Governor Crist Signs Child Advocacy Legislation - Colodny Fass

Governor Crist Signs Child Advocacy Legislation

Date Published: 06-03-2009

~ Protects rights of children involved in courts, increases children's access to health care ~

TALLAHASSEE - Governor Charlie Crist signed legislation on June 2, 2009 to improve the quality of life for Florida's children.  Senate Bill 1018, Guardian Ad Litem, expands the court's ability to ensure children whose parents are involved in court proceedings have an advocate who will focus on the child's best interests.  Senate Bill 918, KidCare, increases children's access to health care by streamlining the Florida KidCare Program. After signing the bills in Tallahassee, Governor Crist will visit children's hospitals in Tampa and Hollywood to promote the benefits of the legislation.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that the children of Florida grow up safe and healthy, so they can have the opportunity to achieve their dreams and reach their full potential," Governor Crist said.  "The legislation I sign today helps Florida's families access affordable health insurance and also ensures that our children have a voice when their parents are involved in court proceedings."

In Tampa, Governor Crist is expected to applaud the work of St. Joseph's Children's Hospital to help families access health care through KidCare.  Aimee Eaden, a University of South Florida graduate student and mother of two, attended the bill signing ceremony.  After moving to Tampa two years ago, Aimee and her husband did not have health insurance. Though KidCare helped them have health care coverage during a difficult time for their family, Aimee faced many challenges while trying to enroll in KidCare, including having to wait more than seven months to be approved. Now, the children are ages four and two and have insurance through her husband's employer. After her experience, Aimee vowed to help streamline KidCare for those who need it most. Now she serves on the local Covering Kids and Families Coalition and is also part of the local KidCare Health Foundation. She has helped other parents understand how to enroll their children in KidCare. 

In Hollywood, Governor Crist will visit the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. He applauded the hospital's work - regardless of a family's ability to pay - as well as their community education programs aimed at improving the overall health and quality of life for children and their families.

Senate Bill 1018, Relating to Guardians Ad Litem

Sponsored by Senator Arthenia Joyner and Representative Kelli Stargel

Senate Bill 1018 expands Florida's ability to provide children with representation by a guardian ad litem during divorce or related proceedings. Currently, the court must appoint an attorney pro bono or paid for by the parents.  Senate Bill 1018 expands the opportunity for a guardian ad litem to act in the best interest of the child, providing the court with an impartial perspective of the best interest of the child.

This legislation allows for a person certified by a not-for-profit legal aid organization to serve as a guardian ad litem in divorce or related proceedings. It also clarifies that only certified guardians ad litem may serve in dependency cases involving child abuse, abandonment, or neglect. In addition, it creates criminal penalties if a person makes a false statement in an application to become a guardian ad litem. The bill will have no impact on Florida taxpayers, while increasing the ability of the courts to ensure as many children as possible have an advocate representing their best interest in court proceedings.

Senate Bill 918, Relating to Florida KidCare Program

Sponsored by Senator Nan Rich and Representative Jimmy Patronis

Senate Bill 918 builds on improvements made in 2008 to the Florida KidCare program by increasing enrollment eligibility and improving administration and implementation procedures. The legislation provides more immediate health care coverage, decreases the time required for determining eligibility, and streamlines the financial eligibility process by allowing electronic verification of family incomes. Under the new legislation, more than 54,000 children will be eligible for KidCare.

Streamlining measures also include automatic enrollment for enrollees with special health care needs, a shorter loss of coverage period from 60 to 30 days for families that voluntarily cancel their policies, and a "reactivation" option for applicants who have not become enrolled after 120 days. The bill also adds the Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families to the Board of the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation.

In 2008, Governor Crist championed legislation that removed the 10 percent "full pay cap" in KidCare. Previously, not more than 10 percent of the enrollees in KidCare could buy into the program at its full monthly premium of $128 for Healthy Kids.  Last year's Cover Florida Health Care legislation removed this limitation, allowing all eligible families willing to pay full premiums for KidCare health care coverage to do so.

About the Guardian Ad Litem Program

The Guardian Ad Litem Program is a partnership of community advocates and professional staff providing a voice on behalf of Florida's abused and neglected children.  The program pairs staff with community volunteers who get to know each child on an individual basis and advocate for their best interests. The Guardian Ad Litem Program uses a team of well-trained volunteers, case coordinators and program attorneys to provide services to Florida's children.

About Florida KidCare

KidCare is a health insurance program run by the State of Florida available to uninsured children under age 19. The program is jointly overseen by Agency for Health Care Administration, the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation, the Department of Health, and the Department of Children and Families. As of May 2009, more than 1.6 million children were enrolled in Florida KidCare.