News & Events

Week 5

Week 5 – February 11, 2016


This past week the House and Senate passed their respective budget plans, thus setting the stage for the start of the budget conference process to negotiate differences in the weeks ahead. The two proposed budgets contain major differences, in part as the House budget includes the Governor’s full $1 billion proposed tax cut package, while the Senate includes about one quarter of that.

In the Senate Education Budget discussion, much of the debate focused on the proposed block granting of programs and services for afterschool and mentoring programs. The Senate included additional funding in the budget, and established criteria and a review panel to assess the merits of the applications. In the Senate Health Budget discussion, members engaged in passionate discussion about the shortfall in the Low Income Pool Funding (from $1 billion to $600 million) as the federal government continues to phase out this temporary program. Legislative approval of a new Seminole Compact that could generate about $3 billion over the next seven years will be key.

Child advocates are working hard to ensure that children’s programs are better funded. One such important program is Help Me Grow Florida. The goal of Help Me Grow is to promote healthy development for every child in our state. Launched following the 2014 legislative session, Help Me Grow currently operates 24-hour phone lines – in multiple languages – in 34 counties across Florida. Last year’s budget included approximately $1.9 million in recurring funds for Help Me Grow, with the Governor’s recommendation for 2016 at approximately $3.9 million, an amount that would take the program statewide. However, the House education budget has recommended level funding of approximately $1.9 million, while the Senate education budget has cut the Help Me Grow line item to just $100,000. Help Me Grow advocates from across the state have been working with both House and Senate members as this issue moves into conference.

Additional key budget priorities related to the early learning system include increases in the School Readiness program. The House has proposed an increase of $10 million, whereas the Senate has proposed a $5 million increase. To improve and sustain the quality of School Readiness early learning programs significant investments are needed; both to serve additional children at risk of school failure and to address the low payment rates for providers.

Another important budget priority is related to the TEACH program; providing scholarships to help child care teachers complete credentials. The House has included an additional $7 million in one time funds to support professionals with a scholarship to dramatically improve the level of specialized training of the workforce. These funds would increase the capacity of credentialed lead teachers in publicly funded programs.

Of equal importance is the opportunity to increase the per student allocation for the Voluntary PreK program.

This past week, many bills of interest for children and families moved through the process, including the Early Learning and Juvenile Justice bills. It is anticipated that HB 89, removing the 5 year waiting period for children of lawfully residing immigrant children will be heard on the House floor this coming week.


Early Learning – Child Care Development Block Grant

A bill, HB 7053 to bring Florida into statutory compliance with new federal requirements for the School Readiness program passed the full House on February 11 on a vote of 114:0. The bill provides for the draw down of federal block grant funding for subsidized child care, and directs the Office of Early Learning to develop (through rule making) quality standards for publicly-funded child care, including appropriate group size requirements. The Senate companion, SB 7058 by Education Pre-K-12 is awaiting action in Appropriations. A similar bill, SB 1166 relating to education funding by Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Destin) is awaiting action in the Appropriations Committee. The bill includes language relating to background screening and criminal background checks of child care personnel. SB 2502, the Implementing Bill for the 2016-2017 General Appropriations Act also includes language on child care block grant reauthorization. The bill passed the Senate on February 11 and was substituted for HB 5003, Implementing the 2016-2017 Appropriations Act.

Reading Instruction   

The rate of 3rd grade students performing below grade level in reading has consistently exceeded 40 percent over the past several years. SB 1068 attempts to address this situation by expanding public school reading requirements relating to interventions and instructional supports, teacher certification and training, and school improvement and accountability. However, this past Thursday the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education temporarily postponed the bill.


Florida KidCare Program

HB 89 by Rep. Jose Diaz (R-Miami) that would allow children of lawfully residing immigrants, who have been living in the United States less than five years to be insured under the Florida KidCare program is awaiting full House action this coming week. HB 89 extends 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 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). SB 2508, the Health Care Services budget conforming bill includes similar language. The bill passed the full Senate on February 11 and was substituted for  HB 5101 – Medicaid bill.

Early Steps Program 

SB 7034 by Children, Families, and Elder Affairs was temporarily postponed and retained on the Senate Special Order Calendar, still awaiting floor action. 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 the development of an individual family support plan for each child served in the program and expands eligibility to serve additional children. The House companion, HB 943 by Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R-Venice) is still awaiting action in the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee which is not scheduled to meet again.

TAKE ACTION: Click here to contact members of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee to let them know how important improvements to this important program are to you.

Children’s Medical Services

SB 1240 by Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) relating to Children’s Medical Services (CMS) eligibility and enrollment, passed the Health Policy Committee unanimously on February 9. The bill requires the Department of Health to use an appropriate assessment instrument to determine clinical eligibility for the CMS program. It also requires the department to provide notice to a parent or guardian of a child who has been determined clinically ineligible for the Children’s Medical Services program, of the parent’s or guardian’s appeal rights under ch. 120, F.S. The House companion, HB 1117 by Rep. Mia Jones (D-Jacksonville) is awaiting action in the Health Quality Subcommittee, and will likely not be heard this session.


SB 7087 by the Select Committee on Affordable Healthcare Access and Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater) that provides practice standards and registration requirements to provide telehealth services in Florida passed the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously on February 8, and now heads to the Health and Human Services Committee. A similar bill,  CS/SB 1686 by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) was voted favorably the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services on February 11, and now heads to Appropriations.

Prepaid Dental Plans

SB 994 by Sen. Joe Negron (R-Palm City) is awaiting action in the Appropriations Committee. 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) was voted favorably in the Health and Human Services Committee on February 9, 2016.

Food Deserts

CS/SB 760, by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) is awaiting action in the Appropriations Committee. The bill 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 House companion CS/HB 153 by Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona) passed favorably in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on February 9, and now heads to State Affairs Committee.


Child Welfare System

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.

The House companion HB 599 by Rep. Neil Combee (R-Auburndale) and Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) passed favorably in the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee on February 8, and now heads to the Health and Human Services Committee.

Child Protection Teams (CATs)

SB 670, by Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Destin) is scheduled in the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 16. The bill applies immunity from personal liability in certain actions to any member of a child protection (CPT) team, in certain circumstances. The bill passed the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on January 13. As a result, CPT members may not be held personally liable for torts committed in such capacity; instead the state may be held liable up to the limits established under the state’s statutory waiver of sovereign immunity. A child protection team (CPT) is a medically directed, multidisciplinary team of professionals contracted by the Children’s Medical Services (CMS) Program in the Department of Health (DOH). CPTs supplement the child protective investigation activities of local sheriffs’ offices and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in cases of child abuse, abandonment, and neglect. CPTs provide expertise in evaluating alleged child abuse and neglect, assessing risk and protective factors, and providing recommendations for interventions to protect children and to enhance a caregiver’s capacity to provide a safer environment when possible. HB 715 by Rep. Gayle Harrell is awaiting action in the House Appropriations Committee.


Civil Citations and Diversion Programs

HB 7085 by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Rep. Carlos Trujillo (R-Doral) relating to juvenile civil citation and similar diversion programs passed favorably in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on February 8 and now heads to Judiciary. The bill requires the establishment of civil citation or similar diversion programs for juveniles; provides definitions; and, specifies program eligibility, participation, and implementation requirements. A similar bill, SB 408 by Sen. Thad Altman (R-Cape Canaveral) is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on February 16.

Confidentiality of Juvenile Records

SB 700 by Sen. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) that specifies that certain confidential information obtained under chapter 985, F.S., relating to juvenile justice, is exempt from public records requirements, was voted favorably in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice on February 11. Thanks to all child advocates who requested that the bill be heard. The House companion, HB 293 by Rep. Sharon Pritchett (D-Miramar) passed unanimously in the Judiciary Committee on February 10.

  • These bills are needed to align Florida’s juvenile record confidentiality laws with the new prevention focus in juvenile justice. The majority of youthful misdeeds should not be available for review except for legitimate uses by law enforcement and other state authorities.
  • Florida’s laws don’t change as fast as technology, and once something is online, it’s hard to erase. In this case juvenile arrest records can be found through search engines, even after they are expunged at a later date.  On-line access to juvenile records closes doors to jobs, education, and housing for tens of thousands of youth living in Florida each year.
  • Certain records (described below) will still be able to be reviewed by law enforcement and to agencies [BB1] that work with vulnerable populations.
  • The challenge is that two sections of Florida statute give two different sets of direction as to which juvenile records are confidential and exempt from public record.
  • These bills fix the inconsistency in law that was discovered through a case in which a youth’s arrest records were released based on direction given by one statute.  That case is G.G. v. FDLE.
  • These bills will ensure that juvenile records should only be released in circumstances that are identical in chapters 985 and 943.
  • The consistency is created by ensuring that all records will be confidential and exempt, unless:
    •  A juvenile is arrested, charged, or is found to have committed a violation of law which, if committed by an adult would be a felon.
    • Or when a juvenile has been transferred to adult court.

Direct File Program for Juveniles

SB 314 by Sen. Miguel de la Portilla (R-Miami) was reported favorably by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice on February 11, and now heads to Appropriations.

According to United Way of Florida, on any given night in America, 10,000 children are held in adult jails and prisons.  These children do not receive educational and rehabilitative services that are necessary for their stage in development, are in extreme danger when in the facilities, and are often placed in isolation that can produce harmful consequences, including death.  Florida has one of the nation’s highest rates of children being incarcerated in adult jails and prisons.

To address these issues, SB 314 substantially amends two of Florida’s current methods for transferring a juvenile to adult court for criminal prosecution.  These transfer methods are indictment and direct file.  It also amends current provisions requiring the court to impose juvenile and adult sanctions upon juveniles transferred to adult court.

The bill amends the indictment process by limiting the state attorney’s authority to convene a grand jury in cases in which the juvenile is 14 years of age or older (currently available for juveniles of any age who are charged with an offense punishable by death or life imprisonment).

The bill also amends the direct file transfer statute by eliminating the mandatory direct file system and modifying the discretionary direct file system to a two-tiered system based on the juvenile’s age and enumerated offense.

In the first tier, the state attorney may direct file a juvenile who is16 years of age or older and less than 18 years at the time of the alleged offense if he or she committed a serious enumerated offense.

In the second tier, the state attorney may direct file a juvenile who is 14 or 15 years of age at the time of the offense if he or she committed murder, manslaughter, or sexual battery.  The bill prohibits a juvenile from being transferred to adult court by indictment or direct file if the juvenile:

  • has a pending competency hearing in juvenile court; or
  • has been previously found to be incompetent and has not been restored to competency by a court.


Children and Youth Cabinet

HB 241 by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) expands the total membership of the Children and Youth Cabinet to 16 by adding a superintendent of schools who is appointed by the Governor. The House passed the bill on February 3 on a vote of 115 :2. 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) was substituted for HB 241, and passed the Senate on a vote of 40:0 on February 11.

Human Trafficking

CS/SB 784 by Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami) was reported favorably by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice on February 11. The bill addresses human trafficking and offenses that are often associated with human trafficking by:

  • increasing the felony penalty if the victim suffers great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement;
  • clarifying that branding a victim of human trafficking is a human trafficking offense;
  • increasing from a second degree misdemeanor (maximum penalty of 60 days in jail) to a first degree misdemeanor (up to one year in jail) a first violation of s.796.06, F.S. (renting space to be used for lewdness, assignation, prostitution), and increasing from a first degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony (maximum penalty of 5 years in state prison) a second or subsequent violation of that statute;
  • prohibiting minors from being prosecuted for prostitution; and
  • adding racketeering to the list of the offenses that may require a person to register as a sexual predator or sexual offender if the court makes a written finding that the racketeering activity involved at least one registration-qualifying sexual offense or one registration-qualifying offense with sexual intent or motive.

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 the 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 was passed by the Health and Human Services on February 9. 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.


Miami-Dade Days

This past week hundreds of people representing various organizations in Miami-Dade County flocked to the Capitol to advocate for various issues, including those important to children and families.

Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops Day at the Capitol

On February 16 and 17 Catholics from all over Florida gather to advocate for various issues affecting children, families, including children’s health.

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