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            United Gazette
                                         Weekly News from the Capitol
Issue 6April 6, 2015
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: Mid-Session Status Report 
old and new capitolThe 60-day regular legislative session is scheduled to end on May 1st. Many key issues important to United Way remain unresolved, including: passage of the Early Learning health and safety bill (CS/HB 7017/CS/SB 7006); significant funding increases for School Readiness, Voluntary Prekindergarten, Help Me Grow and other early childhood programs; expansion of Florida KidCare to remove the five-year wait for children of lawfully residing immigrants; full funding of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust; and other supports for Florida's ALICE families. Negotiating the $4.3 billion gap between House and Senate budgets - and whether 800,000 low-income, uninsured Floridians will have an affordable health coverage option - is by far the biggest unresolved issue, and may well lead the Legislature into an overtime special session. Read more.
Quick Links

Important Session Dates

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

April 12-17:Children's Week

May 1: Last day of the regular Session

Jump Start Early Literacy Pilot

CS/HB 153 (Lee, D-Ft. Pierce) and SB 1116 (Abruzzo, D-Wellington) requires the Office of Early Learning (OEL) to establish a five-year 'Literacy Jump Start Pilot Project' to provide emergent literacy instruction to low-income, at-risk children in St. Lucie County. In order to participate in the pilot project, a child must be two or three years of age, eligible for a federally subsidized child care program, and a member of a family that is economically disadvantaged and reside in locally or federally subsidized housing in St. Lucie County. The program provides literacy training to the parents of participating children, and also encourages coordination of basic health screening and immunizations in conjunction with the literacy instruction. This comprehensive, parent-centered approach to early literacy for at-risk children could serve as a model for the state.
Florida ABLE Act

CS/HB 935 (R.Rodrigues, R-Ft. Myers) and CS/SB 642 (Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers) create the Florida Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (the Florida ABLE Act) to provide a pathway for economic independence and a better quality of life for individuals with disabilities. The Florida ABLE program, created under the direction of the Florida Prepaid College Board, would allow family members of individuals with disabilities to contribute to a tax-exempt ABLE account. The account could be used for qualified disability expenses, including education, housing, health and employment supports. Assets in the ABLE account would not affect the disabled individual's eligibility for state and federal benefits, such as SSI and Medicaid. Read more.
Behavioral Health System Reforms - continued

HB 7119 (Harrell, R-Stuart) and SB 7068 (Garcia, R-Hialeah) make changes to Florida's system of prevention, treatment, and recovery services for substance abuse and mental health (SAMH). The Department of Children and Families (DCF) contracts with seven behavioral-health managing entities, which in turn subcontract with local service providers. The bill would require DCF to develop performance standards for behavioral health outcomes; give the managing entities more flexibility in meeting those outcomes; and allow for-profit companies to bid on the managing entity contracts. That provision has raised concerns among the current managing entities, which claim they are already providing more than $100 million in uncompensated care and cannot offer the competitive salaries needed to retain staff. Read more.
Bills to Watch This Week


HB 7113 (McBurney, R-Jacksonville) Mental Health Services in the Criminal Justice System: Expands eligibility for military veterans & service members and authorizes treatment-based mental health court programs for adults and certain juvenile offenders.

SB 7070 (Appropriations) Mental Health and Substance Abuse: Adds substance abuse impairment, treatment programs and services as a program focus for the Department of Children and Families.

CS/SB 512 (Thompson, D-Orlando) HIV Testing: Expands access to HIV testing in health care and non health care settings.

CS/SB 320 (D.Gaetz, R-Destin) Adoption and Foster Care: Establishes an adoption incentive program for certain state employees.

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.