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Senate panel approves changes to Florida “Early Steps Program”

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A Senate committee voted Thursday to introduce a bill that would improve state programs for infants and toddlers with developmental delays.

Proposed by the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, SB 7034 renames the Infants and Toddlers Early Intervention Program to the “Early Steps Program” and requires the Florida Department of Health to make information on early developmental conditions available to parents online and to train health care workers how to identify and respond to such conditions.

“The Early Steps program and the early intervention services it provides are critical to establishing Florida’s complete cradle to career pathway to economic independence for people with unique abilities,” Senate President Andy Gardiner said. “Last year, the Legislature significantly increased recurring funding for this important work. The key policy improvements in this legislation will make certain effective services are available for children in need at a time when it is going to make the biggest difference in their lives.”

The program is rooted in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed in 1975 to ensure children with developmental disabilities equal access to public education. The Senate bill is one of many introduced in the 2016 session as part of “Cradle to Career,” which aims to increase financial independence among developmentally disabled Floridians.

All Florida newborns would be eligible for a developmental disability screening under the proposed law and, if one is found, Early Steps offices will coordinate program benefits with the family’s insurance benefit to best help the child. DOH would also be responsible for creating program standards for Early Steps offices reporting their performance to the governor and Legislature annually.

The four committee members in attendance voted unanimously to introduce the bill.

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

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