At the beginning of week eight, the Senate and House were deadlocked over budget allocations. With a final agreement on budget allocations reached Tuesday afternoon, conference committees immediately began meeting and negotiating. As of mid-afternoon on Friday, most of the conference committees were near completion of their work, subject to limited items that will be bumped to the chairs of the full budget committees. Chairs JD Alexander (R-Lake Wales) and Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) will continue to work throughout the weekend. Any remaining impasses will be “bumped” to Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-Merritt Island) and Speaker Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) for final resolution.
To end on time next Friday, a final budget must be on members’ desks no later than this coming Tuesday. Members must observe a 72-hour “cooling off” period before a vote can be taken on the budget Friday.
Earlier this week, amid dense fog and commotion typical of the waning days of legislative session, advocates from across the Sunshine State converged on the capital city to rally support for the state’s nationally recognized early learning system. At a press conference held Wednesday atop the steps of the Old Capitol, a unique union of children’s advocacy groups, business groups and service organizations stood together in support of the educational standards and accountability contained within the Senate’s early learning proposal. Participants also highlighted the detrimental impacts House legislation would have on Florida’s early learning system, including the dilution of quality programs, lower educational standards, weakened local flexibility and harmful reductions in provider accountability.
These efforts appear to have paid off when the House came a long way to improve the language in its early learning conforming bill, including the addition of pre- and post-assessments for school readiness and flexibility for local Early Learning Coalitions. This language was accepted by the Senate late Friday evening and the issue is now closed. The Florida Children’s Council will continue to monitor this to ensure the early learning issue is not opened up later in the process.
Facing an overall budget shortfall, legislative leaders had long determined they would need to make cuts in the health and human services area for the coming fiscal year.
However, most children’s programs remain funded at last year’s levels with no cuts this year. Further, funding for an additional 11,600 children in KidCare and 2.2 million for Healthy Families were agreed to. In addition, children’s mental health is funded, with most of the needed crisis stabilization beds now restored. The House also dropped a proposal to make a nearly $11.7 million cut in the Road to Independence program, which provides support to former foster children. The cut would have discontinued aid to former foster children at age 21 instead of age 23.
The Senate also dropped a proposal to shift potentially hundreds of thousands of people enrolled in what is known as the MediPass program into Medicaid HMOs or other managed-care plans. That proposal would have been a step toward statewide enrollment in managed care.
Nonetheless, increased funding to restore last year’s cut of $5.4 million to Healthy Start and the additional $6.9 million in funding for Early Steps are still unresolved (with the Senate now at $5.9 million and the House at $4.9 million). And, $8.5 million of additional budget authority for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visitation grant also needs to be agreed to by the House. Please contact the Senate and House budget chairs on these important remaining issues.
In early childhood, funding for school readiness was maintained, funding for the state’s Voluntary PreK Program (VPK) was increased to meet projected enrollment and continued funding for the Early Learning Information System was included.
Local Government/Property Taxes
CS/HB 107 by Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Ft. Myers) relating to special district merger and dissolution procedures was taken up in lieu of SB 192 by Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) on the Senate floor this week. The House bill passed by 35-0 and now heads to the Governor.
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, is pending action by the Senate Budget Committee. The House companion bills CS/HJR 93 & HB 95 by Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Temple Terrace) are in messages to the Senate.
HB 55 by Rep. Jeanette Nunez (R-Miami), which authorizes counties and municipalities to limit the assessed value of homesteads of low-income senior citizens, is in messages to the Senate. SB 838 by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) remains in the Budget Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.
CS/HJR 169/HB 357 by Rep. Jose Oliva (R-Miami) passed the House last week and is in messages to the Senate. 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) remains in the Senate Finance and Tax Committee.
CS/HJR 1003 by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (R-Orlando) passed the House by a 112-2 margin. CS/SJR 1064 was withdrawn from the Senate Budget Committee and is now available for floor action. This constitutional amendment would provide tangible personal property tax relief for businesses.
SB 982 by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Ft. Lauderdale) provides a “sales tax holiday” for back to school shoppers from Aug. 3-5. Shoppers would not pay a sales tax on certain items that cost less than $75 and school supplies under $15. The Senate proposal is pending in the Senate Budget Committee. HB 737 by Rep. Elizabeth Porter (R-Lake City) passed the House and has been included as part of budget conference negotiations.
The PreK-12 Conference Committee concluded the nearly session-long debate over legislation addressing the state’s early learning system. A Thursday offer from the House contained many improvements and was accepted by the Senate late Friday thereby closing the issue this session.
Thanks to the hard work of advocates and a fierce lobbying effort, the Legislature has agreed to an early learning bill that largely preserves the educational standards, quality child care standards, local flexibility and provider accountability that have earned the system national acclaim.
This is a much improved bill that:
The bill also requires the Office of Early Learning to:
SB 510 by Sen. Nan Rich (D-Weston), which allows the children of state employees to be eligible for the KidCare health insurance program, is now on special order in the Senate. The House companion is not moving, but the same issue is in HB 5301.
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. Two weeks ago, 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 Chair of the Budget Committee and share this message. Ask him to allow the bill to allow the bill to be withdrawn from these committees and heard on the floor next week.
Relating to Health Care Transition
SB 282 relating to Health Care Transition/Adolescents and Young Adults with Special Health Care Needs was withdrawn from its final committees of reference and placed on the special order calendar. This bill establishes a program to oversee transitional services within the Department of Health’s Division of Children’s Medical Services Network (CMS). The House companion bill, HB 279 filed by Rep. Ana Rivas Logan (R-Miami), has yet to be heard.
Department of Health Reorganization
After a three-year effort by the House to revamp the Department of Health (DOH) and institute changes the House sponsor said would create a more “streamlined, efficient” agency, the House passed Rep. Matt Hudson’s (R-Naples) DOH reorganization bill (HB 1263) on Friday.
An initial version of the bill drew criticism because it called for shifting many public-health responsibilities – and thousands of jobs – from the state to counties; however, that provision was later removed. The final version of this bill no longer does the damage to the DOH it originally did and provides protections for the Children’s Medical Services Network (CMS), child protection teams, poison control unit and other areas of concern.
The Senate companion bill is SB 1824 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah).
The Medicaid conforming bill (HB 5301) is in the Health and Human Services conference committeeand has been amended to contain the Senate language from SB 1988 in lieu of the House language. The bill has some good provisions including determining that children of state employees are eligible for KidCare and establishing a commission to explore ways to implement a one stop eligibility program for KidCare. However, it would also start a phase out of MediPass and would initiate a new process for Medicaid collection from counties.
Healthy Start Funding
Heeding Gov. Rick Scott’s recommendation to restore last year’s cut of $5.4 million to Healthy Start funding, the Senate proposed this restoration. However, the House has still not agreed to this.
TAKE ACTION: Please contact Chair Grimsley immediately regarding the importance of this additional funding. A disruption in serving thousands of pregnant women has already been experienced.
At this time, with the appropriation process still not complete, the budget proposal contains full funding for children’s mental health programs with the exception of a $2.7 million cut to the children’s Baker Act program. This is nearly half the reduction originally proposed by the Senate.
Department of Children and Families Reorganization
CS/HB 1229 by Rep. Brad Drake (R-DeFuniak) relating to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) reorganization is in messages to the Senate as of last week. Among other things, the bill reorganizes the DCF by:
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. The bill remains in messages to the Senate. SB 2044, a similar bill by the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, is on second reading.
SB 1172 by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) is now on calendar in the Senate. This bill makes mental child abuse a crime, determines the witnesses that can testify in child abuse court cases and requires out-of-state doctors to be certified in order to testify in criminal child abuse cases. While the House companion by Rep. Elaine Schwartz (D-Hollywood) is still in the House Budget Committee, the text of the bill is now to be amended onto CS/HB 1285. This bill is on special order in the House. The companion to HB 1355 is SB 1816, which will be withdrawn from Senate Budget, so this measure could still become law.
CS/CS/HB 99 relating to sexual exploitation filed by Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) passed out of the House and is now in messages to the Senate. 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. On Thursday, the companion bill filed by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami), SB 202, passed out of the Senate Budget Committee and will go to the floor. It is expected that this measure will go to the Governor within the next day or so.
HB 7049 by Rep. Bill Synder (R-Stuart) remains in Senate messages. Among other things, the bill:
Parole of Juvenile Offenders
SB 212 filed by Sen. Steve Oelrich (R-Gainesville) related to the parole of juvenile offenders is still in the Budget Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations early last week. The companion, HB 005 by Rep. Michael Weinstein (R-Orange Park), is in messages to the Senate.
HB 497 filed by Rep. Ari Porth (D-Coral Springs) was placed on second reading 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) is awaiting action by the Senate Budget Committee.
Juvenile Justice Education and Workforce Programs
A comprehensive background screening bill, SB 320 by Sen. Ronda Storms (R-Brandon), was placed on special order for March 6. 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.