TAMPA — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a wide-ranging bill on Monday aimed at supporting fathers and children by connecting men with career services and boys with mentorship.
The bill was a priority for outgoing House Speaker Chris Sprowls, who earlier in the year declared that Florida had a “fatherhood crisis.”
The bill, HB 7065, directs millions of dollars to initiatives meant to support men in being parents, such as having case managers help fathers find jobs and transition from prison. Money will also go toward distributing information about effective parenting, including a media campaign that hopes to use public figures and influencers as spokespeople.
About $70 million has been appropriated for the project in Florida’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which DeSantis has yet to sign.
“If you look over the last many decades, one of the worst social trends has been the decline of fatherhood,” DeSantis said Monday while holding the hands of his two daughters.
Some of the funding will support grants for nonprofit organizations like the one run by Tony Dungy, the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts. Dungy attended and spoke at Monday’s event, which was held at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa, the practice and training complex for the Bucs.
Dungy was among the founders of All Pro Dad, a program of Family First that supports parenting, marriage and family initiatives.
“This will be tremendous,” Dungy said of the legislation. “This will be such a big help to fathers in Florida, agencies that support fathers in Florida,” Dungy said, addressing DeSantis.
Money will also be allocated to bolster mentorship programs for at-risk middle and high school boys through the Department of Juvenile Justice, DeSantis said.
“For many of these youths, these mentors may be the only father figure that they have,” he said.
Sprowls, a former prosecutor, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of fatherhood, previously saying that “just about every negative outcome we see that faces boys here in Florida and across the country can be linked back to an absent father in the home.”
Sprowls said Monday that no news conference or bill signing he’s attended has meant as much to him as this one.
After a divisive year in Tallahassee, Sprowls said the bill can be a unifying issue. He pointed to support from both Republicans and Democrats.
“All of us have a father story,” Sprowls said. “Every person knows the value of having a present parent and a present father.”