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Sober homes certification bill passes House

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In what might be the culmination of a years-long effort to pass legislation to regulate the growing cottage industry of private halfway houses for addicts known as “sober homes,” state Rep. Bill Hager has successfully shepherded his HB 21 toward passage in the House by a vote of 113-2.

“Dating back to my service on the Boca Raton City Council, I have been keenly aware of the neighborhood challenges relating to so-called sober homes. I am pleased that the House of Representatives agreed that this was the year to take legislative action,” Hager, a Palm Beach County Republican, said in a statement on Thursday.

Chief among those challenges is what advocates for Hager’s bill have called a legal “wild West” atmosphere governing who can open a sober home and where it can be. Public testimony in favor of the bill has mostly come from distraught homeowners who find themselves sharing a street or even a block with multiple semi-commercial recovery houses in areas zoned for residential use.

Due to the nature of the addiction treatment business, not all of those temporary neighbors are a pleasure to live near, either.

The bill would require extra state scrutiny for recovery industry entrepreneurs, often addicts themselves, seeking to open a sober home.

“Our proposal creates a registration process for sober homes and a screening process of those who operate these homes. Way too many problems have been reported to local officials in connection with some of the sober homes to permit them to continue to operate as they have been,” Hager continued.

Republican state Reps. Matt Gaetz and John Tobia cast lonely dissenting “No” votes on anti-regulatory, libertarian grounds.

Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens, also of Palm Beach, is again running the Senate companion bill this year. His SB 326 now sits in Appropriations, where it died last year without being considered.

With a seeming break in the action as state-federal negotiations over low-income pool healthcare funding, the bill may have more oxygen to work with than it did during 2014 session, however.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at

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