Abramowitz: 2012 Legislative Update

On Friday, March 16, 2012, Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office provided a legislative update to guardian ad litem staff, volunteers and supporters.

In addition to discussing the impact to the program's budget, Abramowitz also reports that SB 1960—which permits, among other things, guardian ad litem volunteers to transport children in the program—received bipartisan and unanimous support in the House and Senate.

You can read the text of his update below and download the Florida Guardian ad Litem 2012 Transportation Pilot Project Review.



Thanks so much to all the GAL volunteers who support the Guardian ad Litem Program. You have created a situation which makes our legislative session so much more successful and meaningful. I have been meeting with the governor's staff, legislative staff, and legislators; the work has already been done by all of you showing the importance of the GAL Program to children through word of mouth in the community about how you have made a difference in the lives of children.

The legislative session comes to a close with many cuts taken in education, healthcare, and civil and criminal justice. The criminal justice portion of our budget has been especially hard hit, with the Florida Legislature being forced to weigh which prisons to keep open and what prevention programs could be funded. Despite these monumental challenges, the GAL Program has received a substantial increase and has not been cut for several sessions. This is remarkable considering the economic downturn the state has been facing.

Our program is really appreciative of Governor Scott, First Lady Ann Scott and the governor's staff. They have kept me up to date on issues impacting guardians ad litem and child welfare. As I have stated often, we have a friend in the governor's office when it comes to supporting the GAL Program, including the governor setting up a televised swearing in of our GAL volunteers during the legislative session and offering technical assistance from his staff, including the Office of Policy and Budget.

The House and Senate have also been very supportive across the board. The GAL Program was brought up in legislative budget meetings throughout session trying to come up with more dollars so children can have a voice and have a better outcome by having a volunteer child advocate. Throughout session, legislators would encourage me, our program and our volunteers to keep advocating for children. A special thanks goes out to Speaker Dean Cannon, Speaker Designee Will Weatherford, Representative Dennis Baxley, Representative Denise Grimsley, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senator J.D. Alexander, Senator Ronda Storms, Senator Nan Rich, and Senator Joe Negron to name a few.

The program was not targeted for cuts during the budget process and at the end of the process; the GAL Program received an extra $1.5 million. The state has only awarded extra funds to programs with extraordinary records of success and this is a testament to what the Guardian ad Litem Program has done for Florida's children year after year.

The Orange County Bar Association also received a $300,000 nonrecurring allocation to expand child representation in that area. In total, we received an increase of $1.8 million dollars.

The program also achieved a key victory with the passage of SB 1960. SB 1960 was passed 115-0 by the House and 40-0 by the Senate, one of the few substantive bills to receive bipartisan and unanimous support in both chambers. Among other provisions of this bill, it changes Florida law to permit guardian ad litem volunteers to transport children served by the program. The bill prohibits judges from court ordering volunteers to transport; this ensures the decision is exclusively the volunteers' with approval from the program.

Allowing volunteers to transport youth will enhance the bonding relationship between the two and will encourage improved communication. Also, allowing volunteers to transport youth to everyday events, such as a school dance, will promote a sense of normalcy for the youth.

Further, the bill creates a structure in which individual counties can fund positions for Guardian ad Litem. This will allow more children to be served and counties to participate in aiding their residents in a new manner.

While most institutions in Florida were fortunate to break even in 2012, Guardian ad Litem was of the very few to come out ahead, both fiscally and legislatively. This year was a landmark year for GAL as it continues to serve more of Florida's vulnerable children.

General Revenue Fund    $31,656,928
Trust Fund $320,249
Positions 539
Total Funding $31,977,177

I want to recognize the Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation's lobbyist, Monica Rodriguez. She was instrumental in achieving a successful legislative session and preparing the above report. Most importantly, I thank each of you for your dedication to children and inspiration you give to all our staff at the Guardian ad Litem Program.

Alan F. Abramowitz
Executive Director
Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office

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