Senate Legislation Raises Expectations And Seeks Evaluation For Vocational Rehabilitation

Apr 14, 2015

A bill that would require The Florida Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to undergo evaluations has been approved by the full Senate vote today, and is awaiting a final vote in the House. The job placement service for people with disabilities will need to shape up, or else.

Credit Division of Vocational Rehabilitation / Florida Department of Education

When Sen. Don Gaetz (R- Niceville) said he wanted to fiddle with Vocational Rehabilitation, a service that helps people with disabilities find employment, people got worried. Lawmakers and advocacy groups feared a repeat of 1999, when Florida attempted to privatize the service. This led to disaster, with the state being labeled “high risk.”

But Gaetz stepped in to do some damage control. Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities’ president Suzanne Sewell says Gaetz spoke with organizations like hers to reassure them that the bill isn’t what they thought.

“The senator had concerns that the Vocational Rehabilitation program was not being responsive to the needs of the clients that it was serving,” Sewell says.

Gaetz elaborated on this point during a recent senate session, when Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D- Tampa) posed similar questions.

“The bill does not cut funding at all, the bill does not eliminate any one single person’s job. The bill does not take any individuals off of the roll. The fact is that most of the cases closed by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation now are closed without clients being helped,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz says he wants to improve Voc Rehab so dramatically that it would garner national recognition.

“I believe that senator Gaetz has said he wants the Florida VR program to be the number one program in the nation, and the bill basically requires about a year of time before VR would have to significantly improve in one or two areas,” Sewell says.

If this proposal is all about putting VR through a year-long evaluation period, as Sewell said, what would happen if the program doesn’t make the grade?

Deborah Linton, the executive director of the ARC of Florida said, that’s where things get sticky.

“If they don’t make it, I think next year, you’ll probably see some legislation looking at alternative methods of trying to deliver these services,” Linton says.

And remember that fear of privatization that Gaetz supposedly put to rest?

“There may be some, you know, private… pseudo-private public entity that delivers the services outside of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, over at the Department of Education,” Linton continues.

Gaetz’s bill was approved in the full Senate Tuesday morning, and moved so quickly through the voting process if you blinked, you’d miss it.

Time will tell what the evaluation turns up, but for now, the approval for the bill in the Senate means it’s off to the House for their own evaluation.