Senate clears substance abuse recovery legislation
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substance abuse
Sen. Darryl Rouson, a recovering addict himself, is carrying one piece of the legislation.

Legislation to boost recovery from mental illness and substance abuse disorders cleared the Senate Tuesday.

One proposal (SB 130), by Pinellas County Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson, would promote the use of peer specialists to aid in recovery from such conditions. Peer specialists are individuals who have recovered from a substance use disorder or mental illness who support a person currently encountering such difficulties.

The Senate approved the legislation in a unanimous vote.

“The key in this bill, and for peer specialists, is shared life experiences, and the therapeutic value of that in recovery and in behavioral health care is without parallel,” Rouson, who himself identifies as a recovering addict, said to the Senate. 

The legislation specifically adds the use of peer specialists as an essential element of a coordinated system of care, and requires the Department of Children and Families to develop a training program for peer specialists, giving preference to trainers who are certified peer specialists.

The DCF must certify peer specialists, directly or through the use of a third-party credentialing entity, according to the bill. It also adds background screening requirements and codifies existing training and certification requirements for peer specialists.

“Peers are effective at helping persons with addictions or mental illness, because they share this life experience,” Rouson said. “It helps to reduce costs, it addresses workforce shortage and there’s therapeutic value in the work of peer specialists.”

Several lawmakers voiced support for both Rouson and the legislation, including Senate President Pro Tempore Aaron Bean, a Duval Republican. 

“Senator Rouson, let me say on behalf of the body, we’re proud of the journey of which you’ve taken,” Bean said. “Few know the bumps and hurdles and snares you’ve overcome, and now you’re leading the way for others to follow. We’re proud of you.”

The legislation is now heading to the House for approval.

The Senate also unanimously cleared a bill (SB 804) from Martin County Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell. The proposal would make several changes to provisions governing the licensure and regulation of substance abuse treatment programs, including recovery residences.

Under the bill, substance abuse service providers would be subject to a third degree felony if they falsify information or withhold material facts on an application for licensure.

“This bill continues the cleanup of the sober homes of Florida. We’ve had some problems with them in the past, and this continues the work we’re doing to make sure that they are valid,” Harrell said. “It does so by punishing bad faith actors, strengthening the building code to account for sober homes and incentivizing sober homes to become certified, which in turn allows for better transparency, better accountability and safer procedures, and most importantly, an increase in recoveries.”

The bill authorizes the DCF to suspend a service provider’s license for failing to pay, within 60 days of a date set by the DCF, administrative fines and accrued interest related to disciplinary action taken against the service provider. The bill also mandates that a service provider pay fines and accrued interest resulting from violations of patient referral prohibitions within 60 days of a date specified by the DCF.

The bill also broadens the eligibility for exemption from employment disqualification for certain prior criminal offenses to specified employees of an applicant recovery residence and to applicant recovery residence administrators.

An identical House bill (HB 319), filed by Palm Beach Republican Rep. Mike Caruso, is on to its second reading before the House.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]



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