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That’s right folks. The Florida legislature bailed for Summer vacation while leaving us, not only without a budget, but also with several important family law related bills unresolved. Though there may be a special session in May or June, government funding for programs and agencies are left uncertain. And it really only amounts to the same partisan political games we’re seeing across the country and in Washington D.C. No matter what side of the aisle you stand with, I think we can all agree that functional government must become a priority. Perhaps it’s time for both parties to clean house?

Here are some of the bills left unresolved that would’ve affected children and families:

1. The budget: the House and Senate are $4BILLION — yes thats a 4 with a B…ba, ba BILLION — apart on finalizing a budget, mostly over healthcare issues. Anyone else tired of discussing the Affordable Care Act, that is most assuredly here to stay, and Medicaid expansion?

2. Child Welfare: Senate Bill 7078 “Authorizing critical incident rapid response teams to review cases of child deaths occurring during an open investigation; requiring case staffing when medical neglect is substantiated; requiring an epidemiological child abuse death assessment and prevention system; providing intent for the operation of and interaction between the state and local death review committees, etc.” Passed by the Senate, tabled in the House. Our DCF social workers and attorneys are overloaded with work. Would the funding be adequate even if reform passed?

3. Disabilities: Senate Bill 7048 “Requiring the Agency for Persons with Disabilities to revise the priority order for the waiver services for specified children which are otherwise not available to them; establishing requirements for children and certain young adults with a category 2 priority, etc.” Having represented families of children with dire, emergency medical needs, any legislation that would make the waiver system more efficient should be a top priority for the Legislature. It’s a shame that the distraction of fiscal bickering has left Florida children behind yet again.

4. Child Care Facilities: House Bill 11  would exempt some child care facilities from licensing requirements. It is now stalled in the Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee. A similar Senate bill that would revise background check requirements for child care facility employees and volunteers is hanging out in the Senate’s Community Affairs Committee.

5. Alimony Reform: Having represented families on both sides of the alimony court room, I readily see the pros and cons to alimony reform. But yet again, the session ends without reform. Senate Bill 1248 has passed through the committee but did not get to a floor vote. The bill is aimed at, “Prohibiting a court from using certain presumptive alimony guidelines in calculating alimony pendente lite; providing presumptions concerning alimony awards depending on the duration of marriages; prohibiting a combined award of alimony and child support from constituting more than a specified percentage of a payor’s net income; creating a presumption that approximately equal time-sharing by both parents is in the best interests of the child; providing that a party may pursue an immediate modification of alimony in certain circumstances, etc.”  House bill 943 made it through the House but not the Senate. It would require “the use of specified factors in calculating alimony pendente lite; providing presumptions concerning alimony awards depending on the duration of marriages; providing for imputation of income in certain circumstances; declaring public policy concerning a child’s interests regarding time sharing in custody and support proceedings; prohibiting a court from changing the duration of an alimony award; providing for motions to advance the trial of certain actions if a specified period has passed since the initial service on the respondent, etc.”

And for some good news:

 Bill 7069 that limits standardized testing was passed and has been signed by Governor Scott. It ditched the 11th grade English exam and the requirement that all courses have a final exam. It also limits the number of hours for testing to 45 hours per school year. Yes, FORTY-FIVE HOURS of testing. Surprised your child is subjected to that much examination? An entire week of full-time work’s worth of actual classroom instruction lost so that politicians and private testing companies can measure “academic progress.” You can’t help but wonder how college professors feel about that as they read poorly written term papers.

Grandparents got good news this legislative session, sort of. With the passage of HB 0149, likely to be signed by the Governor, grandparents will have the right to petition the court for visitation/time-sharing under certain circumstances, such as a missing parent, deceased parent, and other situations in which the parent is absent. However, I question the constitutionality of this bill. The issue of a grandparents interfering with a parent’s constitutional right to manage their child’s life has been tested before and failed. Further, having the right to petition the court is far from getting a court to agree that grandparent interference with parental rights is in the child’s best interest. In Von Eiff v. Azicri, 720 So.2d 510 (Fla. 1998), the Florida Supreme Court held that the State Constitution’s guarantee of privacy was violated by statute mandating that if one or both parents are deceased, trial court shall order grandparent visitation upon grandparent’s petition, when in the best interest of the minor child, without first requiring proof of demonstrable harm to child.

So our fine leaders in Tallahassee didn’t get a budget done or pass alimony reform or address background checks and licensing for child care facilities, but they did manage to keep 45 hours of standardized testing and pass a grandparents’ rights law that is probably unconstitutional. Perhaps if they didn’t waste money bickering over health care reform, there would be enough tax dollars to provide medicaid waivers to disabled children. Bravo.

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