The Coastal Star

Along the Coast: Sober homes regulation heads to governor's desk

By Jane Smith

Sober homes will finally be regulated under a House bill that is on its way to the governor.

The bill, passed unanimously by state representatives and senators, allows the Department of Children and Families to write the rules regulating sober homes.

“The legislation represents meaningful progress towards real regulation of an industry that has no real regulation, oversight or accountability, much to the detriment of vulnerable people it is intended to serve, their loved ones grasping for help, and the communities in which the industry operates and impacts,” said Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein. His city has been plagued with rogue sober home operators who care more about making money than the welfare of their clients. 

“This statewide legislative step will be followed by changes to our city regulations focused on protecting the residents of sober living homes,” he said, “and in doing so we protect the surrounding neighbors, neighborhoods and our citizens at-large.”

Delray Beach is in the process of rewriting its group home regulations that would protect both the vulnerable residents and the neighborhoods where they are located. Sober homes are a type of group home where residents live together in sobriety. When that happens, the residents are protected by federal discrimination and fair housing laws.   

The city is battling unscrupulous operators who use federal housing and disability laws “to perpetuate the slavery of addiction at the expense of those among us who are most in need of our protection,” Delray Beach City Attorney Max Lohman has said.

The proposed state law, which passed its final hurdle on May 4, will help to regulate sober homes by:

  • cracking down on deceptive marketing practices and provides criminal penalties for violations
  • adding more items to the list of “benefits” that cannot be provided for patient referrals to a treatment center and
  • increasing penalties for patient brokering when treatment centers pay sober home operators for each client they refer to the center. For brokering 20 or more patients, the operator is subject to a first-degree felony charge and a $500,000 fine.

 

“This bill provides substantial reforms to the sober home industry which will have a real effect on stemming the crisis facing our community,” its sponsor, Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, said in a prepared statement.

The bill’s passage came a day after Gov. Rick Scott declared a statewide public health emergency on the opioid crisis. The order allows communities immediate access to a $27 million federal grant for prevention, treatment and recovery support services.

When signed by the governor, parts of the sober homes law will go into effect on July 1.

To ease the final days of the bill making it through the Legislature, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg and his chief aide, Al Johnson, traveled to Tallahassee on May 1.

Aronberg, a former state senator, received $275,000 last year from the Legislature to head a Sober Homes Task Force. The group of industry representatives developed recommendations that Hager and State Senator Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, wrote into bills.

Part of the money also went to hire Assistant State Attorney Justin Chapman who became part o the Task Force’s law enforcement subgroup.

Aronberg also convened a Palm Beach County grand jury convened on the opioid epidemic. He paid for that out of his county budget.

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