State Public Policy Updates

Public Policy Update September 30, 2013

As it is September 30th, one day before many of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act could become effective, FCASV is issuing a description of the provisions of the Act that may impact sexual assault victims and the rape crisis centers who serve them.  

A short summary of those provisions is below:

  • Gender Rating.  Insurance companies will no longer be able to practice gender rating, i.e. charging individual women or small businesses with predominantly female staffs more for their coverage. Currently, gender rating is allowable in Florida but all insurance companies will have to cease the practice no later than 2014.[i] 
  • Pre-existing Conditions.  As insurance companies will no longer be able to use pre-existing conditions as a basis for denial, this will greatly benefit women who have been victims of sexual or domestic violence.  Previously, the treatment received for conditions related to incidents of violence could have been the basis for denial of coverage.  In 2014, that will no longer be allowable. [ii]
  • Screening for Interpersonal Violence.  This requires health plans to cover services related to counseling and screening for interpersonal violence without cost sharing.  Providers may perform a basic screening for interpersonal violence during well-woman screenings or other standard visit.  Most health plans have already put this provision into effect.[iii]
  • Pregnancy Assistance Fund.  This Fund allows for pregnant victims of domestic and sexual violence to receive additional free services from child welfare agencies, health clinics and Temporary Assistance for Needy families (TANF) offices.  Pregnant women have a 1 in 12 chance of being abused during pregnancy and so the purpose behind the provision is to provide additional assistance to decrease the likelihood of sexual or domestic abuse.[iv] 

[i] Women and Health Care Law in Florida.  State of Women: Improving Women’s Health.   National Women’s Law Center and State Partners (April 2013). 

[ii] Id.

[iii] Health Care Providers and Screening and Counseling for Interpersonal and Domestic Violence.  Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. 


Public Policy Update June 30, 2013

Military Sexual Assault Response

Sexual assault in the Armed Forces has rightfully received a great deal of attention in the last few months. This public policy update provides information on recent developments and includes the full text of and a link to the National Alliance Against Sexual Violence’s policy statement on sexual assault in the military.

Of note:
⦁    In an important development, on June 7, Major General Margaret H. Woodward was assigned Director of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Office of the Vice Chief of Staff, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C. The SAPR office is the service's single point of accountability and oversight for sexual assault policy matters, and reports directly to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force. The SAPR office develops policies and programs that address the service's sexual assault prevention, education, accountability, victim assistance and assessment efforts.
Prior to her current assignment, Gen, Woodward was the Air Force Chief of Safety, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C. and Commander, Air Force Safety Center, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. She also oversaw an investigation of the sexual abuse scandal at the Air Force's training headquarters at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
⦁    In response to a need for peer support services identified by users of the Defense Department’s Safe Helpline for sexual assault victims, Pentagon officials have launched the Safe HelpRoom, a new service that allows victims to participate in group chat sessions to connect with and support one another in a moderated and secure online environment.
The Safe HelpRoom is available at http://SafeHelpline.org  where a moderator can provide referrals as necessary and will ensure that chat postings adhere to all ground rules. Sessions are available twice weekly in two-hour blocks; the session schedule can also be found at http://SafeHelpline.org, along with polls for users to help determine session topics to address specific concerns.
The Safe HelpRoom and Safe Helpline are administered by the Defense Department and operated by Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, through a contract with DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, known as SAPRO.
When users visit Safe Helpline, the staff provides tailored, one-on-one assistance and offers a variety of up-to-date service referrals for resources on and off military bases and installations. Service referrals include information for sexual assault response coordinators, along with legal, medical, mental health, and spiritual military resources.
The referral database also houses information for local civilian and Veterans Affairs Department resources for helpline users seeking information and crisis support away from the military response system.
⦁    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had his first in-person meeting on June 27, 2013 with a panel that is reviewing the Defense Department’s response systems to sexual assaults and related crimes.
The panel, established by the Department of Defense in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, will conduct an independent review and assessment of the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate crimes involving sexual assault and related offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and will develop recommendations to improve the effectiveness of those systems.

NAESV Policy Statement
May 17, 2013

Military Sexual Assault
Sexual assault within the military continues to occur at alarming levels with 26,000 anonymously reported incidents in 2012 alone according to Department of Defense (DoD) estimates. During this same period, only 3,300 service members reported their assaults. Meanwhile, the nation is confronted with headlines of high level military sexual assault leaders acting in sexually abusive ways. Combined with the heart-wrenching stories of survivors, these facts reveal the depth of the problem of military sexual assault (MSA) and demand incisive action.
Sexual violence is an endemic and epidemic social problem in our nation. The victim blaming attitudes of the civilian world carry into military service, and those attitudes carry over into tours of duty. The military has embraced the role of being a standard bearer of discipline, honorable action, and integrity. An opportunity exists to cultivate attitudes, behaviors, and responses in the military that blaze a trail for a burgeoning national and international response to sexual violence.
While the military has correctly been in the spotlight for failing to support victims and respond to and prevent sexual assault, civilian criminal justice systems regularly and systematically fail victims too, and leaders in all realms fall short of adequately understanding and addressing the problem of sexual violence. Like other closed institutions, the military has access to a range of punishments for offenders including but not limited to a court-martial. In the civilian criminal justice system, prosecutors are often unable or unwilling to file formal charges against an offender and proceed to trial. And in the civilian system, there is no other criminal recourse for the victim to pursue. While a court-martial will most often be the correct course of action to respond to a MSA offense, policy makers should not be too quick to remove options available in the military system. Non-judicial punishments may provide very important avenues for offender accountability and victim support.
At the same time, because the military is based on such a strongly hierarchical system, it is especially important to build in policies and structures that allow cultural change to occur related to sexual violence; fully expose the extent and systemic nature of the problem; provide victims with mechanisms to safely report and receive support; and hold offenders accountable. Sexual offenders are serial offenders and many members of the military will one day become civilians again. For the safety of both members of the military and the safety of all of our communities, it is absolutely imperative that offenders are stopped.
NAESV believes that, in order for the military to succeed in addressing MSA, it must build strong local, state and national collaborations with community-based experts in the arenas of sexual assault prevention and intervention. Victims should always receive referral information for their local rape crisis center, and requiring this specific referral should be included in code. Military installations should be encouraged to build robust working relationships and Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with state sexual assault coalitions and rape crisis centers who are community experts and trainers on creating victim-centered policies, advocating and intervening with victims, and preventing sexual assault.
NAESV commends the White House, Congress and the Department of Defense for prioritizing legislative and policy responses to MSA including the establishment of the Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013. Over the next year, the panel will conduct an independent review and assessment of the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate crimes involving adult sexual assault, for the purpose of developing recommendations concerning how to improve the effectiveness of those systems. NAESV believes all proposed solutions to MSA should be considered. The Panel’s recommendations could be an important guide to determine the most appropriate changes to current military policy and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) related to sexual assault
 A number of victim-centered best practices and policy changes have been suggested to address MSA. NAESV wholeheartedly supports many of these including:
• Providing a special counsel to victims of MSA to ensure that they have access to independent legal advice and advocacy.
• Prohibiting commanders from overturning a court-martial conviction of MSA and requiring a written justification of any changes to a court-martial sentence for MSA.
• Removing the authority to initiate and conduct an MSA investigation from the chain of command structure.
• Retaining records of sexual assault reports for at least 50 years.
• Explicitly protecting victims who choose to report from retaliation and requiring an inspector general investigate such claims.
• Confirming the commander’s authority to transfer the accused or victim to a different post based on the victim’s needs and safety.
• Removing the statute of limitations on crimes of MSA against children.
• Addressing the undue influence and potential for coercion of military trainers and prohibiting sexual relationships between trainers and trainees.
• Ensuring that victims have access to a range of veterans’ benefits as a result of sexual trauma without having to prove a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
• Strengthening standards for military service members assigned to sexual assault prevention and response roles.
• Addressing any behavior that creates degrading and offensive work environments or sustains a culture that tolerates sexual violence.
• Requiring that a substantiated complaint of sexual assault or harassment is included in a serviceman’s personnel record and that convicted offenders receive a punitive separation/dishonorable discharge.
• Sharing information on sex offenders in the military with civilian sex offender databases.
• Removing members of the military who were convicted as sex offenders in civilian court.
• Providing the same rights to victims of MSA as victims of federal crimes as laid out in the Crime Victims Rights Act.
 NAESV recommends caution in several policy arenas related to MSA:
• Long mandatory minimum sentences can have a chilling effect on reporting and prosecuting sexual assault in the civilian system and NAESV does not recommend them.
• Combining the prosecution, reporting, investigation, and victim services response to MSA in one office could result in conflicts of interest. Victim-centered practices should exist in all areas of the military and a division of powers and responsibilities to address MSA is warranted.
• Careful thought must be given before removing any potential options for addressing MSA including plea bargains and other administrative punishments in cases where there is truly insufficient evidence for a court-martial yet sexually offending behavior has clearly occurred. Victims can often benefit from a wider array of options for offender accountability.
The Department of Defense has recently promulgated an interim final rule governing Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program Procedures. NAESV finds many aspects of the proposed rule laudable including:
• Ensuring that members of the National Guard & Reserves have access to Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs). NAESV believes, whether or not they are on active duty, members of the National Guard should have access to the full range of prevention and services related to MSA.
• Allowing military dependents over age 18 and employees of DoD contractors to have access to sexual assault services. NAESV believes that all dependents over 12 should have access to these services.
• Proposing an appropriate document retention policy and requiring strong recordkeeping procedures and tracking mechanisms. This includes requiring that information about MSA be entered into the tracking system within 48 hours of a report (ninety-six hours if the unit is deployed in an area with internet connectivity issues).
• Expediting the transfer policy to allow victims freedom from contact with the offender.
• Focusing on services that are trauma-informed, gender-responsive, culturally competent, and recovery-oriented.
• Prohibiting enlistment if an individual has been convicted of a sexual crime.
• Requiring collaboration with local services. NAESV recommends legislative language to specifically name rape crisis centers.
• Requiring five years of storage for sexual assault forensic examination results from victims who have not yet reported.
• Including strong training requirements across the board for all employees responding to MSA.
• Establishing standards to assess the organizational climate related to MSA including interviews and follow-up assessments with a broad range of employees.
• Requiring a commander to meet with the SARC within 30 days of taking command.
NAESV is pleased to join with the military and policy makers as we strive to create both a military and civilian culture that fundamentally rejects sexual violence, supports victims and holds offenders accountable. (retrieved from http://endsexualviolence.org/where-we-stand/military-sexual-assault on 6/26/2013)

Child Abuse/Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking

Child sexual abuse and domestic minor sex trafficking are also on the public agenda, nationally and in Florida. Recently, several bills that would impact the child welfare response to these issues have been introduced in Congress, while the Justice Department’s budget for FY 2014 would eliminate funding for the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, as well as two other programs in the Victims of Child Abuse Act (juvenile and family courts, and Child Advocacy Centers).
⦁    Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies on June 6, to discuss FY 2014 appropriations for the Justice Department.
Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) acknowledged the need for fiscal restraint, while protecting children. Senator Mikulski expressed her deep concern over the rise in the prison population, noting that there are 224,000 people in U.S. prisons and the population increases each year, while a full 25% of the Justice Department budget request for FY 2014 is directed to prisons. The chairwoman explained that while she believes in tough enforcement and rigorous prosecution, she wondered what the Justice Department is doing to reduce the escalating prison population. Attorney General Holder responded that the agency’s focus on prevention is evident in programs within the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). Chairwoman Mikulski noted that she would like a specific plan from the Justice Department about what prevention programs Congress should fund.
⦁    The Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act, H.R. 1732 was introduced on April 25 by Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Tom Marino (R-PA). The legislation, which has 16 co-sponsors, directs HHS to develop guidelines for child welfare agencies and juvenile/family courts to appropriately serve youth who are, or at risk of becoming, victims of trafficking.  Specifically, H.R. 1732 directs HHS to develop best practice guidelines in the following areas:
(1) PERSONNEL RESOURCES- Sample training materials, protocols, and screening tools that prepare child welfare personnel to identify and serve youth who are victims of trafficking (as so defined) or are at-risk of becoming such a victim.
(2) SERVICE DELIVERY- Specific strategies to identify victims, manage cases, and improve services to meet the unique needs of foster youth who are also victims of trafficking (as so defined). The strategies should be comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, client-centered, strength-based, trauma-informed, and inclusive of all genders.
(3) COLLABORATION- Sample protocols for effective, cross-system collaboration between local agencies and non-profit organizations, including child welfare, medical and health professionals, Federal, State, and local police, juvenile detention centers and courts, and runaway and homeless youth programs, schools, and organizations already serving victims of trafficking (as so defined).
(4) RESIDENTIAL PLACEMENT- A list of recommendations to establish safe residential placements for foster youth who have been trafficked (as so defined) as well as training guidelines for caregivers that serve youth being cared for outside the home.
(5) DOCUMENTATION AND DATA- Sample protocols and recommended strategies in order to identify victims as well as collect, document, and share data across systems. Recommendations should be designed to help agencies better understand the type of trafficking involved, the scope of the problem, the specific needs of the population to be served, and the degree of victim interaction with multiple systems. Recommendations may address incorporating human trafficking designations in existing statewide automated child welfare information systems.
(6) PREVENTION- Recommended actions for child welfare agencies and personnel that will help to prevent foster youth from becoming victims of human trafficking.
CAPTA (Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act) funds can be used by states to plan for provisions and procedures to assess and identify victims of trafficking, as well as training and services for victims. HHS must consult with appropriate federal agencies, review current data collection and efforts, and provide a report to Congress on the challenges involved.
Intersection Between Child Welfare and Domestic Child Trafficking
While good national data is not available, several studies have found a very high percentage of domestic child victims of trafficking were former foster youth or youth who had run away from foster care. Additionally, a University of Chicago study found that as many as 1/3 of former foster youth are involved in subsequent criminal behavior.
⦁    The Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking and the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth brought together child welfare advocates, youth and providers on May 16, 2013 to discuss commercial exploitation of youth, especially youth in foster care. The forum offered an opportunity to share strategies and best practices to prevent trafficking as well as treatment and support for child and youth victims. HHS Acting Assistant Secretary George Sheldon, former Secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families, discussed his agency’s Human Trafficking Briefing Series, which provides ten actions for child welfare agencies to address sex trafficking.
A consistent recommendation among forum participants was the need to change the way youth victims are viewed and treated. Children as young as eleven or twelve are trafficked, and treated as criminals in many jurisdictions. Consequently, they do not receive the services and support they need.
The National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council shared a set of recommendations developed in response to its survey of current and former foster youth. Among the recommendations, the Youth Council calls for criminalizing the act of allowing known sexual offenders into foster homes and the provision and identification of a youth-friendly resource to whom youth may report sex abuse.

 

 


 

Florida Policy Update April 30, 2013

SB 964 – Relating to Termination of Parental Rights

Sponsor: Sen. Abruzzo

Summary:

This bill allows for the termination of parental rights if a court determines, by clear and convincing evidence, that the child was conceived due to sexual battery. The language also creates the presumption that the termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child if that child was the product of sexual battery.  Under this bill, a petition to terminate parental rights may be filed at any time.

Effective Date: July 1, 2013

Status: The bill passed both houses on 4/30/13.  It has been ordered enrolled to prepare for presentation to the Governor.

HB 7031 – Relating to Sex Offenses

Sponsor: Rep. Harrell

Summary:

Currently in Florida, a victim of child sexual abuse who is 11 years old or younger may provide out-of-court testimony regarding the abuse suffered; victims age 12 and over must give their testimony in court.  This bill would allow out-of-court statements by child victims with physical, mental, emotional, or developmental ages of 16 or less.

This bill includes a requirement for courts to hold a defendant being charged with a felony that would require, if convicted, registration as a sex offender or predator, without bail until first appearance for the safety of the community.  It also allows for the evaluation of sex offenders on probation or community control to determine if sex offender treatment is required.

Effective Date: October 1, 2013

Status: Passed the House by a vote of 111/6 on 4/17/13. Both HB 7031 and its Senate companion bill, SB 1114 by Sen. Altman, were both referred to committees but no movement has occurred since 4/18/13.

 

HB 757 – Relating to Mandatory Reports of Child Abuse

Sponsor: Rep. Hood

Summary:

The purpose of this bill is to eliminate multiple reports from law enforcement to the Central Abuse Hotline, and vice versa, regarding the same instance of child abuse.   If provides that while law enforcement is investigating a case of child abuse by someone other than a parent or guardian, they will not have to make a report to the Central Abuse Hotline if the same incident was originally referred to them by the Central Abuse Hotline. It also provides that if DCF originally received a report of abuse from the county sheriff’s office, they will not have to refer that case back to that sheriff’s office.

Effective Date: July 1, 2013

Status: Passed the House unanimously on 4/17/13.  On 4/18, it was referred to three committees but has made no movement since then. The Senate companion bill, SB 1162 by Sen. Bradley, has not moved from its committee since 4/11/13.

     

HB 353 – Relating to Juvenile Justice

Sponsor: Rep. Harrell

Summary:

This bill provides for criminal penalties for employees in the juvenile justice system who abuse juveniles in the justice system.  There are enhanced penalties for great bodily harm or permanent disfigurement to the juveniles abused.  There is also a provision allowing criminal penalties for employees who witness abuse to juveniles in the justice system but do not report, keep others from reporting or alter records or documentation to conceal instances of abuse.

Status: Passed the House unanimously on 4/12/13. Referred to several committees but has not moved since 4/18.

The Senate companion bill, SB 0672 by Sen. Evers, cleared its first three committees of reference and was assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee on 4/17, but there has been no movement since then.

 

Public Policy Update February 28, 2013

VAWA Passes!

Today, the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 286 – 138; the House substitute failed by a vote of 257 – 166. The Senate version of VAWA was passed in the U.S. Senate on February 12, 2013. Now, this version that has passed both the Senate and House will be presented to the President for signature.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 contains improvements upon previous provisions for victims of violence. Below is a look at some of the most important aspects of the reauthorization:

  • Acts as The Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2013. This will effectively extend VAWA grant programs until FY 2018.
  • Makes changes to the Public Health Service Act to reauthorize and strengthen necessary healthcare system grant programs for victims of sexual, domestic and dating violence and stalking
  • Establishes a national resource center on workplace response to victims of sexual and domestic violence to increase the likelihood of victims’ economic security
  • Allows for Indian tribes to have criminal jurisdiction over protection order violations that occur on their lands, as long as the defendant has substantial tribal ties and has been apprised of his/her constitutional rights
  • Recognizes various means of cyber stalking as forms of stalking in the Federal Criminal Code.
  • Important Funding Provisions:

o No less than 25% of allotted VAWA funds must be used for projects aiding victims of sexual assault
o No less than 5% of allotted VAWA funds must be used for funding tribal grant programs
o No more than 10% may be used for the provision of civil legal services for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and/or stalking
o The Attorney General will have to authorize in writing expenditures for Department of Justice conferences that exceed $20,000.

These provisions and others not only expanded current protections but opened VAWA’s protections more meaningfully to a wider group of survivors of violence. Elder abuse grant proposals that are culturally specific will be given a higher priority by the Attorney General. Prevention of violence grants focusing on men and youth can now be awarded by the Attorney General. By amendment, the VAWA reauthorization also included a LGBT nondiscrimination policy that passed the House of Representatives.


Public Policy Update January 31, 2013

Florida Update

In his budget, released early this afternoon, Governor Scott recommended a $2.5 million appropriation for rape crisis services, making it a clear priority to support and help heal victims of sexual assault. Funding is intended to help raise awareness of rape and sexual abuse, improve law enforcement and prosecutorial response and to ensure that victims have access to high-quality recovery services. This is the first time in Florida that services for survivors of sexual violence have been funded in the Governor's Budget Recommendation and we applaud his leadership in addressing sexual violence.

Additionally, the Governor's Budget Recommendation includes $1,468,608 in nonrecurring funding to establish 50 dedicated group home intensive service beds in Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale for female victims of commercial sexual exploitation who reside in the foster care system. The children are in need of placements and services that comply with requirements established by the Florida Safe Harbor Act of 2012.

Washington Update

Late this afternoon, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced that he had reached a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority to move forward S. 47, the Violence Against Women Act, which lapsed at the end of last Congress when lawmakers failed to reauthorize the legislation. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) signed on today as a co-sponsor. Though it wasn’t initially clear when the Senate would take up VAWA, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) announced this evening that the Senate will move to the Violence Against Women Act on Monday, February 4.

S. 47 would be a five-year reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and includes expanded protections for LGBT and tribal victims, measures that were in the bill that died last Congress. In hopes of moving reauthorization forward as quickly as possible, the Senate removed a provision – opposed last Congress by the House – that would have moderately increased the number of emergency visas (U-visas) available for immigrant victims of domestic or sexual violence (and some other violent crimes) who assist law enforcement with the investigation and prosecution of the crime. However, the U-visa expansion may be resurrected when the Senate takes up immigration reform. Added to S. 47 was the SAFER Act, a stand-alone bill from last year that supports the elimination of rape kit backlogs.

 


 

State Public Policy Update November 30, 2012

Sexual Battery Relocation Assistance

In 2012 the Florida legislature’s passage of HB1355 allowed for victim relocation assistance for sexual battery victims. A $1.5 million non-recurring appropriation was allocated to relocation assistance. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) will administer the funds as part of the Victim Compensation Program. The new law, 960.099, F.S., went into effect on October 1, 2012, and allows a victim of sexual battery to apply for relocation assistance if the sexual battery was committed in the victim’s place of residence or in a location that would lead the victim to reasonably fear for his or her continued safety in the place of residence. A certified rape crisis center in Florida must certify the need for assistance and assert that the victim has cooperated with law enforcement and developed a safety plan. Florida Capitol

In November 2012, OAG finalized their administrative rule regarding the process of administration of relocation funds. The rule, 2A-2.015 F.A.C., establishes agency procedure regarding eligibility of funds, the application process and payment to victims. According to the rule, a rape crisis center representative will have to witness a victim accept payment of funds. An application for funds must include proof that a sexual battery offense was committed and that a report to law enforcement was made. Proof of sexual battery can be a law enforcement, Department of Children and Families or Child Protection Team report, or an information or other charging document from an Assistant State Attorney.

To view 2A-2.015, F.A.C., follow the link below:

https://www.flrules.org/gateway/ruleNo.asp?id=2A-2.015

To view 960.199, F.S., follow the link below:

http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0900-0999/0960/Sections/0960.199.html

2012 Legislative Wrap-Up

Florida's legislative session occured in January and February of 2012 rather than March and April because of the need to complete redistricting this year. A broad spectrum of sexual violence legislation was discussed and passed including FCASV's top priority bill and legislation relating to trafficking, stalking, video voyeurism, a public records exemption, the Civil Commitment Program, background screening, and adoption. A strong budget was passed to support Florida's rape crisis programs. Unfortunately, Governor Scott vetoed critical new funding to address waiting lists at rape crisis centers.

Funding

The final budget included appropriations for the Rape Crisis Center Trust Fund compatible with collection rates which will result in a small decrease in overall funding to rape crisis centers in FY 2012. Funding for rape crisis centers in Legal Affairs was increased from $250,000 to $500,000 and will continue to be funded by recurring general revenue for the second year. New funding for rape crisis centers, $1.5 in non-recurring general revenue in the Department of Children and Families budget, was passed by the legislature but vetoed by the Governor via line item veto on April 17, 2012.

FCASV Priority: Protection of Vulnerable Persons
HB 1355 by Rep. Chris Dorworth (R-Heathrow)
SB 1816 by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Ft. Myers)
Takes effect October 1, 2012

This legislation includes several components including relocation assistance for victims of sexual violence, abuse hotline augmentations, enhanced penalties for engaging in prostitution with a minor, and increased accountability for universities:

  • Relocation: This legislation provides relocation assistance for victims of sexual assault through the Victim Compensation Program, and a $1.5 million non-recurring appropriation for this purpose. Victims will be eligible for a $1500 one-time/$3000 lifetime relocation benefit if the need is confirmed by a certified rape crisis center. As with all victim compensation benefits, eligibility requires that the crime must was reported to law enforcement. The sexual violence must have occurred in the home or in a place that would lead the victim to reasonably fear for her/his safety.
  • Abuse Hotline: On October 1, 2012 the Florida Abuse Hotline will start taking reports of non-caretaker abuse in addition to caretaker abuse. The non-caretakers abuse cases will be forwarded to the sheriff for investigation.
  • Child Prostitution: The legislation enhances by one degree criminal penalties for prostitution when the person being prostituted is a minor (and does not further criminalize the behavior of the minor).
  • Accountability for Universities: The legislation adds a $1 million fine for universities failing to report child abuse and forward copies of those reports to the appropriate authorities.

Safe Harbor Act
HB 99 by Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami)
SB 202 by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami)
Takes effect January 1, 2012

The bill creates the Florida Safe Harbor Act to protect and provide shelter for sexually exploited children. It makes amendments to definitions relating to abuse and sexual exploitation of children in Chapter 39, F.S. which could have the effect of considering a child as dependent and sexually exploited when they are engaging in prostitution. The bill retains law enforcement discretion whether or not to arrest and prosecute children for the crime of prostitution but requires law enforcement to deliver children picked up and alleged to be dependent and sexually exploited to the Department of Children and Families for assessment and possible shelter. The legislation allows the Department of Children and Families to place a child alleged to have been sexually exploited in a safe house, if one is available. It creates new sections of law related to safe harbor placements which provides process and requirements for services in safe houses. The bill increases the civil penalty for “pimping” from $500 to $5,000 and directs that $500 of the civil penalty be used for treatment based drug court programs and the remainder be paid to the Department of Children and Family Services to fund safe houses and short-term safe houses.

Trafficking
HB 7049 by the House Judiciary Committee (Rep. Snyder)
SB 1880 by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami)
Takes effect July 1, 2012

This legislation eliminates the concept that trafficking necessarily include “transport” of the victim. It Augments the definition of coercion to include enticing or luring a person through fraud or deceit and providing a controlled substance to a person. The legislation combines statutes on involuntary servitude, human trafficking, and sex trafficking into a single statute, enhances the applicability of these provisions, and increases penalties. Jurisdiction for human trafficking is provided to the Office of the Statewide Prosecutor and statewide grand jury. The legislation eliminates the requirement that prohibited trafficking of minors for commercial sexual activity be “coerced” and provides enhanced penalties for those who traffic minors and those who traffic persons who are not legally authorized to work in the United States. The legislation requires traffickers to register as sex offenders, expands the definition of “commercial sexual activity” and includes these activities as potential forms of trafficking. The legislation permits a judge to authorize the interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications when such interception may provide evidence of the commission of the offense of human trafficking. The legislation requires an operator of a massage establishment and any employee of a massage establishment to present valid government identification to the Department of Health or law enforcement upon request.

Stalking
HB 1099 by Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood)
SB 950 by Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs)
Takes effect October 1, 2012

This legislation augments the definition of proving “credible threat” to include verbal, nonverbal, electronic communication and also lessens the threshold of demonstrating that a threat is credibly. This legislation creates a new injunction for protection against stalking; provides a first degree misdemeanor penalty for violating an injunction against stalking; and specifies that victims applying for a stalking injunction have the right to have an advocate present and referral information from a certified rape crisis center and/or domestic violence center.

Protect Our Children Act of 2012
HB 437 by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (R-Orlando)
SB 964 by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Ft Myers)
Takes effect Ocber 1, 2012

This bill increases penalties for possessing or viewing photos depicting sexual conduct by a child, for repeat video voyeurism, adds video voyeurism to the sex offender registry statute and also specifies that if photographs include more than one child, each child in each photograph is a separate offense.

Video Voyeurism
HB 215 by Rep. Dana Young (R-Tampa)
SB 436 by Senators Ronda Storms (R-Brandon)
Takes effect July 1, 2012

This bill changes video voyeurism offenses that are currently first degree misdemeanors to third degree felonies if the offender was 19 years of age or older at the time of the offense and raises the offenses of video voyeurism against specified young persons and repeat video voyeurism from third degree felonies to second degree felonies. The bill also amends s. 810.145, F.S., to specify that the interior of a residential dwelling is a place where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Public Records Exemption
HB 1193 Rep. Mia Jones (D-Jacksonville)
SB 1390 Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa)
Takes effect October 1, 2012

This legislation creates a public records exemption for the automated process by which a petitioner may request notification of service of the injunction and requires the clerk and law enforcement to notify victims of this exemption.

Sexually Violent Predator Program
HB 1097 by Rep. Paige Kreegel (R-Punta Gorda)
SB 2052 by the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs
Takes effect July 1, 2012

This legislation relates to Florida’s civil commitment process. It requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to prioritize assessments for sexually violent offenders who are at least 365 days from release from confinement and who have not had an assessment or recommendation. The legislation removes a deportation detainer exception for sexually violent predators. As a result, DCF will be able to work with the courts to facilitate the deportation of sexually violent predators that can be safely deported. The legislation makes it a third degree felony for a person to knowingly and intentionally bring, send, take, or attempt to take “contraband” into any secure facility providing confinement and treatment.

Child Protection
HB 803 Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami)
SB 2044 by Senate Committee on Children, Families & Elder Affairs
Takes effect July 1, 2012

The bill makes changes to numerous provisions in chapter 39, Florida Statutes, relating to the central abuse hotline, child protective investigations, and the dependency process. The bill redesigns the process of child protective services. Specifically, the bill:

  • Amends the central abuse hotline procedures to provide that the hotline may accept a call from a parent or legal custodian seeking assistance for themselves when the call does not meet the statutory requirement of abuse, abandonment or neglect;
  • Allows the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF or department) to discontinue an investigation if it is determined that a false report of abuse, abandonment or neglect has been filed;
  • Requires the department to maintain one electronic child welfare case file for each child;
  • Requires child protective investigators (CPIs) to determine the need for immediate consultation with law enforcement personnel, child protection teams, and others prior to the commencement of an investigation;
  • Eliminates the current bifurcated investigative process and provides for a single procedure for every case accepted for investigation; and
  • Requires that monitoring of protective investigation reports are used to determine the quality and timeliness of safety assessments, and teamwork with other professionals and engagement with families.
  • In addition, the bill makes changes to the chapter 39, F.S., protective injunction process to prevent child abuse and to mirror language in the civil injunction process in chapter 741, F.S., amends requirements relating to criminal background and records checks for individuals being considered for placement of a child, and amends provisions relating to termination of parental rights that apply to incarcerated parents. The bill provides specific circumstances in which the court may order maintaining and strengthening families as a permanency goal in a child’s case plan when the child resides with a parent.

Background Screening
HB 943 by Rep. Doug Holder (R-Sarasota)
SB 320 by Sen. Ronda Storms (R-Brandon)
The bill is currently in effect.

This bill was designed to fix several glitches in legislation passed two years ago to significantly enhance background screening requirements and the screening process. This bill creates the Care Provider Background Screening Clearinghouse to allow for the results of criminal history checks of persons acting as covered care providers to be shared among the specified agencies. It requires electronic fingerprinting vendors to use technology systems that are compliant with the systems used by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It also allows employers to hire an employee for training and orientation before the screening is complete, provided the employee does not have any contact with clients until successful completion of the screening. The legislation creates background screening requirements related to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) within the Department of Education. The bill exempts the following personnel and volunteers from either screening or rescreening:

  • Mental health personnel working in hospitals with less than 15 hours of direct contact with adult patients per week in a hospital;
  • Certified Nursing Assistant applicants who have successfully passed background screening within 90 days of applying for certification;
  • Law enforcement officers who work or volunteer in summer camps and other facilities regulated under ch. 409, F.S., such as foster group homes and residential child-caring agencies;
  • Certain volunteers, relatives of clients, and attorneys who provide services through a direct service provider that has a contractual relationship with the Department of Elderly Affairs.

Department of Children and Families Domestic Violence Program Office
HB 7093 by the House Health and Human Services Committee
SB 2054 by the Senate Children, Families and Elders Affairs Committee
Takes effect July 1, 2012

The bill amends the duties of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) relating to the domestic violence program by:

  • Requiring DCF to contract with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) to monitor, fund and provide services for the state’s domestic violence program;
  • Limiting the role of DCF in the certification of domestic violence shelters;
  • Repealing the certification requirement for batterers’ intervention programs, removing the authority to collect fees for certification; and providing clarifying language for batterers’ intervention program requirements.

Adoption
HB 1163 by Rep. Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach)
SB 1874 by Sen. Stephen Wise (R-Jacksonville)
Bill takes effect July 1st

FCASV worked on one provision of this legislation related to adoption of a child conceived by sexual battery. The original bill strengthened provisions preventing the noticing of “the father” if a child conceived by criminal sexual activity to make it clear that a conviction was not required. The legislation was amended late in session to weaken this provision by saying “the father” would have to be noticed if criminal charges were not filed. The final bill was amended language back to current law.