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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate sends bill addressing unlicensed religious children's homes back to House

A crackdown on unlicensed religious children’s homes in response to a Tampa Bay Times investigation is one vote away from being sent to Gov. Rick Scott.

HB 7129 passed the Senate unanimously Friday. But the addition of three amendments means it must go back to the House, a move that could endanger its chances of being heard as session’s end draws near. Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, allowed the amendments to be added onto her bill, which calls for more oversight of the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies, the private, nonprofit accreditor of homes that have opted to take advantage of a religious exemption from licensing.

Among other changes, the bill adds a 24-hour reporting requirement for FACCA to inform the state of incidents at homes that threaten harm to children in violation of state law; reduces from 30 days to three days the time for which FACCA must tell the state of homes operating without legally-required credentials; and allows DCF to find the group up to $250 per violation for failing to comply with state requirements.

The original version of the bill called for more disclosure requirements, such as forcing FACCCA to report the average length of children at each home and the number of violations per home, but lawmakers stripped these earlier in the session.

Gov. Rick Scott has not said whether he supports the bill.

Senators defeated an amendment sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, aiming to help Jackson Memorial Hospital by allowing the Public Health Trust to lease office space without going through a competitive bidding process. Rules Chairman Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, gave Garcia’s amendment a vigorous thumbs-down. Garcia withdrew three other unrelated amendments.

An amendment by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sets aside $3 million for a rural primary care residency program at Sacred Heart Hospital in the Panhandle to include family physicians and pediatricians. Negron also included $250,000 for A Safe Haven for Newborns, a Miami group that takes in unwanted babies younger than one week old, allows mothers, and $200,000 for St. John Bosco Clinic in Little Havana.

A second amendment by Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, deals with neighborhood improvement district bonding, and the final one from Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, eliminates a redundant reporting requirement for law enforcement officers under last year’s Jerry Sandusky-inspired law requiring mandatory reporting of child abuse.

[Last modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 4:37pm]


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