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DeSantis Signs Disabilities Revamp, Heat Stroke Bills

DeSantis and local officials shut down most businesses in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Florida Channel
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed a bill that will revamp a program that helps people with intellectual or developmental disabilities live in their homes and communities.

Backing one of Senate President Bill Galvano’s priorities, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed a bill that will revamp a program that helps people with intellectual or developmental disabilities live in their homes and communities.

The bill (SB 82), which will make changes in what is known as the iBudget program, was one of 23 measures that DeSantis signed, his office announced late Tuesday. The bills were passed during the legislative session that ended in March.

Galvano, R-Bradenton, focused during the session on making changes to the iBudget program and on increasing funding for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

“Coupled with increased funding in our budget, this legislation reinforces our strong and unwavering commitment to our fellow Floridians with unique abilities.” Galvano said in March after lawmakers gave final approval to the bill.

The Medicaid-funded iBudget program was created in 2014 to help people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, such as severe autism, spina bifida, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, live as independently as possible. Beneficiaries have individual budgets to spend on the services they require. The budgets are determined using a complex algorithm.

But the program has run repeated financial deficits, which have drawn heavy legislative attention.

Part of the bill signed Tuesday will require support coordinators who work with iBudget beneficiaries to be employed by what are described as “qualified organizations” if they want to continue in the program. Currently, support coordinators can be independent contractors.

Among other things, the bill will centralize a process for people with disabilities to increase the amounts of money allocated to them under the iBudget program.

DeSantis has signed dozens of bills this month from the 2020 session but has not acted on high-profile issues such as a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The list of bills approved Tuesday included a measure (HB 7011) aimed at protecting high-school athletes from suffering heat strokes. The bill was dubbed the “Zachary Martin Act,” after a Southwest Florida high-school student who died during a football practice.

The bill will require the Florida High School Athletic Association to take a series of steps to curb heat strokes. For example, the association will have to establish requirements for “cooling zones,” which could include such things as cold-water immersion tubs.

“Heat stroke is 100 percent avoidable if rapid cooling begins within the first 10 minutes,” House sponsor Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican who is a dermatologist, said during a January discussion on the issue.

Also Tuesday, DeSantis backed a bill (HB 1213) that requires the Department of Education to develop standards and curriculum for teaching the history of the Holocaust. Also, in part, the bill requires the Commissioner of Education’s African American History Task Force to make recommendations about what will be included in classroom instruction about a 1920 election day riot in Ocoee that targeted African-Americans. The task force will submit a report by March 1.

Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, and Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee, issued statements Tuesday night that praised the bill, which they worked to pass in the Senate. They also noted that it comes amid widespread protests about the treatment of Black people in the country.

“The signing of this legislation will spread the story of the Ocoee Massacre into museum exhibits and classrooms and will inscribe victims’ names into school buildings and state parks,” Bracy said. “Now more than ever it is paramount we educate our citizenry about the origins of racial conflict and its manifestations in policies that are anti-black, anti-democratic, and anti-human. I am proud to have sponsored this historic piece of legislation and am grateful for Senator Book’s partnership in getting this bill across the finish line.”

Other bills signed Tuesday included:

--- A measure (HB 199) that will eliminate a statute of limitations in sexual battery cases when the victims are younger than 18 at the time the crimes occurred.

--- A measure (HB 1039) that will allow ride-sharing vehicles to display digital advertising on their roofs.

--- A measure (HB 1259) that will make a series of changes aimed at helping incarcerated pregnant women.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.