Will Senate President Don Gaetz do what he can today to ensure that fewer Florida children are susceptible to abuse? The Senate has the House bill to plug one of the gaping loopholes in the state's child protection system, but opportunistic senators filed numerous unrelated amendments Thursday that could kill the bill. Gaetz needs to see that the Senate passes the legislation and sends it to the governor.
The bill, HB 7129, is House Speaker Will Weatherford's response to the atrocities uncovered last year by the Tampa Bay Times' Alexandra Zayas as she investigated the state's lightly regulated religious group homes and boarding schools — some of which managed to operate for years without any state oversight. The House bill does not do as much as it should. It continues deferring responsibility for regulating religious group homes to a private agency that Zayas found has done a horrendous job in the past. But the bill would at least increase scrutiny on fly-by-night boarding schools that have popped up across the state, some of which managed to stay open even after multiple citations from the Department of Children and Families.
The world Zayas uncovered should not exist in 21st century Florida — a world where children are beaten, ridiculed, held down by their fellow students and subjected to hours or days of isolation. Weatherford's effort is a step toward ending that. Gaetz needs to make sure it succeeds.