  • Place restrictions on advertisements offering a minor for adoption or seeking a minor for adoption and establish criminal penalties for violations of the advertising restrictions;
  • Create the crime “adoption deception”; and
  • Clarify the rights and obligations of a volunteer mother involved in a preplanned adoption agreement.

Trafficking of Children
Passed by the House during the seventh week of session by a 116-0 vote, CS/CS/HB 99, the “Florida Safe Harbor Act,” by Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) eventually passed the Senate unanimously in the waning days of session. This bill amends definitions relating to abuse and sexual exploitation and requires the DCF to develop guidelines for serving sexually exploited children.
It is intended to provide a more coordinated response to address the child welfare service needs of sexually exploited children who are dependent. Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) played a significant role in getting this legislation passed through the Senate via her companion bill, SB 202. If approved by the Governor, the following provisions will take effect January 1, 2013.

  • Requires a law enforcement officer who takes into custody a child alleged to be dependent for whom there is also probable cause to believe that he or she has been sexually exploited to deliver the child to the DCF;
  • Provides a process for the assessment and placement of sexually exploited children in a safe house, if available;
  • Provides for placement updates to the court during judicial review hearings;
  • Provides for data collection relating to these placements by the DCF;
  • Provides for services for sexually exploited children residing in a safe house;
  • Provides that training for law enforcement officers who might encounter sexually exploited children is permissive;
  • Increases the civil penalty for crimes related to prostitution from $500 to $5,000 and specifies that the difference in the increase, to be paid to the DCF, be used to fund safe houses as well as short-term safe houses; and
  • Provides that a victim of child sexual exploitation shall be eligible for victim compensation.

Human Trafficking
HB 7049 by Rep. Bill Synder (R-Stuart) updates and enhances Florida legislation first passed in 2004 to criminalize human trafficking. Passed unanimously by the Senate and House, the bill has been sent to the Governor. If signed into law, the following provisions will take effect July 1, 2012.

  • Adds violations to the jurisdiction of the Office of Statewide Prosecution and statewide grand jury;
  • Adds additional offenses to the list of sexual predator and offender qualifying offenses;
  • Creates additional offenses relating to human trafficking;
  • Increases criminal penalties for certain offenses;
  • Provides for forfeiture of property used, attempted to be used, or intended to be used in violation of specified human trafficking provisions;
  • Increases criminal penalties for human smuggling;
  • Revises provisions relating to the selling or buying of minors for sex trafficking or prostitution;
  • Provides additional authorization for interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications; and
  • Ranks offenses on a sentencing guidelines chart.

Protection of Vulnerable Persons
CS/CS/CS/HB 1355 sponsored by Rep. Chris Dorworth (R-Heathrow)/SB 1816 by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Wellington) and strongly supported by state attorneys, addresses known or suspected physical, emotional and sexual abuse of a child. It was passed by the House unanimously and by the Senate on a 35-4 vote. The bill, which will go into effect on October 1, 2012 if approved by the Governor, will:

  • Require that any report of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect by a person other than a child’s caregiver, as defined in statute, must be accepted by the Florida Abuse Hotline, maintained by the DCF and forwarded to the appropriate sheriff’s office;
  • Require the DCF to enable the hotline to accept reports of known or suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect through web-based chat;
  • Direct DCF to conduct a study on the feasibility of adding text and short message service formats as a means for the hotline to accept and process reports of abuse;
  • Direct the DCF to update the web-based reporting form for the hotline to receive appropriate information and allow the department to assess need and the appropriate response to the need;
  • Require the DCF to partner with community-based organizations and public service campaigns to promote public awareness of the hotline;
  • Appropriate 47 full-time equivalent staff and $2.44 million to the DCF to handle additional workload for the hotline;
  • Impose a $1,000,000 fine on public and private colleges, universities and schools whose personnel or law enforcement agencies fail to report certain child abuse taking place on campus or at an event or function sponsored by the college, university, or school;
  • Require the DCF to develop and implement a program to assist parents and custodians of children who call the hotline to seek assistance unrelated to a report of abuse or a crime involving a child;
  • Expand the scope of victims who are eligible to receive monetary relocation assistance to include a victim of sexual battery; and
  • Increase criminal penalties by reclassifying certain violations involving sexual conduct with minors.

Juvenile Justice

Following three years of cuts to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the agency will receive a $525.6 million budget for next year, which reflects a very slight increase of 0.07 percent ($345,000). The Department of Corrections – a big target of the Legislature – took a much bigger cut this year losing 5.4 percent ($117 million) next year.

Funding was held harmless for proven prevention programs such as Children and Families in Need of Services (CINS/FINS), Intensive Delinquency Diversion Services (IDDS) and Juvenile Assessment Centers (JACs).

Juvenile Justice Bills

Bills that passed:

Juvenile Detention
HB 5401 expands the definition of detention care to now include alternatives such as respite care. Instead of paying detention costs, counties would be required to pay the costs of respite care. This will provide the state with a net savings of $2 million.

Prekindergarten through Grade 12 Education Funding
HB 5101 requires school districts to provide discretionary local effort funds (up to the state average and/or state compression funding) for all juvenile justice education students. This amounts to additional funding of $100 to $400 per youth depending on the district.

Juvenile Justice
HB 173 allows the DJJ to pay up to $5,000 in funeral expenses for children who die in DJJ custody, and authorizes mother-infant programs.

Bills that failed:

Juvenile Justice Education
HB 949 passed in the House, was amended by the Senate and then died in returning messages on the final day of session. This bill would have improved the accountability and delivery of educational services to students within the DJJ, and created individualized transition plans.

Zero Tolerance
SB 1886 was passed on the Senate floor during the final week of session, but its House companion, HB 1445, never made it out of the House K-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee. This bill would have clarified current law to state that petty acts of misconduct and some misdemeanor offenses are not threats to school safety.

Juvenile Expunction
HB 497 passed the House and subsequently died in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. This bill would have allowed minors with certain felony arrests to expunge their non-judicial arrest record upon successful completion of pre- or post-arrest diversion programs.

Parole of Juvenile Offenders
HB 005 passed the House, but then died in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. This bill would have allowed juvenile offenders who were 18 when they committed a non-homicide offense, but who were sentenced to life imprisonment, to be eligible for resentencing if they have been incarcerated for the minimum period.

Other Issues

Background Screenings
A comprehensive background screening bill passed both chambers unanimously. Among other things, the bill exempts volunteers, relatives, physicians, nurses and other professionals licensed by the DOH from Level 2 background screenings, and requires LiveScan vendors to meet certain standards. The bill also creates a new, cutting-edge background screening clearinghouse that must be up and running by September 2013. If approved by the Governor, the following provisions take effect upon becoming law:

  • Creation of the Care Provider Background Screening Clearinghouse (Clearinghouse) to create a single “program” of screening individuals and will allow for the results of criminal history checks of persons acting as covered care providers to be shared among the specified agencies;
  • Exemption of the following from screening or rescreening: mental health personnel working in hospitals with less than 15 hours of direct contact with adult patients per week in a hospital; Certified Nursing Assistant applicants who have successfully passed background screening within 90 days of applying for certification; law enforcement officers who work or volunteer in summer camps and other facilities such as foster group homes and residential child-caring agencies; and certain volunteers, relatives of clients, and attorneys who provide services through a direct service provider that has a contractual relationship with the Department of Elder Affairs;
  • Requirement that electronic fingerprinting vendors use technology systems that are compliant with the systems used by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement;
  • Allowing employers to hire an employee for training and orientation before the screening is complete, provided the employee does not have any contact with clients until successful completion of the screening; and
  • Creation of background screening requirements related to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation within the Department of Education.

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