As seen in the opinion section of the Palm Beach Post:
By State Representative Bill Hager
The 2014 Legislative Session was an interesting one in that the least number of bills were passed since 2001. Only 264 out of the 1,989 that were filed were sent to the governor for his signature. Undoubtedly there is much unfinished business from this session.
One piece of unfinished business, House Bill 479, is a priority for both myself and the residents of District 89, and is known as the Sober Home bill. HB 479 garnered immense support from my colleagues in the state House of Representatives. It was passed out of three committees before being passed by the entire House. However, the Senate version of the bill did not make it through its committee stops.
A sober home is a transitional living home that is a residential dwelling unit which provides a peer-supported, managed, alcohol and drug-free living environment for one or more persons. Many of these facilities are professionally managed, and there have been no complaints from neighboring residents. Unfortunately, this is not the case with all sober homes. Because alcohol and drug addiction are considered a disability by the federal government, these facilities are protected from zoning laws and regulations by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. Until the federal government steps in to assist, we must develop an approach at the state level to implement an oversight process for the regulation of sober homes.
The majority of sober home residents receive either inpatient or outpatient treatment prior to sober home residency at treatment centers, which are medical facilities that are licensed by the State of Florida. With this in mind, working with legislative staff attorneys and Healthy Families Committee Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, we were able to come up with a way to hold sober homes accountable. By creating a volunteer registry for sober homes with a minimal registration fee, and requiring that treatment centers only refer their patients to registered sober homes, we estimate that 85-90 percent of patients would soon be living in registered sober homes. It is a top-down approach that puts the burden of compliance on the treatment center rather than the sober home: if the sober home wants the referral, they will register. It is as simple as that.
The registration would consist of three components. First, it would require the introduction of eviction policies so that residents were not evicted at 2 a.m. without notice. Additionally, it would require a Level 2 background check for employees and operators of sober homes to ensure that sexual offenders would not be running these facilities. Third, the state Department of Children and Families would be granted the authority to inspect sober homes to ensure that residents are being cared for safely.
Having lived in District 89 for more than 25 years, I have seen first-hand the issues caused by these facilities known as sober homes. My staff and I spent spent the months leading up to session, and the 60 days during, working with a dedicated team of stakeholders to craft good public policy which would pass constitutional challenges while having little fiscal impact to the state. The team from Delray Beach, Singer Island, the Palm Beach County and Florida League of Cities, Palm Beach County and the Florida Association of Counties, to name just a few, played a part in shaping common sense legislation to answer the concerns of our citizens to improve the quality of the sober home facilities for both the residents and their neighbors.
Again, until the federal government takes action on this issue, the burden is on our state to pass a constitutional law which will protect all residents. I look forward to working with our local congressional delegation, and bringing back this common sense solution to the sober home issue during the 2015 Legislative Session.