After Florida's regular legislative session convenes on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 10:00 AM, several items pertaining to children eventually will come before the House of Representatives and Senate.
Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz recently shared three articles that discuss legislative news of interest to program volunteers, staff and supporters.
The first article from his office is presented below. Links to the other two articles and additional information on the topics they discuss follow.
Fiscal Year 2014–2015 Legislative Priorities for the Florida Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program
by the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office
As of November 2013, the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program represented seventy-six percent of abused, neglected and abandoned children statewide. There were 8,839 certified volunteers plus an additional 998 uncertified non-case volunteers across Florida's twenty judicial circuits.
In order to increase to one-hundred percent the number of children represented as required by state and federal law, a legislative priority of the program will be to request a budget appropriation of $6.1 million dollars and place a priority on reaching all children in out of home care.
With that group fully represented, eighty percent of children in the entire dependency court system will be represented by a guardian ad litem volunteer.
Another priority is the aforementioned "Keys to Independence Act" expected to be filed soon by Senator Nancy Detert and Representative Ben Albritton. More information about this proposed legislation can be found above and in the linked to WFSU News piece.
In addition, the program will also seek to modify the proviso language which governs attorneys ad litem for dependent children in nursing homes. The modification would allow excess funds to be used for other children who have legal needs such as guardianships for incapacitated children.
Lawmakers Expected To File First-Of-A-Kind Bill To Help Foster Kids Get Driver Licenses
As quoted in the article, Abramowitz says that "the bill will be filed soon by Senator Nancy Detert and Representative Ben Albritton." Detert and Albritton both sponsored last year's normalcy "Let Kids Be Kids" House Bill 215.
"This legislation, which you and many others have helped to shape, will create a pilot project to increase the number of youth in foster care who learn to drive and obtain drivers licenses," says Abramowitz. "Having a driver's license is a key to completing education and holding a job as an adult — currently most foster youth do not have that option."
Under the legislation, the Florida Department of Children and Families will be charged with writing an annual report on the effectiveness of the three-year pilot program. Youth must maintain a 2.2 grade point average to be eligible to participate and they, along with caregivers and not-for-profit agency providers, may seek reimbursement for certain costs like taking driver's education, driving tests and obtaining a license.
Funding for the first year of operation is being sought through a $1.5 million dollar appropriation and the program will run on a first-come, first-served basis as long as funds are available.
The bill dubbed the "Keys to Independence Act" also gives priority to foster youth enrolled in school-based driver education programs. Another provision allows youth ages sixteen and up to obtain a court order granting the ability to contract for automobile insurance under their own name after completing driver's education.
Update: On Tuesday, February 18, 2014, the "Keys to Independence Act" — now officially SB 744 "Motor Vehicle Insurance and Driver Education for Children in Care" — was heard by the Florida Senate's Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. The bill passed the ten-member committee unanimously.
According to WFSU News, Senator Detert is now considering removing one of the bill's provisions "after some lawmakers raised concerns that foster kids would get preference when in enrolling in driver's ed courses."
Gaetz-Weatherford plan to protect the vulnerable
A key portion comes at the end of the article noting House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz said that "they intend to fully fund a maximum expansion of the Guardian ad Litem Program for minors, increase funding for child advocacy centers and to better address human trafficking crimes."
The commitment to "fully fund maximum current year expansion of the Guardian ad Litem Program" was part of the joint 2014 Work Plan Florida Agenda announced by Weatherford and Gaetz on Wednesday, January 29, 2014.
2014-02-12: added legislative priorities section
2014-02-18: added update on SB 744 and initial committee passage
2014-02-20: updated presentation order and formatting for clarity