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            United Gazette
                                         Weekly News from the Capitol
Issue: #5April 7, 2014
A weekly update during the Florida Legislative Session, highlighting how United Way is working to make our community a better place to live.
Top News: Budget Conference Underway


House and Senate passed their respective budgets last week.  The House budget is at $75.3 billion; the Senate budget is at $74.9 billion.  Through the 'Budget Conference' process they must reach agreement.  President Gaetz appointed Senate conferees on Friday and Speaker Will Weatherford is expected to appoint House conferees ASAP.  The process is about a week ahead of schedule.

Due to a rebounding economy (over $1.2 billion in additional revenue is anticipated this year) both the Governor and the Legislature have proposed tax cuts in excess of $500 million.  Last week, the Governor signed CS/SB 156, authorizing a $395 million cut in vehicle registration fees.  While there are significant increases to education, health and human services in the budget proposals, some key programs are not slated for increases.  For example, Early Steps, a screening and early intervention program for children birth through 36 months with medical conditions or developmental delays, would receive level funding of $3.6 million, enough to maintain but not improve current services. 
Quick Links
ACTION ALERT:  Child booster seats save lives. Please call or email Chair Joe Negron (R-Stuart) and other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and ask them to support CS/SB 518 (sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami), requiring an approved child restraint device for all children less than 7 years of age, if the child is less than 4 feet 9 inches in height.  
Affordable Housing - and Job Creation

In 1992, the Florida Legislature adopted the William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act, pledging a portion of ad valorem taxes to be used as a dedicated source of revenue for affordable housing.  State and local trust funds ('Sadowski funds') were created to hold the money.  If the $226 million in those trust funds are used for affordable housing next year, they will create nearly 123,000 jobs and $2.3 billion in positive economic impact in Florida.  The Senate budget proposes just that, but the House proposes to use only $89 million for affordable housing, leaving the remaining $137 million for other purposes. Read more here and here.


Mental Health First Aid


CS/CS/CS/HB 159 Mental Health First Aid by Reps. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) and John Wood (R-Winter Haven) passed its last committee of reference and is headed for a Floor vote in the House.  This bill requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to establish a specialized training program to help the public identify and understand signs of mental illness and substance use disorders and to provide the public with skills to help a person who is experiencing a mental health or substance use problem.  The bill requires DCF to select a statewide association for mental health or substance abuse awareness or treatment to develop, implement, and manage the program.  It also requires OPPAGA to conduct a study on state mental health training programs. First responders and PreK-20 educators will be given priority for this important training.



Veterans and Dreamers


More than 1 million veterans and 60,000 active duty military personnel live in Florida.  On March 31st, Governor Scott signed into law CS/CS/HB 7015, relaxing college tuition residency requirements for veterans and active military personnel, and allowing public and private employers preference in hiring veterans.  Read more.


The House has also passed legislation extending eligibility for in-state college tuition to qualified 'Dreamers' (children of undocumented immigrants who spend four consecutive years in a Florida high school immediately before graduating).  The Senate version, CS/SB 1400, is scheduled for a committee hearing this week.  About 175,000 young Floridians would qualify for reduced tuition under this bill.  Read more.


Bills to Watch This Week


HB 7141 Human Trafficking by Healthy Families Subcommittee, will be heard in the House Health Care Appropriations Committee on 4/8/2014.  The bill augments the Florida Safe Harbor Act, passed by the Legislature in 2012 to decriminalize child prostitution.  HB 7141 and its Senate companion SB 1724, direct the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to provide an assessment, screening and response process for child victims of human trafficking.  The bill requires DCF to create safe houses, foster homes and at least one pilot locked facility for high-risk victims. According to bill sponsor, Healthy Families Subcommittee Chair Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie), the controversial locked "safe house" component is needed to separate trafficking victims from their former lives, so they can begin to recover.


Questions or Comments?
If you have questions or comments regarding the United Gazette and how United Way is working in Tallahassee to support your community, contact Ted Granger, United Way of Florida, or Jess Scher, United Way of Miami-Dade.