TALLAHASSEE — A day after former state Sen. Denise Grimsley stepped down from her two-month stint as the interim president and CEO of the state’s largest domestic violence nonprofit organization, a House committee voted to do away with the state’s required partnership with the organization.
The bill, put forward by Miami Republican Juan Fernandez-Barquin removes the statute ensuring the contract between the Department of Children and Families and the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The proposal passed unanimously in the House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee, the bill’s first stop.
The non-profit came under fire last year, after the Herald/Times reported that the coalition has not fulfilled document requests issued in a state audit going on more than a year and that former president — and current board member — Tiffany Carr was drawing a $761,000 salary for her work.
The coalition oversees domestic violence programs, and passes through more than $51 million in state and federal government funds to 42 domestic violence centers across the state.
In 2004, the Legislature directed DCF to contract with a statewide association to provide domestic violence services. DCF contracted with FCADV. In 2012, the Legislature acted to require DCF to contract specifically with FCADV for the program.
The bill does not prohibit DCF from contracting with the coalition for domestic violence services in the future, though Fernandez-Barquin told the Herald/Times on Tuesday that he would support a future amendment to his bill that would suspend the coalition for one year, barring it from bidding for a DCF contract until an audit is complete.
Fernandez-Barquin said he was told the bill is a “DCF priority” and that he hopes it allows the agency to have more freedom in providing domestic violence services.
“The reason I’m fighting [for] this bill is because the coalition has failed to comply with audits ... which compounds an issue when it comes to federal funding,” he said. “DCF cannot in good faith represent to the federal government that these funds are being used properly.”
There have been federal and state investigations of FCADV’s funding and expenditures after Herald/Times stories pointed out the fact that Carr was drawing a high salary while domestic violence centers went understaffed and under-resourced, like a Tampa Bay-area domestic violence shelter that was reported to have roaches and moldy food in 2019.
According to DCF, the requirement to contract with the FCADV leaves the agency with “little bargaining power” in negotiations. For example, FCADV employees are not subject to DCF’s background screening process, despite repeated requests by DCF’s general counsel.
Republican lobbyist and Trump confidant Brian Ballard, of powerful lobbying firm Ballard Partners, is registered to lobby against the bill on behalf of the coalition.
The Senate version of the bill, filed by Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean, has not yet been put on an agenda for a hearing, but Sen. Lauren Book, chair of the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee, said she plans to hear the bill “very, very soon.”
The committee is the Senate bill’s first assigned stop.