Capitol Report: Final Two Weeks of Legislative Session

The final two weeks of legislative session starts today. The schedule calls for sine die (the official end) to occur a week from this coming Friday.

This week will concentrate on reconciling the House and Senate versions of the budget. The starting point isn’t a great difference between the two chambers. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner have shown themselves as collaborative with an absence of fiery rhetoric unlike some of their predecessors.

The existence of a Republican supermajority in both chambers post the November elections made nearly every committee vote 100% predictable. The budget reconciliation process is expected to follow a similar path.

Some grumbling among Senate and House members has emerged as their priority bills are literally stacked a tall column high in their final committee stops. This is a result of the number of policy issues pushed by Governor DeSantis during the session’s first month, corralling the concentration, time and energy of committee chairs and their staffs.

More recently, the Governor’s schedule has him inked for appearances frequently out of state and now internationally as he stomps the turf involving the highest office in the land. Jeb Bush was labeled as low energy in his quest which wasn’t fair and more due to personality. The same can’t and won’t be said about Ron DeSantis. It’s the fodder of cable news shows on both the right and left. While most Americans believe the 2 year presidential run is too long and tire of it, citizens will have to endure the reality of it.

Key Children’s Policy Nearing Finish Line

Not a tremendous range of children’s policy other than the heavily news covered culture wars has moved toward the end game this session for the reasons outlined above. As the finish line nears, here’s some of the issues the American Children’s Campaign (ACC) is focused on the most:

  • KidCare Expansion: It was pleasing for ACC advocates to watch in real time bipartisan hugs among the members as HB 121 – Bartleman (D) Broward – passed its chamber more than a week ago and the Senate’s warm embrace of SB 246 –Calatayud (R) Miami Dade – made this policy improvement a slam dunk. Income eligibility will rise to 300% of Federal Poverty Level in tiers. This was more economics than philosophy. Businesses were reporting their employee’s reluctance to accept raises because the bigger paycheck would disallow KidCare insurance making the family worse off. While practical, it’s a long awaited step forward.
  • School Start Times – ACC supports HB 733 – Temple (R) Pasco and Beltran (R) Hillsborough and SB 1112 – Burgess (R) Pasco. Middle School would not start before 8 a.m. and High School before 8:30. For years, ACC has promoted the science of child sleep and its conflict with too early schedules. It has passed the House and is on second reading in the Senate.
  •  Legal Proceedings of Children – ACC supports efforts to state the representation of children more clearly by Guardians ad Litem (GAL) in dependency court and cross-over kids to juvenile court. Empowers circuit court judges to appoint Attorney-ad-Litems (AAL) when needed. GAL has an impressive track record and this issue of GAL and AAL has been debated for four consecutive years. It is time to move on. ACC believes better outcomes might better be achieved by studying the value of more permanent dependency court judges and the impact on understanding the nuances and needs of specific cases and moving them forward. HB 875 – Trabulsky ( R) St. Lucie – is in its second reading on the House floor.
  • Department of Juvenile Justice Youth Scholars – General bills in the Senate – Criminal Justice and House – Judiciary would make use of Secretary Hall’s education credentials with the intent to improve education services in the juvenile justice system. Helping a child advance reading and grade level is one of the prime factors in reducing recidivism and promoting future success. ACC strongly supports this effort while remaining deeply concerned that DJJ has not been proactive enough in requesting appropriations to resurrect effective community based services for children leaving detention and the return home from residential corrective settings. Law enforcement, parents and advocates are screaming for these services but their voices as yet have not penetrated the budgeting process.
  • Booster Seats – Could this be the year when the age will increase to 7 for using science proven child restraints in automobiles? Years of effort as yet have not crossed the finish line. HB 1211 – Beltran (R) Hillsborough is on second reading on the House floor. SB 1374 – Perry (R) – is moving along but only 2 weeks are left. ACC is impressed and encouraged by the legions of supporters who continue to champion this life-saving measure.

A tax cut package is favorable to parents and guardians of babies and toddlers. Other tax provisions as written elicit concern about limiting future state revenue available for children.

Healthy Start and Other Immediate Needs

Immediate needs exist. For example, ACC did some checking with policy experts and learned Healthy Start has not received a funding increase for non-Medicaid core services for 17 years. The news seemed surreal, considering, back then, gas was $2.20 per gallon versus $3.75 at the pump today; median home prices in Florida were $238,000 v $377,000; and, placing our fur-babies in overnight care was $35 and today it is $50-$55. With Florida’s new policies, no one could or would predict for the record projected birth rate but all AGREE a significant increase will occur. ACC believes budget policy must align with practice policy. In our next edition we hope to publish updated news on this story.

Also, look for our next update when we address the expungement of records for victims of human trafficking as the bills are changing language at the time of this release.

Finally, a special thank you to Senator Tracie Davis (D) Duval County and Representative Silvers (D) Palm Beach – for an instructional booklet on the appropriate use of the Baker Act is now mandated if approved by the Governor. More reform is needed in the explosive use of the Baker Act especially in school settings. More on this issue in upcoming ACC publications.

For more information about the inappropriate use of the Baker Act and children’s mental health, visit our website.