Legislative Sessions in Review

2017 Legislative Session in Review

With the exception of one very controversial bill that brings time-sharing into the administrative child support realm, the 2017 legislative session was rather sedate as relating to children and families. Here are the relevant bills that have become law as of June 25, 2017:

1. Chapter 2017-8, Laws of Florida (Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 60) This legislation deals with providing driver education, driver licenses and auto insurance for children in out-of-home care. What was once a 3-year pilot project has now been made permanent, to the extent that funding is available. The Department of Children and Families is authorized to develop a program to pay for the cost of driver education, licensure and other costs incidental to licensure, and motor vehicle insurance for children in out-of-home care who have completed a driver education program.

By: Jack Moring

Caregivers who add a child to an existing policy can be reimbursed for the increase in cost attributable to adding the child.

Funding is also provided (until available funds are exhausted) for those children who have reached permanency status or have turned 18 for up to six months after obtaining permanency or turning 18, and potentially beyond that six-month period, provided the child can demonstrate that the costs of licensure and the incidental costs thereto are creating barriers for obtaining employment or completing educational goals.

DCF is to contract with a non-profit entity to operate and administer the program.

Dependency legislation relating to transition planning (section 39.6035, Florida Statutes) has been amended to add obtaining a driver’s license as an item the transition plan must address.

The judicial review legislation (section 39.701) has been amended to require that for children 15 years of age and older, the court is to determine if appropriate steps are being taken for the child to obtain a driver’s license or learner’s permit. After the judicial review hearing when a child turns 17, DCF’s social study reports have to include information on how to obtain a driver’s license or learner’s permit.

Guardians ad litem have been added to the list of persons who can be authorized to make an application on behalf of a minor for issuance of a learner’s permit without assumption of any obligation or liability for damages caused by the minor in the operation of a motor vehicle.

Finally, the bill re-enacts the law requiring that any child between 16 and 18 applying for license, must have a certification by a responsible adult that the child has been accompanied for at least 50 hours of behind-the-wheel experience, ten hours of which must have been night driving. The responsible adult must also certify to having monitored the child during any online driver license examination.

The act became effective upon becoming a law on May 1, 2017.

2. Chapter 2017-27, Laws of Florida (Committee Substitute for Committee Substitute for Committee Substitute for House Bill No. 185) This bill allows families who operate a licensed family foster home to receive family annual entrance passes to all state parks and a fifty percent (50%) discount on base campsite fees at state parks.

Families who adopt a special needs child receive a one-time annual entrance pass at the time of adoption.

The act took effect on July 1, 2017.

3. Chapter 2017-23, Laws of Florida (Committee Substitute for Committee Substitute for Senate Bill No. 852) — This law relates to human trafficking. Section 39.524, Florida Statutes, is amended to require DCF or law enforcement to conduct a multidisciplinary staffing of a child found or suspected to be a victim of commercial sexual exploitation in order to determine the child’s need for services and need for placement in a safe house or safe foster home. The results of the staffing and any assessments must be included at the next disposition hearing on judicial review. DCF, CBC’s and law enforcement are to provide annual reports to the Legislature on the prevalence of child commercial sexual exploitation, the specialized services provided to the children and their placement, as well as local service capacities assessed. DCF is mandated to maintain certain data related to these matters.

Commercial sexual exploitation is defined as the use of any person under 18 years of age for sexual purposes in exchange for money, goods or services or the promise of money, goods, or services.

Safe homes and safe foster homes are required to be certified by DCF, and, as part of the certification process, must use strength-based and trauma-informed approaches to care, group victims by age or maturity level and provide separate care for victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Residential treatment centers and hospitals providing mental health treatment have to provide specialized treatment for victims of commercial sexual exploitation. CBC lead agencies are to ensure that victims have a case manager and case plan, regardless of any dependency status.

The locations of safe homes and safe foster homes are confidential and exempt from disclosure.

Methodologies for conducting multidisciplinary staffings and service plans are created. Training protocols requiring specialized intensive training for investigators and case managers assigned to victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

This act took effect upon approval by the Governor, which occurred on May 23, 2017.

4. Chapter 2017-13, Laws of Florida (Committee Substitute for Committee Substitute for House Bill No. 151) In addition to the use of therapy dogs to assist child victims and child witnesses, facility dogs and therapy animals may also be used.

A facility dog is a dog that has been trained, evaluated and certified as a facility dog pursuant to industry standards and provides unobtrusive emotional support to children and adults in facility settings.

A therapy animal is an animal trained, evaluated and certified as a therapy animal pursuant to industry standards by an organization that certifies animals as appropriate to provide animal therapy.

The act took effect on July 1, 2017.

5. Chapter 2017-80, Laws of Florida (Committee Substitute for House Bill 329) This bill amends section 61.13, Florida Statutes, to provide that any time-sharing plan may not require a minor child to visit a parent who is a resident of a substance abuse recovery residence between 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., unless a court makes a specific finding that such visitation is in the child’s best interests. Among the factors the court is to take into account are whether the residence is for pregnant women or parents whose children reside with them, the number of adults in the residence, and the parent’s level of recovery.

Notwithstanding a court’s finding of best interests, if any of the residents are sexual predators or sexual offenders, no such visitation shall be allowed at the recovery residence.

The act took effect on July 1, 2017.

6. Chapter 2017-117, Laws of Florida (Committee Substitute for Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 590) Arguably the most controversial bill to pass, this act authorizes the establishment of parenting time plans in administrative child support proceedings, when the parties agree to the same.

While the bill may seem innocuous on its face, the bill provides no mechanism for addressing any power imbalances that may exist between parties in arriving at an agreed-to parenting time plan, other than an off-hand statement that it is not intended for parents and families with domestic or family violence concerns.

A default parenting time plan is created that, if accepted by the parties, gives the obligor parent two weekends per month (Friday at 6:00 p.m. to Sunday at 6:00 p.m., with extension to a Friday and/or Monday if a holiday falls thereon), a 2-hour mid-week time, alternating Thanksgiving break, Winter break, Spring break, and two weeks in the summer.

This act contradicts the 2008 amendments to Chapter 61, which explicitly state that there is no presumption in favor of or against any particular parenting plan or time-sharing schedule, and the court is to treat each family as unique and determine the appropriate parenting plan for that family.

There are concerns as to what the legal effect of any agreed-to parenting time plan will be if a parent later seeks court involvement. Will it be a de novo review and a best interests standard. Will it be a substantial change modification standard. Loose language in the act itself would suggest the latter: If, after the incorporation of an agreed-upon parenting time plan into and administrative support order, a parent becomes concerned about the safety of the child during the child’s time with the other parent a modification of the parenting time plan may be sought through a court of appropriate jurisdiction.

Stay tuned for more information on this act, as it is interpreted by the courts.

It took effect on January 1, 2018.