News & Events

Week 9


The 2017 legislative session opened with a great deal of attention and focus on differing priorities for the leaders of each chamber.  While the legislature works on numerous bills and funding issues for all aspects of public investments, leadership priorities largely shape the tone and work of session. House leadership called for ethics reform and increased transparency in the budget process, K-12 reform, and reduced taxes and spending, while the Senate leadership priorities focused on higher education, juvenile justice and environmental protection, particularly on the cleanup of areas surrounding Lake Okeechobee.  The Governor’s priorities included tourism and economic development.

This year, the formal budget process did not begin until the second to last week of session, and on May 3, 2 days before the scheduled end of the 60 day session, President Joe Negron and Speaker Richard Corcoran announced that session would be extended until May 8 to take up the budget and related bills. On Friday, May 5, the last day of the regular session, the conforming bills that propose changes to law related to the budget were unveiled.

After many hours of questions and debate on the budget and conforming bills, the 2017 Legislature concluded its work at 8:52 PM on May 8.

The Governor has not yet been presented with the budget or the budget conforming bills. Once he receives the budget and associated bills, he will have the option of a full veto, line-item veto, veto of specific conforming bills, or signing the package in its entirety into law. Given that the medical marijuana legislation needed to implement the recent constitutional amendment on this issue was not agreed to, there is also speculation that there will be at least one special session this summer to complete necessary work. Depending on the outcome of the Governor’s action on the budget and conforming bills, there could be a special session for budget related items.

Despite the unusual budget process, many bills of interest to children, youth and families moved through the process this session.  Among these, were several child welfare and juvenile justice bills.  In addition, legislation on early childhood health passed related to newborn screenings and creating a pediatric cardiac care advisory panel; and in early learning – creating the Committee for Early Grade Success, which was included in the larger education conforming bill.

The following summary includes bills relating to children, youth and families that were taken up by one or both chambers the last week of session. While some bills did not ultimately pass, several victories for children occurred, and some of these bills are headed to the Governor for signature, or have already been signed into law.



Comprehensive Education Bill Package

In the afternoon of Friday, May 5, the final day of the regular legislative session, House and Senate leadership amended and agreed upon HB 7069  as the education conforming bill. The bill that originally focused on changes to The Best and Brightest Teachers and Principals was amended into a 278-page bill and was presented as the Education Budget Conforming Bill.   In the bill introductions and summary provided by Chair Manny Diaz (R-Miami) and Chair David Simmons (R-Longwood), there was acknowledgement that the bill included 22 major provisions, as well as many other education issues addressed in various other bills during legislative session by both chambers. Overall, the bill proposes changes in law tied to $413,950,000 in recurring spending and $5 million in non-recurring spending.

Major funding provisions included are for the:

  • “best and brightest” teacher and principal bonuses;
  • “schools of hope,” under which both charter and traditional public schools would be eligible for additional funding;
  • expansion of the Gardiner scholarship, a program that allows parents of students with disabilities to receive state funding for private school tuition or specialized services tailored to children’s needs; and
  • Changes to student assessments, including a return to paper-and-pencil delivery and a requirement that tests are periodically published online

The bill also includes new provisions in law related to PreK-12. Some of the substantive areas include:

  • the amount of Title 1 funding districts may withhold from schools for district-wide programming;
  • the calculation of several components of the state’s public school funding formula, the Florida Education Finance Program;
  • the ability for charter schools to access capital outlay funds to share in local property tax revenues for facilities construction and maintenance;
  • charter schools and the definition and replication of high-performing charter schools, facilities, calculation of administrative fees, application and appeals processes, and other provisions;
  • teacher preparation, tenure, evaluation and certification processes;
  • failing school turnaround;
  • mandating recess for K-5;
  • administrative flexibility related to reading instruction requirements for the state’s top schools, dubbed “schools of excellence”
  • adding civic literacy to “priorities of Florida’s K-20 education system” and requiring community college and state university graduates to demonstrate competency in civics; and
  • creation of the Committee for Early Grade Success to make recommendations to the legislature on a coordinated child assessment system.

The bill was heavily debated on the House and Senate floors before final passage. While many bill provisions were acknowledged as good policy changes by both Chambers, there were concerns raised primarily by some members of the Senate, that a few of the substantive issues in the final bill were provisions from bills voted down during the legislative session. The House passed the bill on a vote of 73:36 and the Senate on a vote of 20:18 on May 8.  The bill has not yet been presented to the Governor, and it is unclear if he will veto it or sign it into law.

Children with Unique Abilities

HB 15 relating to Educational Options by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan (R-Eustis) was substituted for SB 902 by David Simmons (R-Longwood), passed by the House on May 5 and now heads to the Governor. The bill revises provisions relating to expanding eligibility for the Gardiner Scholarship Program, John M. McKay Scholarship Program, and Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program; as well as provides appropriations.

Religious Expression in Public Schools

SB 436 by Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Lady Lake) and Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) was substituted for  HB 303 by Rep. Kimberly Daniels (D-Jacksonville) and Rep. Patricia Williams (D-Ft. Lauderdale) and passed the chambers on May 5 . The bill now heads to the Governor.  The bill creates the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act,” protecting K-12 public school students, their parents, and school personnel from discrimination based on their religious beliefs and expressions. The bill also requires that students’ work be graded according to the expected academic standards, without regard for any religious content. In addition, students are permitted to wear clothing, jewelry, or accessories that display religious messages or symbols.


Newborn Screenings

HB 963 by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Fort Myers) was substituted for SB 1124 by Sen. Lauren Book (D-Broward County) and passed both chambers.  The bill now heads to the Governor. The bill requires the Department of Health, upon the advice of the Genetics and Newborn Screening Advisory Council, to expand the statewide screening of newborns to include any condition on the federal Recommended Uniform Screening Panel; and requires the council to determine whether a condition should be included in the state’s screening program within a specified period after its addition to the federal panel.

CS/SB 62 by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) and HB 59 by Rep. Cary Pigman (R-Sebring)creates the Pediatric Cardiac Care Advisory Council within the Department of Health. Language of SB 62 was added to HB 1121 by Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (R-St. Augustine), a child welfare omnibus bill that passed the House on May 5 and now heads to the Governor

Mental Health

HB 1183 by Rep. David Silvers (D-W. Palm Beach) passed the House but died in the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. The bill requires a receiving facility or mental health treatment facility to refer the case of a minor admitted to such a facility for a mental health assessment to the clerk of the court for the appointment of a public defender within a specified timeframe; and, grants the minor’s attorney access to relevant records.  During the hearing on the Senate companion SB 1580 by Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) was never heard in Senate Judiciary.


HB 1121 by Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (R-St. Augustine) which includes language of

SB 1044  by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) and  HB 7075 Child Welfare by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) passed the Senate on May 4 38:0 and the House on a vote of 117:0 on May 5 and now heads to the Governor.  The bill provides that central abuse hotline information may be used for the employment screening of residential group home caregivers; and requires the court to inquire as to the identity and location of the child’s legal father at shelter hearings; requires the court to consider maltreatment allegations against parents in evidentiary hearings relating to dependency petitions; and requires the courts to conduct an inquiry under oath to determine the identity or location of the unknown parent after the filing of a termination of parental rights petition.   The bill provides that central abuse hotline information may be used for the employment screening of residential group home caregivers; and requires a court to inquire as to the identity and location of a child’s legal father at the shelter hearings; requires a court to consider maltreatment allegations against a parent in an evidentiary hearing relating to a dependency petition; and requires a court to conduct an inquiry under oath to determine the identity or location of an unknown parent after the filing of a termination of parental rights petition.  It includes changes to the Relative Caregiver Program; creates a Task Force within DCF to address the issue of involuntary examination of children 17 years and younger; adds new language relating to placement, treatment and services for substance-exposed newborns and families; administrative limitations for Community-Based Care Agencies; and provisions related to unaccompanied homeless youth.

Further, the bill revises the definition of “Permanency Goal”; extends the jurisdiction of the dependency court over young adults with a disability until the age of 22; requires transition plans to be approved by the court before a child’s 18th birthday;  requires the transition plan to be attached to the case plan and updated before each judicial review; allows the court to use “maintain and strengthen”  in the child’s home as a permanency goal; requires DCF to ensure the quality of contracted services and programs, as well as the availability of an adequate array of services available to be delivered; and requires DCF to develop, in collaboration with lead agencies and other child welfare stakeholders, a statewide accountability system with quality measures for foster homes and providers of residential group care.

Foster Care/Driver’s Licenses for Children in Foster Care

SB 60 by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) was presented to the Governor for action on April 26.  The bill was approved by the Governor on May 1 as Chapter No. 2017-008. The bill requires the child’s transition plan and the court to assist children in foster care in obtaining a driver’s license. The bill also expands the program to include, under certain conditions, children in non-licensed out-of-home care who have reached permanency or turned 18.

Temporary Care of a Child

HB 363 by Rep. Frank White (R-Pensacola) and Rep. Patricia Williams (D-Ft. Lauderdale), and SB 200 by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) authorize certain organizations to establish programs for the purpose of assisting parents and legal guardians in providing temporary respite care for a child, providing that placement of a child in temporary respite care does not, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, constitute abuse, neglect, or abandonment or placement in foster care; and authorizes the Department of Children and Families to refer children to such programs under certain circumstances.  HB 363 passed the House but was never taken up in the Senate.  SB 200 was never heard in the full Senate.

 Human Trafficking  

SB 852 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) which was substituted for HB 1383 by Rep. Jeanette Nunez (R-Miami) requires the DCF or a sheriff’s office to conduct a multidisciplinary staffing on child victims of commercial sexual exploitation.  The bill has been presented to the Governor and he has until May 24 to act on the bill.

HB 7049 by Rep. Ross Spano (R-Riverview) authorizes subpoenas in certain investigations of sexual offenses involving child victims; prohibits persons from using children in sexual performances or promoting sexual performances by children; provides for separate offenses of computer pornography and child exploitation; prohibits persons from possessing, with intent to promote, child pornography; prohibits persons from knowingly possessing, controlling, or intentionally viewing child pornography; and provides for separate offenses of transmission of child pornography.  The bill passed the House but was never taken up in the Senate. SB 1244 by Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) was never heard in committee.

Child Protection 

HB 329 by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) which was substituted for SB 762 by Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Lady Lake) passed both chambers and is headed to the Governor.   The bill prohibits time-sharing plans from requiring a visitation at recovery residences between specified hours.

HB 1269 by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) which was substituted for SB 1318 by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) passed both chambers on May 3 and is headed to the Governor.  The bill renames service districts as service circuits, and district medical directors as child protection team medical directors; requires that each child protection team medical director be a licensed physician and be board certified in specified areas; and, requires the department’s Children’s Medical Services program to develop, maintain, and coordinate the services of one or more sexual abuse treatment programs.


Prolific Juvenile Offenders

HB 7059 by the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Rep. James Grant (R-Tampa) was substituted for SB 1670 by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) passed on May 5 and now heads to the Governor.  The bill revises requirements for the placement of a child in detention care; provides that a child who is a prolific juvenile offender does not require a risk assessment to be placed in detention care; provides that children meeting specified criteria shall be placed in detention care until the detention hearing; provides criteria for determining whether the child is a prolific juvenile offender; requires secure detention for all children awaiting placement in a commitment program until the placement or commitment is accomplished; and, specifies the time period for hearings for prolific juvenile offenders.

Civil Citation and Juvenile Records

SB 196 by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) requires each county to establish one or more civil citation and similar diversion programs for juveniles committing misdemeanors. The bill also contains an amendment requiring the Supreme Court to provide an annual report about cases on the court’s docket that have not be resolved in 180 days, a move said to be taken to garner needed House support. The bill was passed by the Senate then substituted for a comparable bill, HB 301 by Rep. Frank White (R-Pensacola) which died in the House returning messages from the Senate..

HB 205 by Rep. Larry Ahern (R- Seminole) authorizes FDLE to adopt rules to provide for the expunction of certain non-judicial records of arrest of minors upon successful completion of certain diversion programs; authorizes such expunctions for certain first-time misdemeanor offenses; and, requires diversion programs to submit specified data to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).  The bill was placed on the Calendar on second reading, but was never taken up in the House.



Several pieces of legislation related to firearms died this session:

SB 616 by Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) would have authorized a concealed weapons or firearms licensee to temporarily surrender a weapon or firearm if the licensee approaches courthouse security or management personnel upon arrival and follows their instructions. The bill passed the Senate, but was never taken up in the House.

HB 849 by Rep. Neil Combee (R-Auburndale) which was substituted for SB 1330 by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland)  passed the House and was taken up and amended in the Senate, but later died in returning messages from the Senate to the House.  The bill would have provided that persons licensed to carry concealed weapons and firearms are not prohibited from carrying firearms on certain private school property.

Witness to Murder Bills

HB 111 by the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Representatives Cynthia Stafford (D-Opa Locka) and Kionne McGhee (D-Cutler Bay) which was substituted for SB 550 by Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Ocoee) was approved by the Governor as Chapter No. 2017-011 on May 9. Per Rep. Stafford  “the bill is aimed at motivating people to come forward and provide information to police about murders. She said similar records exemptions already are provided for sexual-assault victims and child-abuse victims, and that this bill is about bringing “perpetrators to justice.” (NSF, March 30,2017).  The legislation provides an exemption for identifying information about witnesses for two years after murders are witnessed. Stafford said many murder cases are unresolved because witnesses do not come forward because of fear of retaliation. “Witness intimidation is real, and so is retaliation,” Stafford said.


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