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Disabilities Jobs Bill Heads To Gov. Scott

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Florida Senate
The Florida Channel
Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando

The Florida Senate approved legislation Friday aimed at helping people with disabilities become economically independent, completing what Senate President Andy Gardiner called a "trifecta" of bills headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

The measure (HB 7003) would encourage state agencies to employ more people with disabilities, recognize businesses that hire them and establish a program to teach them financial literacy.

It joins another bill (SB 672), passed by both the House and Senate earlier this week, creating personal learning scholarship accounts to boost educational opportunities for children with developmental disabilities or, as Gardiner calls them, "unique abilities."

The bills are the top legislative priority of Gardiner, an Orlando Republican whose son has Down syndrome.

Along with a measure that sets new state water policies -- a top priority of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island -- the bills are headed to Scott, who is expected to sign them in a ceremony on Thursday.

In part, the bill passed Friday would require certain state agencies to commit to improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The requirement would apply to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Economic Opportunity, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Division of Blind Services at the Department of Education, and the Executive Office of the Governor.

"We need to lead by example, and so we are going to do that," Gardiner told reporters. "We also need to recognize businesses that are doing it, and track it and make sure that individuals with unique abilities are getting jobs, which is obviously a priority of us and the governor."

The bill also directs the Department of Management Services to develop mandatory training programs for human resources personnel and to help other state agencies with their strategies for hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, the Margate Democrat who sponsored the employment bill in the Senate, said the measure follows naturally from the education bill.

"Those educational opportunities have very little meaning if the opportunity for (students with disabilities) to compete in the adult world doesn't exist," he said.

Ring also noted that the bill includes language by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, and Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, creating a program to recognize businesses that employ or support the independence of people with disabilities and a financial literacy program for those individuals, with a goal of encouraging financial independence.

The bill also requires the Department of Economic Opportunity to develop a logo for the program and maintain a website that provides a list of businesses with the designation.

"All of it is key to having jobs," Gardiner said. "That bill that comes out of here today really sets a tone where agencies will have to report to us what their policies are going to be in hiring individuals with unique abilities."