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Florida Senate Unanimously Passes Bill Helping Foster Kids Get Driver's Licenses

Florida Channel

The Florida Senate has unanimously passed a bill making it easier for foster care kids to obtain a driver’s license as well as car insurance.

For Anna Zhang, it was hard learning to drive while she was in the foster care system.

“I was in care from the age of 14 until 18, and along the way, I had no experience driving or anything because the bill for the ‘Keys to Independence’ wasn’t in place when I turned 16,” said the Florida A&M University student. “So, here I was at 18 with no experience, but I had two jobs in order to support myself to move out into the real world.”

Zhang, now 20-years-old, is referring to the “Keys to Independence” program, which started off as a pilot program in 2014. It seeks to address one of the many obstacles foster kids face: learning to drive.

So, the program helps cover the fees associated with driving school, getting a learner’s permit, and the cost of insurance. Now, three years later, lawmakers are looking to make it permanent.

And, Zhang says while it won’t help her, it will definitely go a long way for those kids still in the system.

“So, I think making this a permanent program is very important for teens in foster care, and is a very important resource because we need to be prepared for the real world.”

Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach), who’s sponsoring the Senate bill, says he’s glad lawmakers can make this program permanent.

“We’ve heard from numerous foster care kids that struggled, that said it was almost impossible—kids that turned 22 that never got a driver’s license because it just wasn’t available and it was such a hardship to their foster care families,” he said, on the Senate floor. “We take it for granted that everybody’s going to get a driver’s license and sadly, that is not the case. So, this program—which the money is already in the budget for the Department of Children and Families to carry it forward—we think it’s going to be a big difference in the lives of foster care families.”

And, Sen. Kevin Rader (D-Delray Beach) says this helps build on past foster care reforms put in place by the legislature.

“Our foster kids are our kids, and this is a movement we started a few years ago,” he said. “First, we allowed foster kids to stay within the state, within our buildings until age 21. Then, we allowed their independence to be able to not have to be signed off and not have to fingerprinted and background checks, when they went to football games and things of that nature. And, now, we’re going to allow them to get driver’s licenses and make it easier for them to do so. I think it’s a great bill.”

The program costs $800,000 to run and it’s projected that more 1,800 kids will enroll by June of next year.

Meanwhile, the bill’s House companion recently passed its final committee and is awaiting a floor vote.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.