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More Positive Changes Coming to Florida’s Treatment and Recovery Residence Industry

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at July 15, 2021

Effective, July 1, 2021, Florida Senate Bill 804 (codified as Chapter 2021-128, Laws of Florida) is another successful year of the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force’s proposals for legislation.

Here are the changes:

  1. Missing Items from DCF Applications Bring Criminal Penalties.

Section 397.403, Florida Statutes (“License Application”) has been amended to address statements or omissions of material fact in license applications, such as, the failure to disclose all owners of record. It is now a 3rd degree felony, punishable by up to five (5) years imprisonment and fines. If the desire to not disclose an owner or investor is due to the desire for privacy or anonymity as a passive investor, a Level 2 background screening is still required even if that person has no control over the operations. Failing to disclose such persons is now a third degree felony.

  1. Failure to Timely Pay Fines Shall Result in Suspension.

The new fining structure created last year now has been given more teeth, such that any fines not timely paid, plus any applicable interest (no later than 60 days when assessed) will result in immediate suspension of a provider’s licensure. This amended has been added to the end of s. 397.415 (“Denial, suspension, and revocation; other remedies – .”) This is to be taken very seriously, as many providers this past year lost track of their licensure renewal deadline and found themselves having to apply all over again and be placed in a Probationary License situation. That was not DCF being inflexible; that is the law as written and adopted by the Florida Legislature and signed by the Governor. Same policy applies to these fines – no flexibility in the timing of payment.

  1. Eligibility for Exemption from Disqualification Expanded.

Florida law requires all owners and specific staff of a licensed treatment program; all owners of a certified recovery residence; and all Certified Recovery Residence Administrators to pass the state’s Level 2 background screening.

  • s. 397.4073, Fla. Stat. – “All owners, directors, chief financial officers, and clinical supervisors of service providers are subject to level 2 background screening as provided under s. 408.809 and chapter 435.”;
  • s. 397.487, Fla. Stat. – “All owners, directors, and chief financial officers of an applicant recovery residence are subject to level 2 background screening as provided under s. 408.809 and chapter 435.”;
  • s. 397.4871, Fla. Stat. – All applicants [for CRRA] are subject to level 2 background screening as provided under chapter 435.”).

An applicant must wait three (3) years after being released from any type of court supervision on one of the listed felony crimes in order to be eligible to apply for an exemption from disqualification. Previously, the 3-year window began only after any and all fines, court costs, and restitution was paid. This resulted in some people, who had been in long-term recovery and incident free for decades, now having to wait 3 years because they owed court costs on some case they had long forgotten about (and for which the court never attempted collection). Only once they paid those fees, would the 3-year waiting period begin.

This proved particularly burdensome on the treatment and recovery industry workforce by excluding otherwise highly-qualified individuals. To alleviate this burden, the Florida Legislature then amended the law so that all monetary obligations still had to be satisfied, but could be done so at the time of application for exemption if still outstanding. However, this same privilege was not extended to Certified Recovery Residence Administrators. Until now.

Going forward, an applicant for certification to the FCB to be a CRRA who otherwise satisfies the statute may apply for exemption from disqualification, even if there are outstanding monetary obligations, so long as those obligations are paid and satisfied before application is made.

  1. Standardization of Required Fire and Life Safety Inspections for Recovery Residences.

Florida has taken a significant and important lead in further recognizing that a certified recovery residence does, in all respects, function as the equivalent of a biological family, and therefore should be treated the same for purposes of housing regulation. While the law remains that a recovery residence, including Community Housing, must provide proof of a “satisfactory fire and safety” inspection, and that such an inspection must be conducted only by the local fire marshal, that agency cannot reclassify that occupancy as a “residential board and care” or “group home” or “assisted living facility” for purposes of fire and building codes. That reclassification, as many know, triggered structural improvements to the home such as institutionalized strobe lighting, pull stations, fire sprinklers, centralized fire alarms and smoke detectors, and a host of other improvements depending upon the design of the home. This prohibition on reclassification only applies to a certified recovery residence. If the home is not FARR certified in Florida, then the local agency prohibition does not apply. This prohibition also only applies to single-family homes and two-family homes (duplexes). It does not apply to apartment buildings.

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