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Florida sober home bill awaits governor's signature, faces some criticism

April 27, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Florida state senators have followed the lead of their House colleagues in overwhelmingly approving a bill that would establish a certification system for recovery residences and their operators in the state, and the legislation now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature. While leaders in the state's sober living community consider legislation to be long overdue, not all observers are satisfied with the language in the bill that has made its way to the governor.

The legislation would prohibit state-licensed addiction treatment providers from referring a patient to a non-certified recovery residence as of July 2016. But as Palm Beach County attorney Jeffrey Lynne, who has represented numerous clients in the treatment community, states in an April 27 e-mail communication, there are some exceptions and potential loopholes in the legislation that could limit its ability to reform the fast-growing and much-scrutinized sober home industry in Florida.

Lynne states that under the legislation, if a licensed treatment provider owns a recovery home, that home does not have to be certified or run by a credentialed manager in order to receive patients from the treatment facility. “We tried to point this out to the sponsors of the legislation in a letter dated March 25, 2015, but were told that all involved, [the Florida Association of Recovery Residences] included, wanted to get something accomplished this legislative session and then, perhaps, further tweak the bill next year,” Lynne writes.

FARR is the logical candidate to serve as the entity that would certify sober homes based on standards of operation, and president John Lehman says FARR would plan to transition into purely a certifying organization, with the creation of a new and separate entity to become the membership group for recovery residences in the state.

Lynne adds that the bill's failure to make treatment center-owned sober homes subject to the same referral provisions as other homes would mean that “if the unscrupulous housing providers are fearful of oversight and regulation, but recovery residences 'owned and operated by a licensed service provider or a licensed service provider's wholly owned subsidiary' are not subject to oversight, then these housing providers will simply become newly licensed treatment providers or enter into creative and unique corporate arrangements with existing licensed service providers.” He believes this could counteract the effort to weed out some of the sober home operators in South Florida that offer substandard arrangements and have engaged in unethical practices to secure referrals.

The certification process for recovery residences and their operators would be voluntary, although supporters of the bill believe the tie-in to referral from treatment centers would encourage the homes to participate.

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