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Senate Bill 1844: The "Government Nanny" Bill Reborn
Senator James E. "Jim" King, Jr.
S.B. 1844 creates a new big government program called "Learning Gateway," which will "provide systematic hospital visits or home visits by trained staff to new mothers." If this bill becomes law, it will lay the foundation for transforming Florida into a "government nanny state" by greatly increasing the power of the government over children and reducing parents' rights.
S.B. 1844 passed the Senate and the House. Governor Bush signed it into law May 22, 2002, but used his line-item veto authority to strike out all funding for the Learning Gateway program, rendering it an empty shell. Without money, the program cannot be implemented.
The Learning Gateway program was attached to S.B. 1844 late in the session. Because S.B. 1844 was the governor's own economic development bill, he felt obligated to sign it despite his objections to the attachment
In a backdoor move, Senate Majority leader John McKay slipped his "government nanny" bill (formerly S.B. 88) into S.B. 1844, an economic development bill. McKay accomplished this at the eleventh hour and the bill passed both the Senate and the House. Many House members, who had earlier rejected the "government nanny" bill when it stood alone, voted for S.B. 1844, unaware that the "government nanny" bill was added on at the last minute.
Many parents called Governor Jeb Bush expressing opposition to S.B. 1844 and requesting that he veto the bill. The governor's office responded that the bill that was passed as an amendment to S.B. 1844 is significantly different than last year's "government nanny" bill that Governor Bush vetoed.
A close examination of the bill by HSLDA staff revealed only minor technical changes. Some of the threatening language had been removed, but the bill was largely unchanged and would still greatly increase the power of the government over children at the expense of parents' rights.
HSLDA opposes S.B. 1844 for several reasons:
- S.B. 1844 mandates automatic referrals of high-risk newborns to the local Learning Gateway through the Office of Vital Statistics. Who determines what is considered "high risk"? There is no parental consent required for this referral. What happens if the parent chooses not to follow up on this referral?
- S.B. 1844 directs that screening processes be developed and tested to address social/emotional/behavioral indicators which could be a sign of future problems. Will the Florida Department of Children and Families take the child away if the parent chooses to follow his own doctor's advice instead of the government's?
- S.B. 1844 requires that an electronic data system be developed to track children who are screened, assessed, and referred for services. Will parents be able to remove the child from the government programs once the initial screening is done without their consent?
- S.B. 1844 creates a huge, expensive bureaucracy, with the intent of expanding the program statewide. The pilot project is $6 million the first year for only three counties---what will it cost taxpayers to fund this program for the whole state?
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