News & Events

Week 2

Week 2 – January 22, 2016


The second week of session saw many bills of interest to child care advocates moving through the process. Among those were bills relating to Early Steps, Child Welfare, Civil Citation and Diversion Programs, Human Trafficking, and Telehealth.

This week a number of leadership priorities relating to water policy, a priority for House Speaker Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) and issues related to persons with disabilities (also known as persons with unique abilities) a priority for Senate President Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) were also signed into law by the Governor on January 21.

Earlier in the week, the Legislature received the latest economic forecast for 2016. The forecast reduced the estimate of how much lawmakers will have to spend by nearly $400 million. Much of the discussion centered on how the Legislature will address Governor Scott’s push for $1 billion in tax cuts and increased spending on incentives to attract businesses to Florida, while also setting unprecedented funding levels for K-12 education.

It is expected that the appropriations process will officially begin next week when the House of Representatives initiates discussion on details of its budget plan. Reportedly, budget subcommittees are scheduled to meet January 28 to review the details of their portions of the budget. A complete draft budget, including conforming and implementing legislation, will be published on January 29. The full Appropriations Committee will debate and vote on the budget on February 3. The budget is then scheduled to be debated and voted on the House floor on February 10 and 11.

The Senate is on a similar timeline. Subcommittees will meet next week, with the full Appropriations Committee expected to take up the budget during the fourth week of session. It is anticipated that the Senate spending plan will be taken up by the full Senate during the fifth week of session.


Early Learning Bills 

A bill, HB 7053 to bring Florida into statutory compliance with new federal requirements for the School Readiness program was filed by the House Education Committee. This bill was previously heard as a proposed committee bill in the House Education Committee in December. The next and final committee of reference for the House bill is the Education Appropriations Committee. A Senate version of the bill is anticipated to be filed by the Senate Education Appropriations Committee shortly.

School Readiness Investment Report

As Florida continues to position itself as a leader in education; proper funding for early learning remains an issue. Ensuring children have a strong educational foundation and the opportunity to start school ready for success is critical. A new report, Early Learning Cost Modeling Analysis: Implications for Florida Policy, released by the Early Learning Consortium in partnership with key contributors revealed that Florida’s School Readiness Program has the sixth lowest payment rates in the nation for infants and toddlers and seventh lowest for preschoolers.

The report revealed that early learning providers have financial operating deficits when they implement high quality programs with lower adult to child ratios. With low reimbursement rates, businesses are generally only able to provide the most basic early learning programs. As a result, high quality providers that do not receive financial incentives such as those provided by some Children’s Services Councils and United Ways can only serve a limited number of School Readiness children.

Overall, the purpose of the analysis was to identify the fiscal impact of different strategies to improve early learning program quality; determine ways in which current policies impact the ability of early learning programs to improve program quality; and to carefully develop policy recommendations that factor in the costs of businesses.

Child Care Personnel  

CS/HB 1125 by the Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee and Rep. Charles McBurney (R-Jacksonville) prohibits the Department of Children and Families (DCF) from granting exemptions for employment as child care personnel to persons who have been identified as a sex offender, convicted of a felony or convicted of a violent misdemeanor. The bill passed the Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee on January 20, 2016. The Senate companion, SB 1420 by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) is scheduled to be heard in the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee on January 27, 2016.

Reading Instruction

A bill HB 7021 relating to reading instruction was filed by the K-12 Subcommittee, with a Senate companion, SB 1068 filed by Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz). In the last decade, Florida made significant strides in increasing reading proficiency of third graders. However, in recent years, proficiency has leveled off and 40 percent of students are not reading at or above grade level. The bill will increase access to specialized training for teachers to support struggling readers. Among the provisions are those that:

  • Extend the early warning system coverage to students in kindergarten through grade 5, and specify that a substantial reading deficiency is an indicator for students in kindergarten through grade 3.
  • Require prekindergarten instructors to receive training in explicit, systematic, and multi-sensory reading instruction, and require VPK program providers to provide specialized reading instruction to students who exhibit a deficiency in emergent literacy skills.

HB 7021 passed the Education Appropriations Subcommittee on December 1, and the next and final committee stop is the Education Committee. SB 1068 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee on January 27.


Florida KidCare Program

HB 89 by Rep. Jose Diaz (R-Miami) 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, is awaiting action by the next committee of reference, the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee. HB 89 extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid eligibility to a “lawfully residing child” who meets other eligibility qualifications of the program. The bill specifies that the statutory changes do not extend KidCare program eligibility or Medicaid eligibility to undocumented immigrants. The Senate companion, SB 248 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Miami) is awaiting a hearing in the full Senate Appropriations Committee (the last stop before heading to the Senate floor).

TAKE ACTION: Please thank Speaker Crisafulli for making KidCare a House priority, and Rep Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) and Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) for continuing to champion the KidCare bills. Please ask your state Senators and House Members to co-sponsor the bills, if they have not done so already.

Early Steps Program

HB 943 by Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R-Venice) passed favorably in the House Health Quality Subcommittee on January 19. The bill renames the “Infants and Toddlers Early Intervention Program” as the “Early Steps Program”, sets accountability standards and revises requirements for the Department of Health (DOH) to maintain a clearinghouse of information for parents and health care providers on developmental evaluation and early intervention programs. The bill also requires development of an individual family support plan for each child served in the program.

SB 7034 by the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs is now awaiting a hearing in the full Senate Appropriations Committee (the last stop before Senate floor action). It is expected that the bills will be amended soon to expand eligibility to serve more children.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

SB 12 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) addresses the current system of behavioral health services. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services on January 26. The bill provides for mental health services for children, parents and others seeking custody of children involved in dependency court proceedings. The bill creates a coordinated system of care to be provided either by a community or a region for those suffering from mental illness or substance use disorder through a “No Wrong Door” system of single access points. The Agency for Health Care Administration (“the agency” or “AHCA”) and the Department of Children and Families (“the department” or “DCF”) are directed to modify licensure requirements to create an option for a single, consolidated license to provide both mental health and substance use disorder services.

Additionally, the agency and the department are to develop a plan to increase federal funding for behavioral health care. The bill directs that a transportation plan be developed and implemented in each county or group of counties. To the extent possible, the bill aligns the legal processes, timelines and processes for assessment, evaluation and receipt of available services of the Baker Act (Mental Illness) and Marchman Act (Substance Abuse) to assist individuals in recovery and reduce readmission to the system.

The duties and responsibilities of the managing entities are also revised and updated. Each managing entity is to conduct a community behavioral health care needs assessment in their geographic region which must include the information needed by the department for its annual report to the Governor and the Legislature. The bill is expected to improve primary behavioral services and reduce post-partum depression.

A related House bill, HB 979 by Rep. Kathleen Peters (R-St. Petersburg) was workshopped in the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee on January 13. Another similar bill, SB 1336 by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) is awaiting action in the Children, Families and Elder Affairs.

Dental Program for Medicaid Eligible Children

SB 580 by Sen. Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) relating to reimbursement for Dental Hygiene Services for Children, is awaiting action in the full Appropriations Committee. CS/SB 580 authorizes the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) to reimburse a health access setting under the Medicaid program for remedial dental services (remedial tasks) delivered by a dental hygienist when provided to a Medicaid recipient younger than 21 years of age.

The House companion, CS/HB 595, by Rep. Rene Plasencia (R-Orlando) is scheduled to be heard in the Health and Human Services Committee on January 21.

Prepaid Dental Plans

SB 994 by Sen. Joe Negron (R-Palm City) is scheduled to be heard in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services on January 26. The bill removes dental services from the list of minimum benefits that Managed Medical Assistance (MMA) plans must provide, effective March 1, 2019. Instead, effective July 1, 2017, AHCA must implement a statewide Prepaid Dental Health Plan (PDHP) program for children and adults, and begin enrollment by March 1, 2019. AHCA must contract with at least two licensed dental managed care providers through a competitive procurement process to provide dental benefits. AHCA is authorized to seek any necessary state plan amendment or federal waivers to implement the statewide PDHP program. The bill requires AHCA to prepare a comprehensive report on dental services which must examine the effectiveness of the managed care plans in providing dental care, improving access to dental care and dental health, and achieving satisfactory outcomes for recipients and providers. The bill authorizes the Legislature to use the findings of the report to establish the scope of minimum benefits under the MMA program for future procurements of eligible plans; specifically, the Legislature may use the findings of the report to determine whether dental benefits should be benefits under the MMA program or be provided separately.

The House companion, HB 819 by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) is awaiting action in the Health and Human Services Committee.


HB 7087 (formerly SCAHA 16-01) by the Select Committee on Affordable Healthcare Access and Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater) relating to the use of telehealth to provide health care services passed the Committee on January 21, 2016. The bill authorizes Florida licensed health care professionals to use telehealth to deliver health care services within their respective scopes of practice. The bill also authorizes out-of-state health care professionals to use telehealth to deliver health care services to Florida patients if they register with the Department of Health (DOH) or the applicable board, meet certain eligibility requirements, and pay a fee.

Food Deserts

CS/SB 760, by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) directs the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to establish a program to provide financing to retailers to construct, rehabilitate, or expand grocery stores in underserved communities in low and moderate income areas. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government on January 26, 2016. The House companion CS/HB 153 by Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona) is awaiting action by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Child Passenger Safety – Booster Seats

HB 7063 by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) includes language exempting child care facilities or child care providers from the child restraint (booster seat) law for children aged 4 through 5 years when a seat belt is used. The bill passed favorably in the Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee on January 19 and now heads to the Economic Affairs Committee. Similar language is included in the Senate companion, SB 1394 by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg). The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee on January 27, 2016.

The safety of children is imperative and therefore a significant priority for the Florida Children’s Council and Children’s Services Councils. The Councils are committed to working toward constructive solutions that ensure the safety of young children without creating difficult financial hardships for child care providers or public schools.

TAKE ACTION: Both the Senate and House bills will be up in committee next week. Please help educate the committee members listed in the links below on the importance of child safety in motor vehicles for 4 and 5 year olds. An adult seat belt alone does not fit these young children properly, and is not safe.

HB 7063 on Economic Affairs Committee

SB 1394 on Transportation Committee Agenda – January 27, 1 PM, 37 S


SB 7018 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) is awaiting action in its last stop before floor action, the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill requires DCF, in collaboration with certain stakeholders, to develop a continuum of care for children in the child welfare system. This continuum of care must be a complete range of placement options, programs, and services for children served by, or at risk of being served by, the dependency system. The continuum of care requires a quality rating system for residential group care as well as an annual report.

The bill creates a new section of law that requires an initial assessment whenever a child has been determined to need an out-of-home placement to aid in guiding the child into the least restrictive placement and help determine any services needed. The bill also requires an in-depth assessment to be completed for each child placed in out-of-home care to supplement the initial assessment and further determine service and placement needs.

The bill creates permanency teams that are required to review out-of-home placements for certain children who have historically faced barriers to permanency. The bill also outlines the intervention services to be provided by lead agencies.

HB 599 by Rep. Neil Combee (R-Auburndale) and Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) was reported favorably in the Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee on January 20, 2016.

Adoption and Foster Care

CS/CS/SB 590 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) revises the circumstances under which an adoption consent is valid, binding, and enforceable. The bill was voted favorably in the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on January 20 and placed on the Special Order Calendar for a full Senate vote on January 28. The bill also requires the court to consider a child’s best interest when changing a placement rather than the appropriateness of the placement. The bill requires courts in all dependency proceedings to advise the parent who is a party to the case at the arraignment hearing of the right to participate in a private adoption plan. The House companion, CS/HB 673 by Rep. Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach) is awaiting action in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

CS/SB 860 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) that designates the second week of February of each year as “Foster Family Appreciation Week” passed the Senate Rules Committee on January 20 and has been Placed on the Special Order Calendar for a full Senate vote on January 28, 2016. The House companion, HB 657 by Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow) is awaiting action in the Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.

Human Trafficking

CS/CS/HB 545 by Rep. Ross Spano (R-Riverview) removes persons under the age of 18 from being prosecuted for prostitution. The bill was voted favorably in the Judiciary Committee on January 21 and now heads for a vote by the full House. The bill makes correlating changes in ch. 39, F.S., relating to the definition of sexual abuse of a child concerning dependency, to reflect that sexually exploiting a child in prostitution should be viewed as human trafficking. The Senate companion, SB 784 by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on January 25, 2016.


Prosecution of Juveniles – Expunction of Juvenile Records

CS/CS/CS/HB 147 by Rep. Chris Latvala (R-Clearwater) provides for the nonjudicial expunction of a criminal history of offense after a specified period for a minor who is not a serious or habitual juvenile offender.

The bill is awaiting full House action. The bill requires all records related to minors who are not classified as serious or habitual juvenile offenders (non-serious juvenile offenders) to be automatically expunged when the minor reaches the age of 21, provided the specified exceptions do not apply.

The bill also permits non-serious juvenile offenders to apply to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to have their record expunged earlier than age 21.  A diversion program is authorized to provide for the expunction of a juvenile’s arrest record upon successful completion of the diversion program. The Senate companion, CS/SB 386 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) is scheduled for final passage by the Senate on January 28.

TAKE ACTION: Please call your State Senator and ask them to support this good bill. We greatly appreciate every single call you can make.

Civil Citations and Diversion Programs

HB 7085 (formerly PCB CRJS 16-06) by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Rep. Carlos Trujillo (R-Doral) relating to juvenile civil citation and similar diversion programs was voted favorably in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on January 19. The bill requires the establishment of civil citation or similar diversion programs for juveniles; provides definitions; and, specifies program eligibility, participation, and implementation requirements.

Rep.  Sharon Pritchett (D-Miramar) presented the committee bill on behalf of Chair Carlos Trujillo (R-Doral) who had an excused absence. To date, this is the only committee of reference for the bill before it heads to the floor. Several members expressed their concerns about removing the authority of law enforcement to issue civil citations. Supporters included the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association; Statewide Office of Public Defenders, members of the faith community; and the Palm Beach County Youth Center which diverted 2,300 juveniles last year. Advocates asked that the list of offenses covered through civil citations include vandalism, trespassing, and loitering. The Sheriff’s Association opposed the bill on the grounds that it removed the authority of law enforcement to issue civil citations. Rep. Ross Spano (R-Riverview) in debate asked members to “display a little bit of mercy”. Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) shared his personal experience on the benefits of civil citation and commented that civil citation is clearly a better route to justice; well planned and proven; and addressed the “inequitable distribution of justice”.


Individuals with Disabilities

CS/HB 7003 by Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) establishes the Financial Literacy Program for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities within the Department of Financial Services (DFS). The bill was signed into law by the Governor January 21, 2016.

The bill addresses the employment and economic independence of individuals with disabilities. Specifically, the bill:

  • Modifies the definition of “developmental disability” to include Down syndrome;
  • Modifies the state’s equal employment policy to provide enhanced executive agency employment opportunities for individuals who have a disability;
  • Creates the Employment First Act, which requires certain state agencies and organizations to develop an interagency cooperative agreement to ensure a long-term commitment to improving employment outcomes for individuals who have a disability;
  • Creates the Financial Literacy Program for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (Literacy Program) within the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to promote economic independence and successful employment of individuals with developmental disabilities by providing information and outreach to individuals and employers; and
  • Creates the Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program (Partner Program) to recognize business entities that demonstrate commitment, through employment or support, to the independence of individuals who have a disability.

HB 1083 by Rep. Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) revises priority classifications for clients on the waiting list for Medicaid home and community-based waiver services. The bill passed the Health Care Appropriations Committee on January 20 and now heads to the Health and Human Services Committee. The bill allows individuals with developmental disabilities needing both waiver and extended foster care child welfare services to be prioritized in Category 2 of the waiver waiting list and, when enrolled on the waiver, to be served by both the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) and community-based care organizations.

The bill delineates responsibilities of the different entities providing services. The bill also permits waiver enrollment without first being placed on the waiting list for individuals who were on an Home and Community Based Service (HCBS) waiver in another state and whose parent or guardian is an active-duty military service member transferred into the state. The bill also permits waiver enrollees to receive increases in their allotted funding for services if the individual has a significant need for transportation to waiver-funded adult day training or employment services and has no other reasonable transportation options. Finally, the bill adds Down syndrome to the definition of “developmental disability.”

The Senate companion, SB 7054 by Children, Families and Elder Affairs passed the Committee on January 20.

Students with Disabilities

SB 672 by Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Destin) creates the “Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program Act” The bill was signed into law by the Governor on January 21. The bill establishes mechanisms for the approval of unique postsecondary education programs tailored to the needs of students with intellectual disabilities and the statewide coordination of information about programs for students with disabilities. The bill awards incentive payments to school districts and charter schools that implement district wide or school wide standard student attire policies applicable to students in kindergarten through grade 8. The bill also amends a number of provisions of the Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Account (PLSA) program to increase student access, tighten accountability, and streamline administration.

HB 585 by Rep. Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) requires school districts to provide instruction to homebound or hospitalized students. The bill is ready for a full House vote on January 26, 2016. Accordingly, the bill provides the state board with express rulemaking authority regarding instruction for homebound and hospitalized students, and clarifies that districts must provide instruction to eligible students in accordance with state board rule. The bill requires the school district in which a children’s specialty hospital is located to provide educational instruction to an eligible student until it enters into an agreement with the student’s school district of residence. The bill requires the Department of Education to develop a standard agreement for use by school districts to provide seamless educational instruction to students who transition between school districts while receiving treatment in a children’s specialty hospital. The Senate companion, SB 806 by Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz) was voted favorably in the Education Pre-K-12 Committee on January 20, and now heads to Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.


Children and Youth Cabinet

HB 241 by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) expands the total membership of the cabinet to 16 by adding a superintendent of schools who is appointed by the Governor. The bill passed its last committee of reference, the Education Committee on January 21. The bill also changes the title of the ninth member of the cabinet from “the director of the Office of Child Abuse Prevention” to “the director of the Office of Adoption and Child Protection.” The Senate companion, SB 500 by Sen. Bill Montford (D-Quincy) is scheduled to be heard in the Rules Committee on January 27.

Temporary Cash Assistance Program

HB 563 by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) adds proof of application for employment to eligibility requirements for receiving temporary cash assistance; decreases lifetime cumulative total time limit for receiving temporary cash assistance; and, adds proof of application for employment to work activity requirements for participation in the temporary cash assistance program. The bill passed the Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee on January 20, 2016. The Senate companion, SB 750 by Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) was temporarily postponed in the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee on January 14.

Child Pornography

HB 7055 by Rep. Ross Spano (R- Riverview) which repeals existing provisions relating to child pornography is awaiting action in the Judiciary Committee. “Morphing” refers to a process in which a computer user distorts or transforms one picture into another. It is a relatively simple technique using inexpensive and readily available software. In recent years, individuals have used this technique to create “morphed” child pornography (e.g., images depicting sexually explicit conduct in which an actual child’s head has been superimposed onto an adult’s body).  Unlike the federal statutes, Florida’s child pornography laws are not as specific in addressing morphed child pornography. As a result, Florida courts have determined that persons who possess, distribute or transmit such images may not be held criminally liable. The Senate companion, SB 1396 by Sen. Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington) is awaiting action in the Criminal Justice Committee.

Children’s Week – January 24-29 

Children’s Week brings together many non-profits at the Capitol under “One Voice” to support children’s issues and advocate for the full spectrum of children’s services and needs. Local coordinators also plan and implement various events in their communities to symbolize the unity of Florida’s statewide child advocacy efforts.

Children’s Week has also unified more than 200 community events and activities statewide, bringing thousands of parents, children, legislators, professionals, community leaders and concerned citizens together to share valuable knowledge and information about children’s issues in each community across the state.

Our warm and very enthusiastic congratulations go out to Modesto “Mo” E. Abety, founding president/CEO of The Children’s Trust and the winner of the 2016 Chiles Advocacy Award.

Awarded annually during Children’s Week to a Floridian who has dedicated his or her life to improving the lives of our children and families – and who has successfully engaged others to follow suit – the winner of the Chiles Advocacy Award exemplifies the integrity, dedication and commitment to public service for which we all strive.

Please click here  to see a complete schedule of events.

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