EARLY LEARNING BILLS AND BUDGETS MOVE FORWARD
Several early learning bills poised to make significant changes to the state’s current early learning system continue to move through the process. A budget conforming bill originally proposed by Sen. David Simmons (R-Maitland) advanced this week with widespread support from lawmakers and early learning advocates alike. Supporters believe the bill addresses findings from the Office of Early Learning audit without compromising quality, education standards or accountability. In the House,despite a strike-all amendment that provides more flexibility and keeps Early Learning Coalitions intact, HB 7119 still has the potential to alter and damage Florida’s early learning system. The bill was passed by the House Economic Affairs Committee although it drew questions and criticisms about the loss of quality and weakening of screenings from legislators on both sides of the political aisle. Some revisions are expected before the bill proceeds to the House floor. A similar measure in the Senate (SB 1758) by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) was temporarily postponed earlier in the week.
Although much progress has been made on the various early learning bills, it is critical that early learning and child advocates continue to communicate with legislators and educate them on the impacts these bills will have on our youngest and most vulnerable children.
Meanwhile, the Senate Budget Committee passed a $70.8 billion budget, which is scheduled for a floor vote next Thursday. Last week, the full House approved a $69.2 billion budget leaving the two chambers’ budgets $1.6 billion apart – largely due to the Senate’s desire to take control of two local expressway authorities. Both chambers differ vastly on the level of cuts proposed to state universities, and it is expected that will be among the many issues that must be worked out in the conference process.
A possible special session may be on the horizon as the Florida Supreme Court reviews the redistricting plan passed by the Legislature. The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the proposed plan during week eight of the regular session. Should the Florida Supreme Court reject the plan, it will leave very little time for the Legislature to make revisions before the end of the regular session, thereby potentially requiring them to extend session or return for a special session.
The Senate Budget Committee worked the entire day on Wednesday to pass their version of the budget. Little changed in the budgets from what was previously reported from the Subcommittee meetings.
Sen. Nan Rich (D- Weston) did add to a conforming bill her language from SB 510 which would make the children of state employees eligible for Healthy Kids coverage. In addition, an amendment offered by Sen. Nan Rich (D-Weston) and Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) passed as proviso language, which will allow the State to receive Federal money so that pediatricians and other primary care physicians will be paid at the Medicare rate beginning January 1, 2013. This is a major step toward improving access to health care for Medicaid eligible children.
STATE & LOCAL REVENUES
Local Government/Property Taxes
HJR 93 and HB 95 filed by Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Temple Terrace) passed the House unanimously. These joint bills propose and potentially implement a constitutional amendment to provide an additional homestead exemption to the spouses and families of deceased military veterans or first responders killed in the line of duty. The companion bills by Sen. Jim Norman (R-Tampa), SB 1056 and SB 1058 are currently in the Judiciary Committee.
The Florida House passed a broad economic development package by a vote of 92-22 approving a series of tax breaks for businesses, agricultural interests, aircraft repairs, and industrial equipment. With respect to the corporate income tax, House members increased the tax exemption from $25,000 to $50,000, an action designed to eliminate taxes for thousands of businesses.
The House also voted unanimously on HB 737 filed by Rep. Elizabeth Porter (R-Lake City) to hold a “sales tax holiday” for back to school shoppers from Aug. 3-5. Under the bill, shoppers would not pay sales taxes on certain items, such as clothing, bags and shoes, that cost less than $75. School supplies valued under $15 would also be exempted.
HB 7113 filed by Rep. Stephen Precourt (R-Orlando), which provides an additional Ad Valorem Tax Exemption for deployed service members, was passed unanimously on Thursday by the House Economic Affairs Committee.
SJR 1740/SB 1738 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) relating to additional Homestead Tax Exemption for seniors passed Senate Judiciary on Thursday by a 7-0 margin. This constitutional amendment would give counties and cities the authority to provide additional property tax relief for low-income seniors. The next stop will be the Senate Budget. The House companions, HB 169 and HB 357
filed by Rep. Jose Oliva (R-Miami), were both on the agenda on Friday in the Economic Affairs Committee.
CS/CS/HB 107by Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Ft. Myers) relating to special district merger and dissolution procedures passed the House floor by a 118-0 margin on Thursday. SB 192 by Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) relating to special districts passed the Senate Finance and Tax Committee on Thursday and is scheduled to appear in the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday.
Relating to the Formation of Local Governments
CS/SB 692 filed by Sen. Michael Bennett (R-Bradenton) revises the deadline for submission of a feasibility study on the proposed incorporation of a municipality, and revises a requirement for the content of the study. On Monday, the bill was placed on the Special Order Calendar for the following day where an amendment was adopted and was placed on third reading.
Early learning legislation continued to move forward. SB 7080 by Sen. Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs (now filed as SB 1974) passed the Budget Committee on Thursday and is headed to the floor next Thursday. Although child advocates would rather opt for a deliberate study of needed changes to the early learning system instead of the passage of legislation this year, this is the bill preferred by advocates. Work is needed to ensure that no harmful amendments are offered on the floor to SB 1974 next Thursday, and work is needed later on in the conference process to ensure that the good provisions in the Senate bill prevail. Please contact Sen. Simmons and thank him for his good bill and ask him to keep his bill “clean” on the Senate floor. It is hoped that any remaining changes needed pertaining to school age children can be dealt with in the conference process.
On Tuesday, SB 1758 was temporarily postponed by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami). This bill would have become the Senate companion to Rep Ahern’s bill, HB 7119. Please contact Sen. Flores and thank her for her commitment to Florida’s early learning system and for keeping harmful language out of the Senate.
HB 7085 on Voluntary PreK (VPK) by Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) was amended and passed unanimously by the House Education Committee on Monday. This bill standardizes VPK provider agreements, and deletes the provision that Early Learning Coalitions may amend contracts, if approved by the Office of Early Learning. It also strikes the aspirational goals associated with teacher qualifications, and repeals the Florida Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC).
SB 1294 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) passed the Health Regulation committee unanimously on Thursday. This bill would provide health coverage for an additional 20,550 immigrant children who are lawfully residing in Florida and otherwise eligible for the KidCare program. Because of changes in the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIPRA), Florida will receive an enhanced federal match for these children.
Relating to Health Care Transition
SB 282 relating to Health Care Transition/Adolescents and Young Adults with Special Health Care Needs passed Health Care Regulation committee on Monday. This bill establishes a program within the Division of Children’s Medical Services Network (CMS) in the Department of Health to oversee transitional services. The House companion bill, HB 279 filed by Rep. Ana Rivas Logan (R-Miami), has yet to be heard.
Department of Health Reorganization
On Thursday, the committee substitute for SB 1824 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) passed out of the Health Regulation Committee. This bill, which is the companion to HB 1263 filed by Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples), did not have the provisions for privatizing CMS, shifting public health responsibilities to the counties and other very controversial provisions. The Hudson version is in full Appropriations in the House, but has not yet been placed on the agenda. Opponents of the Hudson reorganization plan were greatly relieved to see SB 1824 filed by Sen. Garcia, although it still significantly scales back the Department of Health.
Department of Children and Families Reorganization
On Thursday, CS/HB 1229 by Rep. Brad Drake (R-DeFuniak) was reported favorably by the Health and Human Services Committee. Among other things, the bill reorganizes the Department of Children and Families (DCF) by:
The bill also contains a provision that removed the Deputy Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse. After hearing testimony, several members expressed concern about that specific portion of the bill and proposed to address it at the next stop. The Senate bill (SB 2048) does not contain that provision.
CS/CS/HB 803 by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) makes substantial changes to various provisions in statutes relating to child abuse, the Florida Abuse Hotline, Child Protective Investigations, and the dependency process. On Thursday, the bill passed unanimously on third reading.
SB 1172 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) passed out of Judiciary on Thursday. This bill creates as a crime mental child abuse and limits the doctors who can testify regarding it. It also requires that out-of-state doctors must be certified in order to testify in criminal child abuse cases. The House companion by Rep. Elaine Schwartz (D-Hollywood), CS/HB 1285, passed out of the Justice Appropriations committee and will now appear in the Judiciary committee next week.
On Thursday, HB 99 relating to sexual exploitation filed by Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) passed the Health and Human Services committee. This bill amends definitions relating to abuse and sexual exploitation and requires the Department of Children and Families to develop guidelines for serving sexually exploited children. The companion bill filed by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami), SB 202 ,is now in the Senate Budget committee.
HB 7049 (formerly PCB JDC 12-01) Human Trafficking by Rep. Bill Synder (R-Stuart) was passed unanimously by the Appropriations committee on Wednesday and placed on the calendar on second reading. The bill 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 penalty for human smuggling; revises provisions relating to the selling or buying of minors into sex trafficking or prostitution; provides additional authorization for interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications; ranks offenses on sentencing guidelines chart.
Parole of Juvenile Offenders
SB 212 filed by Sen. Steve Oelrich (R-Gainesville) related to the parole of juvenile offenders is set to be heard next week in the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs committee. The companion, HB 005 by Rep. Michael Weinstein (R-Orange Park), passed favorably last week.
On Tuesday, HB 497 filed by Rep. Ari Porth (D-Coral Springs) was passed in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee by a 13-2 vote. This bill authorizes a law enforcement agency or school district, in cooperation with the state attorney, to establish a pre-arrest or post-arrest diversion program. SB 940by Sen. Stephen Wise (R-Jacksonville) is set to be heard Wednesday in the Criminal Justice committee.
Juvenile Justice Education and Workforce Programs
SB 834is in the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations as of Tuesday, Feb. 14. The House companion, HB 949, remains stalled at its second stop, the Education Committee.
On Thursday, CS/CS/HB 943 passed the House Health & Human Services Committee. In 2010, the Florida Legislature adopted sweeping changes to Florida’s background screening law, requiring thousands of prospective employees and volunteers to get state and federal background (Level 2) screenings before they can work or volunteer to work with vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, and the disabled. However, the new screening requirements have caused significant problems for many employers, employees, volunteers, and nonprofits that use volunteers. On Thursday, CS/CS/HB 943 passed the House Health & Human Services Committee. Among other things, the bill exempts volunteers, relatives, physicians, nurses and other professionals licensed by the Department of Health from Level 2 background screening; 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. This secure, Web-based system will allow state agencies involved with background screening (Agency for Health Care Administration, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Department of Elder Affairs, Department of Children and Families, Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Health, and Agency for Persons with Disabilities) to share screening results. As the clearinghouse is built, employees and volunteers will only have to be screened once every five years, unless they leave employment or volunteer service for more than 90 days, in which case they will only have to pay for the federal screen, not the FDLE screen or LiveScan fee. Today, all three fees must be paid whenever a person enters a new job or volunteers in a position requiring screening.