Les Neuhaus, Author at Florida Politics

Les Neuhaus

Les Neuhaus is an all-platform journalist, with specialties in print reporting and writing. In addition to Florida Politics, he freelances as a general-assignment and breaking-news reporter for most of the major national daily newspapers, along with a host of digital media, and a human rights group. A former foreign correspondent across Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, Les covered a multitude of high-profile events in chronically-unstable nations. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, in which he served as a Security Policeman, and graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in political science. He is a proud father to his daughter and enjoys spending time with his family.

Five children used candle for ‘light and heat’ after child welfare worker ignored calls for help

A sub-contracted case manager with the Florida Department of Children and Families was arrested for falsifying information regarding the well-being of children living alone, officials confirmed Thursday.

Spokespeople for both DCF and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed Vanessa Arias, 33, was arrested Friday for lying on safety reports.

“The department has no tolerance for any individual compromising their integrity and, thereby, potentially jeopardizing the safety of a child,” Jessica Sims, a spokeswoman for DCF, told FloridaPolitics.com by email. “We immediately investigated Ms. Arias upon receiving these allegations and referred this case to law enforcement soon after.”

Arias is accused of knowingly stating erroneous information in records she had visited the home of five children in Kissimmee, roughly 22 miles south of Orlando, when in reality she had not, and further, didn’t return more than a dozen phone calls made from one of the children trying to notify her of their plight.

Lying on child welfare records is a felony offense in the state of Florida. She was booked into the Osceola County Jail, according to FDLE.

“One of the children said Arias was last in the home just after Thanksgiving of 2014,” the Orlando Sentinel reported, citing a report by FDLE Special Agent Stephen A. Brenton. “She stopped by and dropped off some Christmas cards in early December, but ‘stayed in the car because she did not like the roaches in the home.’”

The mother of the children was there only “sporadically,” a child told police. Officials confirmed the mother had been arrested for child abuse and neglect.

But Arias claimed on her Jan. 8 safety check report the children were “free from any visible signs of abuse/neglect with all their basic needs being met at this time.”

A statement by FDLE said a child made 16 phone calls to Arias in the home between Dec. 2014 and Jan. 2015, but none were returned.  A single candle was being used to provide “light and heat to the children,” the statement said, due to the electricity being shut off.

FDLE agents finally responded to the home on Jan. 18 after receiving notice from DCF.

Arias, who worked for Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services (GCJFCS) as a dependency case manager, was fired on Jan. 23, 2015.

DCF subcontracts referrals in the Orlando area to Community Based Care of Central Florida, who are the lead community-based care agency  – commonly referred to as a ‘CBC’ under Florida’s privatized child welfare parlance – over Orange, Seminole, and Osceola counties. Community Based Care of Central Florida, in turn, subcontracts out the case management to GCJFCS, a common practice with the CBCs throughout the state.

The investigation into Arias is ongoing, according to DCF spokeswoman Sims, who said a report would be released as soon as the inquiry  concludes.

‘Religion in school’ bill moves past House education committee

The Florida House advanced a bill that would allow school administrators to pray in public schools throughout the state if students initiate those prayers.

HB 303 unanimously passed the House Education Committee Thursday. The measure would violate the decades-old federal provision separating church and state, and may likely be challenged at some point.

However, at the committee meeting in Tallahassee, there were no oppositional voices as the bill moved passed its second hurdle. The bill’s next stop is a vote on the House floor.

The only concern from members of the committee seemed to come from Rep. Rene Plasencia, who wondered if there was a provision to prevent “satanic” groups from being allowed to express their rights. Plasencia is a former teacher.

“We prayed in school in Orange County, but the problem was that a demonic group came to our school,” the lawmaker said. “Is there anything (in the bill) that prevents a satanic group from coming to a school?”

Rep. Kimberly Daniels, co-sponsor of the bill, said it didn’t, but cited that six other states in the country had passed such measures without incidents involving so-called satanic groups.

Conversely, a big concern from those in the public, was discrimination against Christianity. Several citizens addressed the committee, voicing their support for the measure, including special interest groups.

“We hope you can support this most wonderful bill,” said Shawn Frost, who was at the meeting representing the Florida Coalition of School Board Members.

Rep. Patricia Williams, a freshman legislator and co-sponsor of the bill, addressed committee members in closing the proposal.

“If we as legislators can pray if we want to, then why can’t our children?”

Dark chapter in Florida’s racist history moves one more step to formal apologies, pardons

“It was Florida’s version of ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird,’” Sen. Gary Farmer said to the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as he introduced his bill – SCR 920 – that would lead to the pardons of four men killed and accused of crimes they didn’t commit.

It was July 16, 1949, before dawn. Willie and Norma Padgett were out on a lonesome rural road in Lake County, Florida, northwest of Orlando, when the car they were in stalled.

They reportedly told police they’d been at a dance and were on their way home, even though it was very late. Four young black men — who lived in nearby Groveland, essentially a shack town for black s to live next to the orange groves they labored in — happened along and offered to lend a hand.

Sammy Shepherd and Walter Irvin, U.S. Army veterans who’d helped stave off fascism from taking over the world, were with buddies Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas. But something bad happened.

The four tried to tried to help, they later told police. The Padgett’s, white, had a different version. Willie told the cops the boys beat him up and stole their car, Norma riding shotgun. She had been raped, she told authorities.

All but Thomas were soon rounded up, with Thomas shot dead, egregiously, 200 miles north trying to get away.

That’s the way it was told then. But that wasn’t what happened – not all. Two of the accused were in Orlando at the time of the crime. Evidence was kept from defense showing the men weren’t guilty, an FBI investigation later discovered.

A jury found the three men guilty in just 90 minutes. But something didn’t smell right in Florida to the U.S. Attorney General in Washington. A new trial was ordered for Irvin and Shepherd on appeal. Unfortunately, Greenlee didn’t appeal.

When local Sheriff Willis V. McCall went to fetch the two to transport them to the trial venue, he had his own plans. He pulled over after picking them up, ordered them out of the car and shot both of them, reportedly bragging about it in his radio afterward. Irvin lived, even though he sustained another shot when the sheriff and a deputy discovered he was still alive. The sheriff had said the black men tried to overpower him, forcing him to shoot them.

Irvin lived for his next trial, telling his version of everything that had happened.

At the second trial, the legendary Thurgood Marshall, later a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, represented Irvin.

But the Florida jury still convicted Irvin. They gave him a death sentence.

Gov. LeRoy Collins later stayed the execution, commuting the sentence to life in prison in 1954.

Greenlee was paroled in 1962. Irvin was paroled in 1968.

McCall, who continued to be reelected, despite his corruption, was forced from office in 1973 after a black man died on his watch, having been kicked to death by deputies.

Sen. Farmer’s bill has one more committee hurdle to go before a vote in the Senate.

The story of the Groveland Four, as they were dubbed, has been written about in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book and was the story was the subject of a film.

It was a “grave injustice,” Sen. Farmer said. The apology and formal pardon would be issued by the governor’s office, nearly  70 years after the fact.

Officials use Orlando man, attempted insurance fraud, as example of abuse

Orange County and state officials are making an example of a man who attempted to collect a bogus insurance claim on his car after reporting it stolen, accusing him of arson and insurance fraud.

Michael Abrams, 43, is now held on $50,000 bond in an Orange County detention facility, a statement said Wednesday.

Abrams is charged with arson, insurance fraud, filing a false insurance claim, false reports in the commission of a crime and grand theft by the Orange County state attorney’s office, Orange County records show. He stands accused of devising a plan to have his 2016 Toyota Camry stolen and destroyed so that he could collect an insurance payout totaling $10,000, the statement continues.

“More often than not, acts of arson are committed in order to collect insurance payouts or to cover up a larger crime,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. “To concoct the plan that he did is an elaborate act of fraud — one that undoubtedly drives up the cost of insurance for every Floridian. I’m proud of our investigative team for getting to the truth and putting this man behind bars where he belongs.”

In early December 2016, a crew from the Orange County Fire Rescue (OCFR) department responded to a vehicular fire. The car had previously reported stolen from New York state by Abrams.

Suspicious, a supervisor with OCFR reached out to the Florida State Fire Marshall’s Office to investigate the cause and origin of the fire and that’s when Abrams’ story didn’t add up.

After being questioned by investigators, he admitted paying another man $300 to destroy his car while he simultaneously reported it stolen.

Abrams admitted to also actively participating in the fire, which was interrupted when the fire and rescue crews were called to the scene of the crime.

“Upon confessing to an active role in the burning of his car and the filing of an unlawful insurance claim, Michael Abrams was arrested and charged with several felonies,” the statement said. “Abrams was booked into the Orange County Jail, bail was set at $50,000.”

He faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater, a statewide elected official, oversees the Department of Financial Services, serves as Florida’s State Fire Marshal, and is a member of the Florida Cabinet.

Atwater’s priorities include fighting financial fraud, abuse and waste in government; reducing government spending and regulatory burdens that chase away businesses, and providing transparency and accountability in spending.

Former Homeland Security chief: Donald Trump has ability to be ‘great’ leader

America’s former domestic security chief believes Donald Trump may have the makings of a historic leader.

In an MSNBC interview Wednesday, previous U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Trump could be a “great president.”

However, Johnson expressed concern over the president’s affinity for social media and worried he didn’t have a full staff in place yet to appropriately advise him on matters of national security.

“I actually believe Donald Trump has the potential to be a great president in sort of the ‘Nixon goes to China’ way or ‘Reagan goes to the Soviet Union’ way,” Johnson told host Willie Geist on MSNBC’s show, ‘Morning Joe.’ “If he can find a way to rein in some of — some of the more unhealthy impulses, listen to his staff, bring on a full complement of political appointees, who will help him govern.”

He continued: “And I’m very concerned about the tweets, obviously. And very concerned about the direction we’re taking in a lot of — in a lot of national security areas.”

In an exclusive interview with the TV cable-news network, Johnson also addressed the recent ban on devices larger than cell phones on flights emanating from more than a dozen Muslim countries to the U.S., enacted by DHS and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

”It’s a little unfair in this context to refer to this as a ban on electronics coming from Muslim-majority countries,” he said. “We look at where the direct flights are coming from, we look at the security around the airports, and we make the appropriate judgments. And this judgment was almost certainly a judgment made at the TSA, DHS, Intelligence Community level.”

The move has been viewed as a controversial and is being challenged.

Rick Scott to lead South American trade mission arranged by State Dept.

Gov. Rick Scott will lead a delegation of representatives from small- to midsized Florida businesses on an export trade mission to Argentina in April.

The trip will be to boost business relations between the state and the South American nation, a spokesman with Enterprise Florida said Wednesday.

Scott’s visit will be from April 23-27 and will begin in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital. It is being coordinated by the U.S. Embassy in Argentina, Florida’s fourth-largest global export destination with an estimated $3.3 billion worth of exports in 2015 alone.

“Florida is the gateway to Latin America and with more than 60,000 exporting businesses,” Scott said in a statement. “Enterprise Florida provides the platform for growing Florida companies to take their products to expanding markets worldwide. We look forward to expanding our trade relationship with Argentina and growing Florida’s business presence in Latin America.”

Manny Mencia, Enterprise Florida’s senior vice president of international trade and development, will be accompanying Scott on the trip.

“This mission will increase opportunities for the small businesses traveling with us,” Mencia said in the statement. “Since the election of President Mauricio Macri, Argentina has rebuilt its relationship with the U.S. The Argentina market will offer excellent opportunities for Florida companies in the years to come, and this mission will allow them to connect with new partners and clients looking to purchase U.S. products and services.”

With a population of 41.5 million people and a gross domestic product of approximately $609 billion, Argentina offers excellent opportunities for Florida companies interested in increasing their footprint in the Southern Cone. The United States is Argentina’s third largest trading partner. U.S. goods and services trade with Argentina totaled an estimated $22.4 billion in 2015; making Argentina the U.S.’s 28th largest goods export market in 2015, according to the announcement on the Florida Enterprise website.

Florida companies seeking to participate can still register and access all mission networking events, airport transfers in the country when traveling on official mission flights, and ground transportation to mission events.

The deadline for Delegate registration is April 1. To register, contact Jorge Riano at jriano@enterpriseflorida.com.

Breezing through committee: Welfare drug testing, DCF takes backseat in Walton County

Two measures dealing with drug testing for certain public aid applicants and law enforcement taking over DCF’s role investigative role in another county met no resistance Tuesday.

Among several bills heard by the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee were two dealing with applicants of temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) and child welfare investigations.

With regard to TANF, Sen. Jack Latvala introduced SB 1392, a bill that would require applicants with felony drug convictions within 10 years from the time of the application would be made to submit to a drug screening before being approved for those benefits. The bill also would include individuals with a “history of arrests for drug-related offenses,” Latvala said.

The bill also requires the Department of Children and Families, the agency tasked with distributing and overseeing TANF and food stamp benefits. DCF would be required to give advanced notice before a test and would not be allowed to withhold benefits from the children of parents who fail the illegal substance screenings.

While Latvala admitted the proposal was “controversial,” he said the idea actually wasn’t even his.

“This bill came out of ‘there ought to be a law’ competition we have at a high school in my son’s district in Pinellas County,” the lawmaker told the committee. “So I want to couch it in the fact it’s come from high school students who thought it ought to be a law.”

The applicant would be responsible for the cost of the screening, too, according to the bill’s fine print. Of that segment of applicants, those who pass would be tested every two months.

For those who fail, unless they meet strict requirements for re-testing, those individuals would not be eligible to reapply for two years, according to the bill.

Those who pass the screening will be a certain amount of dollars in their assistance from the state.

If an applicant fails once, they would have to wait two years before re-applying, but they would be eligible to attend drug rehabilitation classes contracted by DCF. If they fail twice, they won’t be eligible for benefits for three years.

There was no opposition to the bill from the public or committee members.

In a separate bill — SB 1092, Sen. George Gainer has proposed DCF to take a back seat to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office in all child welfare investigations.

If voted on favorably on the Senate floor later in the Legislative Session, Walton County would become only the seventh county out of Florida’s 67 to dish such serious responsibilities to a law enforcement agency.

The six other counties where sheriff’s offices have lead authority are Broward, Seminole, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee, where the idea first started as a pilot in the late 1990s.

Other measures passed during the meeting included SB 518, SB 520, SB 924, SB 1094 and SB 1400,

House advances bills ‘cracking the whip’ on domestic abuse, child offenders, recovery centers, terrorism

A litany of bills Tuesday show legislators intend to crack the whip on several social, criminal and commercial problems affecting the state.

Each bill passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, covering issues as wide ranging as child predators, domestic violence, addiction recovery homes, skimming devices, the department of corrections, probation, terrorism — and protection of marine turtles.

All the measures facing the committee were built around a single theme, improving language in bills already on the books or simply to stiffen them.

For example, take Rep. Jeanette Nuñez‘s HB 1385, which would clamp down even harder for domestic violence offenders by increasing minimum jail times in first, second and any additional charges leveled thereafter.

It raises the number of required days spent in jail if found guilty from five to 10 days in a first offense; 15 days for the second offense and 20 days for the third offense or anymore thereafter. If the domestic violence happens in front of a child, the bill proposes a first offense would raise the minimum mandate from five to 15 days, 20 for the second offense and 30 days for a third or any subsequent offense, the legislator told committee members.

The proposal would also prohibit award of attorney fees in specified domestic violence proceedings, including in cases of injunctions, and prevents a court from adjudicating the offense, except under rare circumstances

The bill would also require first-time offenders to attend a 26-week, so-called “batterers course,” which must be completed.

HB 457, proposed by Rep. Julio Gonzalez, enhances certain offenses falling under terrorism charges, raising the degrees to which an individual could be prosecuted to first and second felonies.

“This is a bill strongly needed under our armartarium of weapons to use against hard-core criminals and with that I ask for your favorable support,” Gonzalez said to the committee.

Reps. Bill Hager and Gayle Harrell introduced HB 807 to the committee, which seeks to restrict the marketing and commercialization of so-called “Sober Houses,” which are transitional dwellings often perceived as having blighted suburban residential areas, Hager argued to the committee.

“They have proliferated throughout southeast Florida, beginning with our pill mills relating to prescription pain killers,” Hager said. “I have walked the streets of these neighborhoods in each of my last seven elections and if you were to walk with me this is what you would see: you would see former middle class neighborhoods devastated; you would see them devastated from a property value standpoint, devastated from a peace and tranquility standpoint, you’d see families in these neighborhoods, where one out of three houses are sober homes, families who have paid the mortgage for 25 out of 30 years and have seen the value of their homes plummet because there are sober homes next door.”

He went on to cite instances in which young girls would be harassed with “cat calls” by addicts who looked like “death.”

The homes are based on financial referrals, bringing into question their legitimacy.

Both Hager and Harrell said their measure did not impede on the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Fair Housing Act, which have been roadblocks in trying to clean up the lack of regulation and licensing of rogue drug rehabilitation centers that essentially act as pathways of “recovery to relapse” centers, according to Hager.

Their bill looks to primarily stop the predatory marketing practices that have allowed the dwellings to spread like viruses and to put regulations and oversight on the existence of the rehab centers.

Rep. Shawn Harrison introduced HB 1429, which “authorizes subpoenas in certain investigations of sexual offenses involving child victims and specifies requirements, (and) requires nondisclosure of specified information in certain circumstances.”

The measure would also provide for “judicial review and extension of such nondisclosure requirements, (and) exempts certain records (and) objects from production,” while also provides creating the flexibility for immunity for eligible individuals in compliance with those subpoenas.

All other bills put forth before the committee — HB 343, HB 1201, HB 1203, HB 1031 and PCB CJR 17-05 passed the committee Tuesday.

Some lawmakers worry children will suffer under new Florida work-for-welfare bill

A bill approved by a Florida House committee Tuesday would increase penalties for Floridians receiving food stamps and cash aid that have not met obligations to find work.

HB 23 would return those penalties to levels before the 2008 Great Recession.

Cape Coral Republican Rep. Dane Eagle, who introduced the same measure in the 2016 Legislative Session which the Senate later rejected, re-introduced HB 23 to the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, citing instances of wanton abuse in the system.

Eagle said he saw an advertisement on Craigslist “to sell a (food stamp) $100 card for $50 to buy drugs, alcohol, you name it.”

While there have been numerous documented instances of abuse with electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards in every state, the drugs-and-alcohol citation is an oft-cited refrain used by fiscally conservative Republicans looking to justify legislation that curbs welfare programs.

In the case of HB 23, it also includes the temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) program.

According to the bill’s language, HB 23 “revises penalties for noncompliance with work requirements for temporary cash assistance; limits receipt of child-only benefits during periods of noncompliance with work requirements; provides applicability of work requirements before expiration of minimum penalty period; requires DCF to refer sanctioned participants to appropriate community services; requires DEO, in cooperation with CareerSource Florida, Inc., & DCF, to develop & implement work plan agreement for participants in temporary cash assistance program; prohibits use of EBT card at specified locations; requires DCF to impose replacement fee for EBT cards; revises eligibility guidelines for Relative Caregiver Program with respect to relative & nonrelative caregivers; provides appropriation.”

Eagle’s bill changes sanctions by increasing the length of time a recipient is slapped with a penalty for not finding employment within the required period allotted to do so, as set forth through an employment-assistance program run by the state through the Department of Children and Families.

Primarily, if an individual doesn’t find a job in time they lose both food stamps and cash assistance.

Rep. David Richardson asked Eagle what the total funds distributed through the TANF program were in 2016.

Eagle didn’t know.

Rep. Jason Brodeur chimed in: “About $130 million.”

For those individuals already on the edge and legitimately reliant on state assistance, the sudden loss of it can be a disaster, said committee member Rep. Daisy Baez, who previously worked in health care but now works as a social worker outside her role as a lawmaker.

She asked Eagle what a family of four received in cash assistance per month through the TANF program.

The bill’s creator didn’t know, he said.

Brodeur said it was about $200. (He was wrong.)

“Well, I do know that anyone that is trying to survive on $200 a month already has a multitude of problems with rent, transportation, food, putting clothes on their children,” Baez said. “I think the punitive approach is not the way we need to go.”

Eagle was quick to clarify his bill.

“We want to help people … but we want people to comply,” he said. “Again, the key word in temporary cash assistance is ‘temporary.’”

He said the abuse needed to stop so that those committing fraud within the system weren’t “stealing tax dollars” off Floridians.

The bill would require a one-month penalty before recipients would be allowed to reapply after their first failure to meet the goal of getting a job. The second missed deadline would then warrant a three-month suspension before the recipient could reapply. The third time — six months. The fourth time — one year before reapplication would be allowed.

Eagle also noted EBT cards and TANF could not be used to purchase marijuana in the soon-to-open dispensaries in Florida, presumably for edible marijuana products, or in tattoo shops.

He cited that among those recipients who failed once in their requirements to receive assistance, 40 percent went on to successfully comply with the guidelines, while 60 percent went on to at least a second sanction, he said.

The greatest concern those in attendance voiced was what affect these penalties would have on the children of parents not meeting the job-attainment mandates in time.

Luckily, Eagle’s measure would allow the dependents of parents to receive assistance after the first sanction. However, after the first sanction, the children would also be cut off from food and-or cash assistance benefits.

This was a sticking point for a few in the public gallery as well. During an opportunity for public debate, Karen Woodall, executive director of the Tallahassee-based Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, took the podium to state her case against HB 23 to the committee.

She said of the roughly 16,000 Floridians on TANF, nearly all had incurred at least one sanction.

“Let’s dig in and take a breath, and look at this over the next year and stop punishing people that, in the end, is really just going to affect children,” Woodall, who has more than 30 years’ experience in this budgetary area, said. “TANF is different from EBT for a reason.”

She said Eagle’s bill essentially saw the two as the same and treated penalties for them as one, which would be a mistake.

“And by the way, as I understand it, a family of four on TANF gets $303,” she said, accurately citing the figure loosely tossed around per Baez’s question. “While this bill is a good effort, it doesn’t really address the needs of Florida families.”

Nevertheless, legislators passed the measure.

House bills move ahead on loss of driver’s licenses, human trafficking, Baker Act

Three bills dealing with issues of child support, sexual exploitation of minors and the controversial Baker Act were passed favorably by the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee Monday.

Rep. Kimberly Daniels introduced HB 313, while Rep. Jeanette Nuñez put forth her legislation on child trafficking in HB 1383 and Rep. David Silvers added his measure (HB 1183) to the meeting.

Daniels’s proposal would give Florida judges greater flexibility in considering cases where defendants challenge the revocation of their driver’s licenses due to back payments of child support. Specifically, the bill amends an existing law known as the “Florida Responsible Parent Act,” creating broader circumstances for state judges to consider before taking the license of a parent behind on child support payments.

The original law was aimed at holding so-called “deadbeat dads” financially responsible for their children but has been controversial since its start. Critics argue it cripples those coming from lower socio-economic circumstances and makes employment prospects tougher, if already unemployed at the time of the license revocation. For with jobs, the loss of a driver’s license can lead to unemployment, further complicating their situation with a judge.

Additionally, opponents have cited many of those caught driving without a license become ensnared in a web of ongoing legal problems and poverty, exponentially worsening their situation, and creating the potential for criminalizing offenders, which makes it harder to be a financially responsible parent.

Daniels said her legislation would prevent judges from automatically revoking licenses or arresting offenders of the Responsible Parent Act. Through electronic monitoring devices, a defendant could keep their license to drive back and forth to work through supervision of the court system and authorizes the state to provide businesses with tax incentives for employing defendants in such cases.

Separately, Nuñez’s bill would change the language in a measure already addressing human trafficking, but not specifically worded to be inclusive of the term “commercial” in the exploitation of minors under 18 years old.

HB 1383 changes several internal and external reporting requirements for the Dept. of Children and Families, the legislator said.

“First the department must submit to the legislature a report from information of the CBC (community-based care) lead agencies noting the prevalence of commercial sexual exploitation and the specialized services used to treat these children, and local service capacity,” Nuñez told the committee Monday. “Secondly the bill also requires the department to maintain data on verified victims of commercial sexual exploitation referred to non-safe houses in their community.”

Current law only requires them to maintain data on who are referred to safe houses, she said.

Further, DCF must conduct multidisciplinary staffing on victims of commercial child sexual abuse to determine their needs. The proposal also would require a so-called “case plan” for those victims and mandate DCF to follow up on all victims of child sexual exploitation, not just individual segments.

Finally, HB 1183 — Silver’s measure would require hospitals or other facilities accepting a child 10 years or younger to notify the clerk of courts in the appropriate county within 24 hours, a sticking point for several committee members who thought it should be inclusive of everyone 18 and under.

The vice chair of the committee, Rep. Julio Gonzalez, wanted to know why the bill was only inclusive of such a narrow — and young — segment of the child population at risk of being lassoed into the Baker Act, which is a process by which a person can be involuntarily detained for psychological purposes.

“There has been a lot of situations in which children have been acting up in school, and unfortunately school will be stopped if they’re suspended, but that’s not the case if they’re Baker Act’ed,” Silvers responded. “So I want to make sure the children that are going to facilities — mental health facilities — are there because they need the help, that they’re not just there for punishment for acting out in class.”

But after several questions by committee members addressing concerns about the bill to Silvers, Gonzalez circled back to his concerns, address one of several he had.

“I think we need to address the 950-lb gorilla in the room that we’re going to do the wrong thing — we’re authorizing the schools to use the Baker Act as a crutch,” he said. “Moving forward I’d like to work with you to solve that riddle.”

The bill also grants lawyers automatic access to that child’s records — school, medical, dental, etc. And any hearings regarding that child must be done in his or her presence, regardless of their age, and provides for penalties in cases not adhering to that stipulation, according to the proposal’s language.

Committee Chair Gayle Harrell ended the meeting by saying, “When a 6-year-old is Baker Act’ed there’s a lot going on there. We need to make sure that child is being appropriately treated as rapidly as possible.”

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