Inside this issue
  Pro-Life Abortion Bills Pass First Committees of Reference  
  Both HB 1411 (Burton) and its Senate companion, SB 1722 (Stargel), cleared their first committees of reference this week. The House bill was passed by the Health Quality Subcommittee (7-6); the Senate bill passed the Health Policy Committee (5-3).

The bills address several areas of concern with regard to abortions that occur in Florida. Provisions include:
  • Requiring that clinics have transfer agreements and physicians who perform abortions have admitting privileges with hospitals within 30 minutes by emergency vehicle.
  • Prohibiting the sale or transfer, and establishing criteria for proper disposal, of fetal remains obtained through abortion.
  • Prohibiting public funding for an organization that owns, operates, or is affiliated with a licensed abortion clinic, with some exceptions. 
Ingrid Delgado, FCCB associate for social concerns/respect life, expressed support for both bills before both House and Senate committees.

Another abortion measure, HB 865 (Van Zant), also passed its first committee with a vote of 8-3. Termed the "Florida for Life Act," this bill prohibits induced abortions with limited exceptions. This is the first year this measure, which has been filed consistently for several years, has seen any movement. A similar bill, SB 1718 (Evers) has not been heard in committee.


  Legislators Focus on Unconstitutionality of Florida's Death Penalty  
  On Wednesday, January 27, the Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee held a workshop to discuss legislative remedies that address Florida's death sentencing process in response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hurst v. Florida.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Florida's system for sentencing a person to death is unconstitutional because it allows a judge, not a jury, to decide whether the circumstances of a crime warrant a sentence of death. Currently, Florida's sentencing scheme allows a judge to find an aggravating circumstance, independent of a jury's findings. Statement on Hurst decision from Michael Sheedy, FCCB executive director.
Senators heard presentations and recommendations for legislative action from several stakeholders, including: a retired judge, both prosecuting and defense attorney associations; the Florida Bar; the Office of the Attorney General; the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights; and the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, DC.

Two previously-filed bills address the conclusions in Hurst. SB 330 (Altman) and HB 157 (Rodriguez, J.) prohibit a judge from making findings of fact that were never considered by the jury and require: 
  • A jury unanimously determine the existence of aggravating circumstances
  • Jurors be unanimous in recommending the death penalty 
While Florida's Catholic bishops continue to oppose the use of the death penalty, SB 330 and HB 157 improve our state's capital sentencing process by encouraging more thoughtful deliberation among jurors and ensuring a more reliable sentencing process.


  Pastor Protection Act Clears Senate Committee  
  In the wake of last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that redefined marriage to accommodate same-sex couples, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted (7-3) to approve SB 110 (Bean), a measure dubbed the 'Pastor Protection Act.'
The bill prevents churches or religious organizations - or individuals employed by these entities, including clergy - from being forced to solemnize any marriage or provide services, facilities or goods for related purposes if such action would violate sincerely held religious beliefs. The bill protects these entities and individuals from certain legal actions, penalties, or government sanctions.
FCCB supports this measure recognizing that religious freedom requires protection in the face of so many uncertainties under the law as a result of the High Court's decision. While clergy are currently protected from performing marriages to which they object, layers of protection in law can be helpful, especially if they stave off frivolous litigation. Robust protections for religious and moral convictions related to marriage especially need to be defined for individuals and agencies licensed by the State of Florida to provide various services, such as foster care and adoption.

Companion bill, HB 43 (Plakon), was on the agenda for the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday; however, the bill was temporarily postponed as the committee meeting time neared expiration.


  KidCare for Legally-Residing Immigrant Children Continues to Advance  
  On Thursday, the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously (12-0) approved HB 89 (Diaz, J.) that eliminates the five-year waiting period for low-income, lawfully-residing immigrant children to participate in the KidCare insurance program. The proposal maintains the exclusion of eligibility for undocumented immigrants of any age. During the committee meeting, Mike McQuone, FCCB associate for health, expressed support for this perennial priority of the FCCB. The measure promotes healthier children and families in Florida by not only allowing for health insurance coverage and preventive care during the first critical years of a child's development, but also by reducing emergency room visits and the cost of uncompensated care across the whole health system. As of March 2015, twenty-nine states (including the District of Columbia) have adopted this option.  


  Measure Helps Students with Disabilities Transition to Work  
  Committees in both the House and Senate approved bills that make key improvements to the McKay Scholarship for children with disabilities. The proposal allows schools to develop a 'transition-to-work' program for scholarship students ages 17-22. The program, jointly offered by private schools and businesses, would include academic instruction, work skills training and a paid or volunteer work experience for young adults with disabilities. SB 1088 (Stargel) was unanimously passed by the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee (11-0) on Wednesday, while HB 837 (Bileca) unanimously passed the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee (13-0) on Thursday. James Herzog, FCCB associate director for education, expressed support for the measure at both committee stops.  


  Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program Turns Ten Amid Celebration of Success  
  The start of the 2015-16 school year marked the beginning of the 10th year of Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program (VPK). In celebration of the milestone and in anticipation of a month-long celebration, a giant cake was enjoyed and a rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" could be heard reverberating throughout the capitol courtyard on Tuesday, which was also known as "Children's Capitol for a Day." In honor of the anniversary, Governor Rick Scott issued a proclamation in which he recognized the program's success in equipping children for kindergarten and beyond.

VPK empowers parents to best meet their child's needs at a crucial and foundational stage for academic development by providing pre-kindergarten scholarships on a free, opt-in basis for Florida's 4-year-olds. The program has seen over 1.7 million children benefit from the instruction and services provided.

Despite its laudable mission, the program has experienced past funding cuts and current scholarship amounts fall short of the "high-water mark" of $2,677 per child reached during the 2007-2008 school year. Lower funding levels make it extremely difficult for schools to offer adequate instruction.

On Wednesday, Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Gaetz formally recommended level-funding the scholarships at $2,437 per child. On Thursday, House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Fresen recommended a $37-per child or 1.5-percent increase or $2,474 for the 2016-2017 school year. FCCB recommends a scholarship increase of at least $50 per child but sees the House recommendation as a step in the right direction.


  Recent News from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops  

January 27, 2016: National Catholic Schools Week 2016 will be observed in dioceses around the country, January 31-February 6. This year's theme, "Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service," focuses on the important faith-building, academic and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education.

About 1.9 million students are currently educated in nearly 6,600 Catholic schools around the country. Students receive an education that prepares them for higher education, a competitive work environment, but most importantly, living a Christian life of virtue in a challenging society.

For statistics on Florida's Catholic schools, please click here.


  Follow Us on Social Media  
  Are you following the Catholic bishops on social media? Look for updates and opportunities throughout the session to take action on proposed legislation. Also, as we celebrate this Year of Mercy, look for #MercyMonday posts.

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January 29, 2016

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E-Update: Week 3

Each Friday during the 60-day session, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCCB) provides a summary of activity on priority bills and other items of interest at the Capitol.

For the current status of FCCB priority bills, see our legislative bill report.

The 2016 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature began Tuesday, January 12 and is scheduled to conclude Friday, March 11.

E-Update:Week 1
E-Update:Week 2
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