On Thursday, the Senate overwhelmingly approved its $70.7 billion budget. The House’s $69.2 billion spending plan was passed several weeks ago. With only two weeks remaining in the regularly scheduled legislative session, and both chambers having passed their budgets, legislators now prepare for the conference process where the differences in both budgets will be negotiated. It is expected that conference committees will begin meeting next week.
Amidst discussions of budget line items, the conference process will also continue critical debate over several early learning bills. Child advocates still have grave concerns over several bills originating in the House which would reduce the quality of school readiness programs and eliminate educational standards and accountability requirements for providers. The Senate’s early learning bill is generally supported by advocates because it retains quality and accountability.
With the ending of week seven of the legislative session, most, if not all, committee meetings will come to an end. The balance of the session will be focused on the budget conference and bills that are on the respective calendars. The Senate does have a process of withdrawing bills from committees, so a bill still in committee may not be dead. On the other hand, the House has been pretty firm in not withdrawing bills, although this is no guarantee.
On Thursday, the Senate met for a full day and passed the budget including the implementing and conforming bills. Since the House is hosting the budget this year and is therefore the budget manager, the bills in play regarding the budget will all have House bill numbers.
Some additions were made to the budget in the Senate. Although few amendments were made for children’s issues, on a motion by Sen. Nan Rich (D-Weston), the Senate added $3 million for adoption subsidies. The House has $6.5 million for this issue.
Local Government/Property Taxes
SB 192 by Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) relating to special district merger and dissolution procedures passed the Senate Budget committee and will be heard on the Senate floor on Monday. The House companion bill, CS/HB 107 by Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Ft. Myers) is in House Messages.
SJR 1056/SB 1058 by Sen. Jim Norman (R-Tampa), which provides an additional homestead exemption to the spouses and families of deceased military veterans or first responders killed in the line of duty, passed the Senate Judiciary committee and will be taken up on Tuesday by the Senate Finance and Tax committee. The House companion bills CS/HJR 93 & HB 95 by Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Temple Terrace) are waiting action by the Senate.
HB 55 filed by Rep. Jeanette Nunez (R-Miami), which authorizes counties and municipalities to limit the assessed value of homesteads of low-income senior citizens, passed the House unanimously. SB 838 by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) is in the Senate Finance and Tax Committee.
CS/HJR 169/HB 357 by Rep. Jose Oliva (R-Miami) passed the House by a 116-0 margin. This constitutional amendment would give counties and cities the authority to provide additional property tax relief for low-income seniors. SJR 1740/SB 1738 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) is now in the Senate Finance and Tax Committee.
SJR 1064/SB 1062 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) passed the Senate Finance and Tax Committee. This bill provides tangible personal property tax relief for businesses. HJR 1003/HB 1005 by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (R-Orlando) is available for House floor consideration.
SB 982 by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Ft. Lauderdale) holds a “sales tax holiday” for back to school shoppers from Aug. 3-5. Under the bill, shoppers would not pay a sales tax on certain items that cost less than $75. School supplies under $15 would also be exempt. The bill was endorsed by the Senate Finance and Tax committee, and will now go to the Senate floor. HB 737 by Rep. Elizabeth Porter (R-Lake City) is in House Messages.
This week, the Senate Finance & Tax Committee deferred consideration of CS/SJR 314 and CS/SJR 312. SJR 314 would prohibit increases in the assessed value of homestead and certain non-homestead property if the just value of the property decreases, and would reduce the limitation on annual assessment increases for non-homestead property from 10 to 7 percent. The constitutional amendment would also create a “super homestead exemption.” CS/SJR 312 would rescind HJR 381 passed during the 2011 Legislative Session. It is expected the bills will come back for committee consideration. However, the House proposal, HJR 1289 by Rep. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford), was defeated and left pending on a procedural move in subcommittee, so passage this session is unlikely.
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 of proposed incorporations of a municipality, and revises a requirement for the content of the study. On Thursday, the bill passed as amended by a 37-2 margin.
Early learning legislation continues to be a critical priority and the collective good work of a growing number of advocates statewide is starting to pay off. Earlier this week, Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs), took HB 5103 out of Messages and replaced it with identical language from his bill (SB 1974) thereby positioning the bill for conference.
Continue to call your legislators and tell them that any final early learning legislation must contain the following priorities:
SB 1294 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) provides health coverage for an additional 20,550 immigrant children who are lawfully residing in Florida and otherwise eligible for the KidCare program. Due to changes in the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIPRA), Florida will receive an enhanced federal match for these children. On Wednesday, the bill was subreferred to the Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services Appropriations.
TAKE ACTION: Tell your Senators that enrolling more uninsured children who are eligible for the Florida KidCare program is the right thing to do. Passing SB 1294 will provide an opportunity to reach more uninsured, eligible children who have not been able to enroll in KidCare. Also, please contact the Chairs of the Senate Health and Human Services and Budget Committees (Sen. Joe Negron and Sen. JD Alexander) and share this message. Ask them to allow the bill to come to their committee for a hearing next week:
Relating to Health Care Transition
SB 282 relating to Health Care Transition/Adolescents and Young Adults with Special Health Care Needs passed the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs committee unanimously on Wednesday. This bill establishes a program to oversee transitional services within the Department of Health’s Division of Children’s Medical Services Network (CMS). This bill is now in the Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services Appropriations. The House companion bill, HB 279 filed by Rep. Ana Rivas Logan (R-Miami), has yet to be heard.
Department of Health Reorganization
The Department of Health (DOH) reorganization bill by Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples), HB 1263, passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday by a 12-8 margin and is now in the Health and Human Services committee. Rep. Hudson offered an amendment to remove controversial language that shifted much of the public health responsibility to counties. However, this bill still negatively impacts CMS, child protection teams, and the poison control unit. It also drastically limits what will be considered “public health.” The companion bill by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah), SB 1824, was on the agenda in the Senate Government Oversight Committee this week, but was not heard and this committee does not plan to meet again. Yet, there is still a high potential for this bill be withdrawn from committee and taken up on the Senate floor. SB 1824 is a more positive bill and does not negatively impact CMS, although it still significantly scales back the DOH.
The Medicaid conforming bill, HB 5301, has been amended to contain the Senate language from SB 1988 in lieu of the House language. This bill now has wording that destroys the Medipass system and contains controversial county Medicaid recapture language. It also contains a provision that sets up a commission to explore ways to implement a one stop eligibility program for KidCare. These issues will be dealt with in conference.
Healthy Start and Early Steps Funding
Gov. Rick Scott recommended last year’s cut of $5.4 million to Healthy Start funding be restored, and the Senate included this funding in its proposed budget.
TAKE ACTION: Please contact your House Representative and ask that the House agree to this funding during the House and Senate budget conference. Similarly, please ask House members to ensure that the $6.9 million for Early Steps is included in the final budget.
The Senate Health and Human Services budget proposal contains full funding for children’s mental health programs with the exception of a $5.5 million cut to the children’s Baker Act program, which the Senate budget states is for excess beds and will not affect service. This is being verified. In addition, the budget still contains drastic cuts to adult mental health and substance abuseprograms, which has a direct effect on care to children by affected adults, and a ripple effect on programs.
Department of Children and Families Reorganization
On Thursday, CS/HB 1229 by Rep. Brad Drake (R-DeFuniak) relating to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) reorganization passed the House unanimously. Among other things, the bill reorganizes the DCF by:
integrating substance abuse and mental health programs:
eliminating service districts and providing that services will be delivered through organizational units known as circuits, which must be aligned with judicial circuits; and
providing the department with discretion to establish community alliances, partnerships and advisory groups.
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 Wednesday, the bill was sent in Messages to the Senate.
SB 1172 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) is now in the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations. This bill makes mental child abuse a crime 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) remains in the Judiciary Committee since it was not placed on the agenda this week. The committee does not plan to meet again.
HB 7049 (formerly PCB JDC 12-01) by Rep. Bill Synder (R-Stuart) was passed unanimously on Friday. 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 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.
Parole of Juvenile Offenders
SB 212 filed by Sen. Steve Oelrich (R-Gainesville) related to the parole of juvenile offenders was heard on Wednesday and passed unanimously by the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee. This bill is now in Budget. The companion, HB 005 by Rep. Michael Weinstein (R-Orange Park), also passed favorably in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
HB 497 filed by Rep. Ari Porth (D-Coral Springs) was passed unanimously on Friday. 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 940 by Sen. Stephen Wise (R-Jacksonville) was placed on the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations agenda for Tuesday.
Juvenile Justice Education and Workforce Programs
SB 834 is on the Tuesday agenda for the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations. The House companion, HB 949, passed unanimously in the House Education Committee on Thursday.
A comprehensive background screening bill, CS/CS/HB 943, passed the House unanimously and was placed in messages to the Senate on Thursday. Among other things, the bill exempts volunteers, relatives, physicians, nurses and other professionals licensed by the Department of Health 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.