THE 2015 LEGISLATIVE SESSION KICKS OFF THIS WEEK
House Speaker Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) and Senate President Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) entered the legislative session Tuesday with a set of shared priorities as part of the “Work Plan 2015” that includes cutting taxes, crafting a water policy, finding permanent homes for children in the foster care system, boosting education spending, and increasing educational and job opportunities for persons with disabilities.
However, Speaker Crisafulli has additional plans to reform state and local government pensions, moving away from traditional pensions and toward 401(k) style plans, while President Gardiner announced his chamber’s interest in exploring the expansion of health care coverage for low income individuals in response to the fact that the Low Income Pool (LIP) Program will end this summer. LIP funds are used to reimburse hospitals and health care centers and clinics for the uncompensated care of the uninsured in the sum of $1.3 billion. With the additional state match, the amount is closer to $2 billion. However, federal funds intended for Medicaid Expansion would insure most of these residents, thereby reducing the need for LIP funds, which has already been extended one year.
Governor Rick Scott in his “State of the State Address” to the joint session of the legislature focused on his priorities: cutting taxes, jobs and workforce development and education, including an increased investment in K-12 system and making higher education more affordable.
Child advocates entered session hopeful that with anticipated budget surpluses, new funds might be allocated to restore services to children, youth and families. However, hopes were quickly dimmed with legislators’ increased realization that the end of the Low Income Pool (LIP) funds in June might create a $2 billion hole in the state budget, and that members may need to extend session or return for a special session to put the budget to rest.
EARLY LEARNING AND SCHOOL READINESS
Early Learning Bills Released
A bill to increase health and safety standards at early learning facilities was filed by the House Education Committee, HB 7017 and the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee, SB 7006, HB 7017 passed by the Education Committee and Senate Bill 7006 was passed by the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee and the Senate Community Affairs Committee. Overall, both bill versions increase the health and safety standards and personnel requirements for Voluntary Prekindergarten Programs Education (VPK) programs and School Readiness programs.
Specifically, the bills:
While the bills are substantively similar, an amendment by Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) was added in the Senate Community Affairs Committee that would allow school districts to create policies permitting families to enroll four-year-olds in kindergarten if the child is 4 years of age bySept. 1 of the school year and has achieved certain academic and social standards. Currently, kindergarten serves five-year-olds. The next committee stop in the Senate is the Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services.
In the House, Rep. Marlene O’Toole (R-Lady Lake) filed seven amendments that include technical amendments, changes to provider eligibility and termination, and revisions to the Child Care Executive Partnership program. The House has not yet assigned committees of reference.
Licensing of Facilities that Offer Health and Human Services
Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Duval) filed SB 210 and Rep. Lori Berman (D-Palm Beach) filed companion bill, HB 119 Relating to Licensing of Facilities that Offer Health and Human Services that propose to redefine the term “child care” to include a person or facility that does not receive compensation and redefines the term “child care facility” to include a child care center or child care arrangement that does not receive compensation and provides child care for more than four, rather than five, children unrelated to the operator.
Specifically the bills:
In the House, the bill passed favorably in the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee on February 10th and a committee substitute was filed on February 18th. The next committee of reference is the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.
In the Senate, the bill passed favorably in Children, Families and Elder Affairs on March 5th, and acommittee substitute was filed on March 6th. The next committee of reference is the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.
Pre- and Post-Assessment for Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program
SB 518 by Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) will revise provisions relating to calculation of the kindergarten readiness rate for Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Education Program providers and schools. It will also require the administration of a pre- and post-assessment of students based upon adopted performance standards. It requires the assessments to be administered by certain personnel and during certain time periods. Finally, it requires the Office of Early Learning to annually report to the State Board of Education certain student growth data. The bill is scheduled to be heard on March 11, 2015 in the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee.
The identical House companion, HB 483 by Rep. Mia Jones (D-Jacksonville) is awaiting a hearing in the House Subcommittee on Choice and Innovation.
Care of Children
HB 11 by Rep. Ray Pilon (R-Sarasota) and SB 250 by Sen. Chris Smith (D-Ft. Lauderdale), Care of Children exempts certain membership organizations from licensing requirements and minimum standards for child care facilities, and also provides for background screening requirements for organization employees under certain circumstances.
The submission of these bills have fostered a healthy debate and the possible need to review the Florida Administrative Code rules for Child Care Licensing in order to more accurately define the differences between birth-to-five child care and afterschool programming for 6-12 year olds.
HEALTH AND WELLNESS
Early Steps Program
The Early Steps Program, administered by the Florida Department of Health, provides critical services to approximately 43,000 children birth to 36 months with medical diagnoses such as Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and children with developmental delays. Last month, Early Steps providers were notified by the Department that $4.2 million would be cut from the remainder of the fiscal year’s budget. Legislative leaders voiced concerns, led by Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) that the proposed cuts will decimate direct services. DOH rescinded the cuts, but subsequently drastically cut program office staffing to reduce administrative/operating costs to nine percent. DOH commented that funds recouped from staff reduction will be funneled to direct services. However, Early Steps experts voiced concerns that the depth of the staff reductions (from 22 to 5) threatens the quality of services and programs, and could possibly jeopardize about $22 million out of the total $50 million in federal funding for the program.
The Surgeon General is scheduled to give a status report on Early Steps in Sen. Garcia’s Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee this coming Wednesday.
Florida KidCare Program
SB 294, sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia ( R-Hialeah) that would allow children of legal immigrants, who have been residing in the United States less than five years to be insured under the Florida KidCare program, passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services unanimously, on March 4, 2015. SB 294 extends Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) eligibility to a “lawfully residing child” who meets other eligibility qualifications of Medicaid or CHIP. The federal programs permit states to cover those in a 5-year waiting period, if the state elects to do so. The bill defines “lawfully residing child” which conforms to the federal program eligibility requirements and deletes references to “qualified alien.” The bill specifies that the statutory changes do not extend KidCare program eligibility or Medicaid eligibility to undocumented immigrants. The fiscal impact for the 2015-2016 fiscal year in recurring state General Revenue funds is $4,838,745. The next stop for SB 294 is the full Appropriations Committee before a full Senate vote. The House companion, HB 829, by Rep. Mike La Rosa (R-St. Cloud) is awaiting a hearing in the House Health Innovation Subcommittee.
For advocates of the bills, it is time to thank the sponsors for supporting children, contact your members to ask them to co-sponsor the bills, and also contact leadership of the committees noted to help get the bills heard.
Health Care Coverage Expansion
On March 4, 2015, the Senate Committee on Health Policy conducted a workshop and panel discussion on Health Care Coverage Options. The panelists included:
There was much discussion about the Indiana Medicaid Expansion Program, Florida’s health care options (public and private sectors), and impact of the federal cuts to the Low Income Pool (LIP) Program.
The following day, the Senate Committee on Health Policy filed Senate Proposed Bill 7044 relating to Health Insurance Affordability Exchange. The bill creates the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange Program or FHIX in the Agency for Health Care Administration. It provides patient rights and responsibilities; the development of a long-term reorganization plan, and the formation of the FHIX workgroup. It also removes certain Medicaid eligible persons from those for whom the agency may make payments for medical assistance and related services. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Health Policy Committee on March 10, 2015. There is no House companion to the proposed Senate bill. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) has reiterated his chamber’s continued opposition to Medicaid Expansion.Newborn Health Screening
SB 632 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) directs the Department of Health to establish requirements for newborn adrenoleukodystrophy, a test administered to newborns which identifies the presence of adrenoleukodystrophy, a disease of the central nervous system that is inherited as an X-linked recessive trait and characterized by blindness, deafness, tonic spasms, and mental deterioration. The bill also provides certain insurance and managed care coverage; provides an exemption; and provides for documentation of objections to screening by the parent or legal guardian. The bill has yet to be heard in its first committee, the Senate Committee on Health Policy.
The House companion, HB 403 by Rep. Mike LaRosa (St. Cloud), is awaiting hearing in the House Subcommittee on Health Quality.Dental Program for Medicaid Eligible Children
SB 350 by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) relates to a statewide Prepaid Dental Program for Medicaid-eligible Children. The bill has yet to be heard in its first committee, the Senate Committee on Health Policy. The bill:
The House companion, HB 601 sponsored by Rep. MaryLynn Magar (R-Hobe Sound) is scheduled to be heard in the House Health Innovation Subcommittee on March 10, 2015.
SB 610 by Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) passed the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously on March 2, 2015 and currently awaits action in the Senate Finance and Tax Committee. The bill provides an income tax credit for grocery businesses that sell nutrient-dense food items in areas designated as food deserts. It provides definitions, sets forth eligibility and application requirements, and establishes the amount of credit. The bill allows the Department of Revenue (DOR), in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), to adopt rules to administer the program. It requires DOR and DACS to review the program after 3 years for the purpose of recommending to the legislature whether it should be continued or eliminated. It provides criminal and administrative penalties for fraudulently claiming tax credits.
The House companion, HB 1107 by Rep. Larry Lee (D-Ft. Pierce) is awaiting committee references.