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Save critical services for Florida’s children

in Statewide/The Bay and the 'Burg by

Reposted with permission from Ben Kirby: Any of you who have read this blog with even a modicum of regularity know that I take great pains to keep my professional life a long distance away from the views I express here.  The political commentary I offer on this blog in no way reflects of the beliefs of my employer or colleagues.

However, unfortunately I must break with that practice today and talk about my work.

There is currently a bill in the Florida Senate which would not only put in jeopardy my particular workplace — and the workplace of the other Children’s Services Councils across the state — it would, much more importantly, jeopardize the already precarious future of many tens of thousands of Floridians (most of them children) in need.

Senator Joe Negron (R-28) has filed SB 1216 — and it is making its way through committees right now.  There is a House Bill — HB 1227 — which has been filed by Rep. Debbie Mayfield (R-80) as well.

The short version is SB 1216 would place CSCs in an arbitrary referendum cycle.  Instead of focusing on services to children and families, CSCs would be in a nearly constant campaign mode.  And of course, the people that would suffer the most would be poor children and at-risk families.

The Sunshine State News has a blog post on the passage of this bill out of a key Senate Committee today.

Yesterday, the TCPalm ran an editorial asking its readers to contact their legislators and vote “no” on this bad bill.  Also yesterday, the Tampa Tribune ran an editorial assailing the legislation:

An argument can be made for having the board’s taxing authority go before voters periodically. Every public enterprise, however worthwhile, should be accountable. But a vote every six years would subject the boards to constant political turmoil. The goal in funding children’s programs should be long-term results, not immediate political gain.

Each board’s spending is audited annually.

A referendum every 10 or 20 years should be sufficient.

Negron is more interested in political sloganeering than efficient government – or helping children. His bill should be rejected.

I’d also refer you to this Q & A with the Executive Director of the St. Lucie County CSC.

There’s a lot more to read on this one, and it’s largely not pretty for proponents of SB 1216.  Just google news “children’s services councils” and see for yourself.  In fact, the legislation is so bad, so controversial, Senator Negron has actually drawn a primary challenger because of it.

Still, despite the controversy, despite the outrcy from news organizations condemning the bill, and despite the good advocacy work that has already been done, we need to work even harder to defeat this bill — and I need to ask for your help in doing so.

I’m not asking you to help save my job.  Well, if this bill fails it will save my job — but this is so much bigger than me.  It is bigger than me, and it is bigger than my colleagues.  This is about 29,000 kids in poverty in Pinellas County.  If this bill passes, you can count on that number swelling, not shrinking.  This is about 12,000 kids in subsidized child care in Pinellas County alone.  There are 6,835 families (many of them single parent homes) that are working because they can put their kids in day care.  They won’t be if this bill passes, because that child care will go away.  This is about the 1,277 kids who received mentoring services because of JWB.  They won’t be mentored if this bill passes.  This is about 1,024 kids off the streets and in school (and not robbing your house or stealing your car) because of JWB-funded truancy programs.  If this bill passes you can put the average of $30 a year you’ll save in taxes towards a new security system for the house.  Good luck with that.

This is about mitigating child maltreatment.  This is about immunizations, food stamps, prenatal careunemployment, foreclosures, child health care, and much, much more.

Go to the JWB website and look at the kinds of programs we fund.  You can even see how well they’re doing.  Check out the other stuff, too, like the “help for parents” link.  We offer county-wide training, too.  These are the kinds of local services people want.  SB 1216 aims to take them away.

So here’s the text of the action alert from our colleagues in Tallahassee:

Today, the Senate Committee on Community Affairs voted 8-2 in favor of SB 1216, which could cripple the ability of Children’s Services Councils (CSCs) to make long-term, strategic investments in Florida’s children. The bill places CSCs on an arbitrary referendum cycle, forcing them to be reapproved by voters every six years. This is a disservice to the communities that voted to create their CSC.

The House Military & Local Affairs Committee is scheduled to hear the House version, PCS/HB 1227, tomorrow (1-3 p.m.). It is critically important that the committee members hear from you now. This is the last chance to stop this harmful bill before it could go to the floor for full vote.

TELL LEGISLATORS:

• This is the worst possible time to jeopardize funding for children’s programs.  Make no mistake, state programs will be impacted negatively.  Children and families will be hurt.

• This bill is unnecessary!  Current law allows the county commission or the state legislature (representatives of the people) to place a CSC on the ballot for reapproval at any time.

• CSCs would operate in a constant campaign mode, diverting important resources from what the voters said they wanted – making children the priority not subject to political whims.

• CSCs are a model for accountability. No other government entity has the level of oversight that CSCs operate under. They are accountable to the voters, to their county commissions and to the state legislature.

• Collectively, the 8 independent CSCs serve well over 1 million children. They generate nearly 14,000 local jobs.  This could be lost in 5 counties as soon as August of this year.

• It is unacceptable to have the local concerns of one state senator undo voter approved programs statewide that have ably overseen children’s programs as far back as 1946.

CALLS TO ACTION:

• Contact members of the House Military & Local Affairs Committee and urge them to vote NO on PCS/HB 1227.

• Contact House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater to urge them to oppose this measure.

At a time when funding for children’s programs is being cut to levels that will endanger thousands of children, the possibility of losing a local funding solution – CSCs — will make matters worse. This bill impinges on the will of local communities. Download additional talk points [PDF].

— — — —

I want to thank you in advance for even just reading this post.  If you can call a Member of that House Committee, or even just your own Legislator, I really thank you for taking the time.  I thank you, and the children and families of Florida thank you as well.

We’ll keep you updated on how this bill looks as we move on through the session.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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