Guest Author, Author at Florida Politics

Guest Author

Manley Fuller: FL wildlife crossings work; safety for animals, people

Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation

It’s always heartbreaking when I hear that yet another Florida black bear or Florida panther has gotten killed on a Florida road.

So far this year, vehicle collisions killed an average of two endangered Florida panthers a month. And for bears, the toll is worse: About 20 black bears die every month on roadways as they travel the state looking for food and mates. And we all see many other dead creatures — deer, squirrels, opossums, bobcats, birds, reptiles and more — along our roadsides. This hurts people too: An estimated 200 people are killed and 29,000 injured yearly in the U.S. when their cars collide with animals.

The good news is that we can prevent this, and we have proven technology to do it. Building safe crossings for wildlife can reduce the carnage to nearly zero. Wildlife crossings take a number of different forms — expanded culverts, special ledges built along rivers or canal banks under highway bridges, or full-blown landscaped overpasses, like the striking forested Cross Florida Greenway Land Bridge over Interstate 75 near Ocala.

In Tallahassee, a study showed that 90 percent of the turtles that tried to cross Highway 27 from Lake Jackson to a nearby waterway didn’t make it. Since the Lake Jackson Ecopassage was built under the roadway in 2010, the death toll has dropped to zero because turtles, alligators, and other creatures are now funneled by fencing to a culvert that allows them to pass between water bodies without dodging traffic.

More good news: A project that the Florida Wildlife Federation sparked years ago is finally a reality. It’s along a nine-mile stretch of Alligator Alley (which runs from Naples to Fort Lauderdale) that was a renowned hot spot for dangerous collisions, especially Florida panther deaths. The Florida Wildlife Federation commissioned a detailed study of the problem in 2015, sent a letter to the state petitioning action, and today there is finally a system of fencing and underpasses to help wildlife cross safely. In Southwest Florida, we’ve been involved in 50 different wildlife crossings so far, and we are excited to be involved with even more projects statewide.

Think about how nerve-wracking it is for us to try to dodge traffic when we have to run across a highway – just imagine how confusing it is for a wild animal to be moving through the woods and suddenly confronted by a road with speeding cars everywhere.

The highway crossings we’re installing have another important benefit besides cutting collisions: They provide key connections so that animals can roam in search of mates, which helps prevent inbreeding and protects a healthy gene pool for whole populations.

Since wildlife watching contributes $5.8 billion yearly to Florida’s economy, it makes sense for us to do what we can to keep our wildlife populations healthy and protected. If we humans are going to take over their landscape, the least we can do is use whatever tools we can to make it safer for them so we can all coexist.

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Manley Fuller is president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Ali P. Gordon: Is it time to level the playing field for college athletes?

I love college sports. I’ve got the Knights, Yellow Jackets, Tar Heels, Hoyas, Maroon Tigers — you name it. If I can catch a game, I will.

My brother-in-law, who’s from New England, recently schooled me about lacrosse, so now on top of college football, basketball, baseball and volleyball, I’m hooked on that, too. And if it’s any indication of my level of fanaticism, I got married on a Sunday in the fall so I could still watch college football on the Saturday before.

But it seems like the playing field is a little unfair when it comes to student-athletes who can’t profit from what they do in college, unlike other students who can use their engineering skills to get jobs, their marketing abilities to work at companies promoting products, their management skills to set up their own companies.

This issue has been around for years. The latest case involves a football player, a marketing major, who was told by the association that oversees college athletics that he risks his amateur status by receiving advertisement payments for a YouTube channel that uses his name and image.

There’s something amazing about seeing people competing for not only the win, but perhaps also a chance to participate at the next level. Experiences learned through competition – such as leadership, effective communication and the capacity to work in team-oriented environments – are also key. Intense preparation, strategy, focus, and random luck are all things with which we can relate.

It’s easy to see that student-athletes pour a lot of effort into their craft. They love their sports and their fans. I often wonder, however, do these students get full value for sharing their talents? Is limiting their financial support to tuition, room, board and a stipend fair?

I’ve never participated in college sports, and before I provide a stream of consciousness about something of which I am admittedly not an expert, consider the other students.

College students come in all manner of shapes, sizes and colors. When the next incoming class hits campus this fall, they will do so with varied levels of academic preparation, degree-seeking goals and financial needs. They’ve successfully been admitted to their respective universities with the goal of improving their own lives.

Some students will finance or pay their way through school, while some of the bright ones will get full academic scholarships. The very brightest have earned supplemental scholarships that will come to them as stipends.

Once in school, the fully funded students typically need only keep a B average and make satisfactory progress toward graduation to retain their support in place. These requirements are generally attainable given their skill set.

These top-end students usually have intellectual appetites that cannot be satiated by classwork alone. They participate in club activities, volunteer for community service, travel abroad, undertake creative efforts, and so on. If they wanted, they could even further develop their skills by starting a successful company, becoming a research assistant in a lab, hosting a blog or YouTube channel, or have some other side gig. All of these could lead to extra money. As long as the GPA is minimally a B average, they can fully capitalize on their current market value.

It is rewarding to see students with newly developed skill sets preparing themselves for the next level. Experiences learned through extracurricular activities help to develop leadership skills, effective communication and the capacity to work in team-oriented environments. Intense preparation, strategy and focus are what make students successful.

It’s easy to see that top-end academic students pour a lot of effort into building their bodies of work. They love their craft. I expect these students will reap the benefits of the value for their talents, but I have yet to see one of my engineering students sell his or her autograph for money, which they can do without being penalized.

Imagine that you, your relative or friend were a student highly regarded in art, architecture, marketing or cybersecurity. What level of vitriol would you have toward a system that placed restrictions on you or their ability to apply those skills for profit while still in school? So although they may occupy the identical campus setting, exceptionally gifted student-athletes and academic students are seemingly subject to starkly different systems facilitating distinct fiscal outcomes.

Arguments against why student-athletes are not allowed to reap the full monetary benefits during or after the application of their skill set seem circular and duplicitous compared to the free markets that exists for the skills of academic students. Universities need to be given more freedom to devise systems that are more equitable for all of their students.

There are a lot of sides on this issue that have been debated for years, and any satisfactory solution will probably be complex. But just consider: As your favorite college team takes the field or court, are the players getting reasonable market value for their time and energy?

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UCF Forum columnist Ali P. Gordon is an associate professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. He can be reached at ali@ucf.edu.

 

J. Dudley Goodlette, Wilson Bradshaw: Florida Gulf Coast University to launch entrepreneurship studies degree

Florida Gulf Coast University added an exciting program to our growing entrepreneurship portfolio last week with the approval of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Studies.

This innovative degree program at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is built on an interdisciplinary, campus-wide approach for entrepreneurship embedded across the curriculum, and will be available for our students starting in August with the fall semester. Housed in FGCU’s Lutgert College of Business yet available to all students across the University, the Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Studies degree consists of 24 credits of entrepreneurship courses along with required coursework in economics, public speaking and statistics. Students add electives based on their interests and career aspirations, and also participate in experiential opportunities engaging with retired and active business owners and entrepreneurs.

Although dating back to the founding of America, the entrepreneurial spirit continues to flourish in robust fashion today. Entrepreneurs increasingly are seeking to bolster that shining great idea with foundational support and shared experiences that maximize the opportunity to be successful. FGCU students are no different, and the University has responded to this burgeoning interest by increasing the number of entrepreneurial course offerings, competitions and activities. During the past year, more than 900 students enrolled in entrepreneurship courses.

The interdisciplinary nature of FGCU’s entrepreneurship focus is uniquely designed to serve not only those students with immediate interest in becoming an entrepreneur, but also other students whose degrees will include this entrepreneurial component as an added benefit for emerging future opportunities. For example, a music major may work as a performing artist or an arts educator, yet later develop an entrepreneurial product or service that transforms the music industry.

Successful entrepreneurial programs already in place for our students include the FGCU Institute for Entrepreneurship; a multidisciplinary Entrepreneurship minor; the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program which offers tuition-free online and on-campus instruction in the nationally recognized Lean Startup method; and the Runway Program, a 12-week program held at our Emergent Technologies Institute (ETI) in which faculty and mentors guide and provide project seed funding on a competitive basis to students who want to be entrepreneurs. And, we help prepare young aspiring entrepreneurs through our CEO Academy, a one-week camp for high school juniors and seniors co-presented by the Lutgert College of Business and Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida.

By approving the Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Studies degree program, the FGCU Board of Trustees connects it with one of four pillars of the University’s 2016-2021 Strategic Plan. This pillar includes an objective to “Launch an innovative interdisciplinary University-wide degree program that combines the core entrepreneurship framework within the Lutgert College of Business with distinct entrepreneurship concentration options in different programs, schools and colleges.”

Since opening our doors to students in 1997, Florida Gulf Coast University strategically has aligned its degree programs with regional and statewide employer demands in order to match student and workforce needs. As a part of this process, we routinely review FGCU’s degree offerings to determine their responsiveness, and add and discontinue programs as needed. During the past two and one-half years, the FGCU Board of Trustees has approved the elimination of 39 program majors on this basis, with the resulting opportunity to launch dynamic, in-demand programs like the Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Studies.

Florida Gulf Coast University continues to break important ground in Southwest Florida and the State of Florida. We can only imagine what future entrepreneurial success will launch from our campus.

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J. Dudley Goodlette is chair of the Florida Gulf Coast University Board of Trustees; Wilson Bradshaw is FGCU President.

Alice Ancona: International trade essential to Florida’s economy

As Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration consider the future of trade, the Florida Chamber of Commerce encourages leaders to consider the important role trade plays in Florida’s economy.

From its discovery, Florida has been global. Much of what made Florida a destination and gateway in Florida’s early years, still holds true today. Florida’s current and future economy is tied to its ability to be a successful hub for international trade investment.

Florida’s geography, diversity and international linkages, combined with our state-of-the-art infrastructure, trade support networks, knowledge-based innovation ecosystem and highly skilled workforce, are assets that make Florida ripe for trade.

Today, if Florida were a country, it would be the 16th largest in the world by gross domestic product. Free and fair trade is essential to Florida’s global competitiveness, and policies that enhance competition in the global marketplace, reduce or eliminate trade and investment barriers will further grow Florida jobs.

In the coming days, a delegation of members from the Florida Chamber of Commerce will travel to Washington, D.C. to encourage Florida’s Congressional Delegation to support Florida job creators, and to work to ensure that trade continues to benefit the U.S. and Floridians.

With one out of four jobs in Florida tied to international trade, these will be important conversations and go a long way to helping secure Florida’s future.

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Alice Ancona serves as Director of International Strategy & Policy for the Florida Chamber International Trade and Investment Office.

 

Rick Kriseman: As a father, an obligation to support climate action

Like Dads across the country, this Father’s Day I’m looking forward to receiving some special attention from my two kids. But I’ll also be reflecting on my obligation as a father to protect my children from growing threats like climate change.

We don’t have the luxury of being in denial here in Florida, where rising sea levels are already imperiling coastal property and infrastructure. To turn a blind eye to escalating climate impacts is to say to our kids and grandkids that we really don’t care about their future.

That’s why when Donald Trump announced he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, I joined mayors, governors, university and college leaders, businesses and investors from throughout the nation to declare that “We Are Still In.”

Here in St. Petersburg, we are going further.

Later this month, I will be attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting to share our city’s message that we are committed to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. More than 80 mayors from across the country have endorsed a goal of powering our cities with 100 percent clean and renewable energy. We know that the best way to slow fossil fuel-driven climate change is to repower our economies with clean, renewable sources like wind and solar. Here in the Sunshine State, that’s a no-brainer. Working toward 100 percent clean energy will help ensure that St. Pete remains a ‘city of opportunity where the sun shines on all who come to live, work and play.’”

We will continue to support strong climate action and a transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity and health. After all, the facts on the ground (or in the oceans and atmosphere) haven’t changed. Just the politics.

I’m proud of the fact that St. Petersburg has been on the cutting edge of preparing for climate change. We were the first city in Florida to update our land-use plans to comply with the “Perils of Flood” state law, and we are upgrading our infrastructure at a rapid pace. But while we prepare our city to adapt to climate impacts such a rising ocean, more severe storms and heat waves, I’m more determined than ever to do everything I can to help bring about a rapid transition to a clean energy economy that gets to the root of the problem.

Moving quickly toward 100 percent clean, renewable energy will not only help slow climate change, it will improve our air quality, protect our kids’ health, strengthen our economy and create exciting opportunities for today’s workers, and those who have yet to enter the workforce. Solar jobs in Florida increased by 26 percent per year last year, but we’re still far behind where we can and should be. The sky is the limit. Clean, renewable energy produced right here in Florida means more money stays in our communities, rather than being sent to out of state fossil fuel corporations.

While Donald Trump is doing everything he can to keep us bound to 19th-century fossil fuels like coal, and all of its consequences, St. Petersburg and cities and states across the country are recommitting to a clean, healthy, prosperous, clean energy future. For every step backward by the Trump administration, we’ll take two steps forward.

Long after my service as mayor is done, my kids Jordan and Samuel will be living their lives with families of their own. As parents, our most important shared legacy will be the health of the world we are leaving them. Everything we do today to confront climate change with clean, renewable energy is a gift of hope and love to our kids.

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Rick Kriseman is Mayor of St. Petersburg.

Carol Bowen: Florida construction marketplace healthier thanks to new legislation

The Associated Builders and Contractors and our 2,500 members are pleased to report that new legislation will now strengthen competition and reduce abusive litigation in Florida’s multibillion commercial and public construction markets.

We also want to thank Gov. Rick Scott for his support of these two pro-business, pro-consumer bills.

With the help of Rep. Jayer Williamson and Sen. Keith Perry, ABC successfully landed House Bill 599 (Public Works Projects), which will promote a more open, honest and competitive bid process for public construction projects where state dollars represent 50 percent or more of the funding. Prior to this bill, local governments could establish arbitrary pre-bid mandates on contractors telling them who they must hire, where they must train and what benefit packages they must offer if they want to bid a job with that entity. For many small businesses, these mandates made it unaffordable to bid on many public projects.

For many small businesses, these mandates made it unaffordable to bid on many public projects.

Increasing competition will benefit Florida taxpayers as well.

With the support of Rep. Tom Leek and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, ABC also brought home House Bill 377 (Limitations on Actions other than for the Recovery of Real Property), which helps clarify when and how Florida’s 10-year statute of repose begins to run on a completed project. The statute of repose defines the period in which an owner can sue for alleged construction defects. Previously, some owners and their attorneys delayed (or shorted) making final payment for construction in an effort lengthen the repose period well beyond the 10 years the Legislature had envisioned.

This created open-ended liability, which cost the system millions of dollars in abusive lawsuits.

House Bill 377 now defines “completion of the contract,” which acknowledges that there are two parties to a deal — the owner and the contractor — and that both have a say in when the 10-year period may begin to run.

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Carol Bowen, J.D., is the Associated Builders and Contractors’ deputy chief lobbyist and vice president of government affairs. For more information about upcoming legislation, contact Carol at cbowen@abceastflorida.com.

The op-ed Leslie Wimes apparently doesn’t want you to read

Leslie Wimes

Editor’s note: The op-ed below originally appeared on the award-winning blog, The Florida Squeeze. However, its editors took the op-ed down because it said it failed to meet that site’s editorial standards. 

“Although the tone of the piece was intended to be facetious and is based on what many believe to be reality, we were alerted to the possibility it could have been read to assert facts not in evidence impugning Ms. Wimes’ professional integrity, which the Squeeze has no reason to question,” the editors of The Florida Squeeze wrote. 

Regardless of what the editors of The Squeeze think of the op-ed AND WITHOUT the permission of the original author, I am publishing the op-ed in its entirety because, now, the piece in and of itself is newsworthy. The taking down of the op-ed has probably made the piece more interesting than if it had just stayed up.  Readers of The Florida Squeeze, Florida Politics, and all other political websites in Florida deserve to know what is at the core of the controversy. 

We have been told that Leslie Wimes complained enough that she was able to get this piece taken down. We do not have confirmation of this from the editors at The Florida Squeeze. We will let their editorial message speak for itself; they did not think it meant the standards of their site. 

We, like the Florida Squeeze, invite Wimes to write her own op-ed for publishing here, although we’re pretty sure that if she has something to share, she knows how to get the word out.

So, as the saying goes, we’re gonna just leave this right here…

One of the best pieces of advice that I learned from old hands who have held high political office is that you should never assume that you know the motives behind the actions that people take without hard evidence.

This is especially true when your inclination is that those motives are nefarious.

Leslie Wimes is a name I came to know back in 2014, and her name has kept popping up in my efforts to stay current on what is happening in the body politic over the last several years. I have my own opinions about Ms. Wimes, but instead of overtly expressing my opinion(s) I am going to stick to the facts. I am going to lay out her actions.

I am also going to lay out the actions someone would take if they were a Republican plant who had as their main objective undermining Democrats here in Florida. In the end, we will see how her actions line up with what a Republican plant would do so that everyone can judge for themselves.

Leslie Wimes and I were actually on the same side of an election when I first heard her name back in 2014. She was supporting Sen. Nan Rich for Florida Governor, and I was the Data Consultant/Director for the campaign.

I will go to my grave espousing the fact that Sen. Rich would have made the best governor of those running had she been elected, and since the other two main candidates were the current and immediate past GOP Governor of Florida there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was the most liberal candidate. That being said, Sen. Rich was the candidate that Republicans most wanted to see face off against sitting Gov. Rick Scott in the General Election.

The GOP elite thought that Sen. Rich would have been much easier to beat than Charlie Crist, and while I disagree with that assessment I can say without equivocation that is what they thought. So, anyone working on behalf of GOP interests would have supported Sen. Rich back in 2014.

Surely among the top goals of Florida Republicans in 2016 was to retain a GOP US Senate seat in the state, elect a Republican President, and undermine the DNC Chair who also happened to be an elected official in South Florida.

Ms. Wimes’ support of Tim Canova and Pam Keith (initially) was among her most notable efforts in the 2016 election cycle. Canova and Keith are both intelligent, impressive, and passionate Democrats who had the ability to strengthen a weak Democratic bench in Florida. Another thing that they both have in common is that they ran for offices that they had little hope of winning, and did so in a way that was divisive.

Republicans who were paying attention were likely giddy at the notion of promising Democrats running in such races. It divided Democrats, ensured that these promising candidates weren’t added to the Democratic bench of elected officials, and had the possibility of disillusioning these candidates and their Democratic supporters.

Ms. Wimes also attacked Hillary Clinton during the General Election last year, which is one of many examples of Ms. Wimes questioning why Black voters overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party. It is a fact that Black voters are the voting bloc that has been the most loyal to the Democratic Party. Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Republicans would undoubtedly support such efforts, and any efforts of any plant that they may have, by giving said person a platform from which they can work from. It is noteworthy that Ms. Wimes did a media blitz espousing messages critical of Democrats to GOP-oriented outlets right before the 2016 General Election. Oh, have I mentioned yet that these articles that I keep referencing (which I will post a link to below) by Ms. Wimes are from the Republican-run website Sunshine State News?

The one stance that Ms. Wimes has taken this year that I have the most trouble wrapping my head around being taken by any reasonable Democrat is that Gov. Rick Scott “engages” the Black community more than Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson does.

This was written in a piece attacking Democrats for not celebrating Black History Month posted at 6 a.m. on the second day of Black History Month.

For context, Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat next year. Winning that U.S. Senate seat is a top priority for Republicans this cycle. The fact that Gov. Scott has restored the voting rights to fewer people than any of his predecessors, and those 1.7 million Floridians who could get their rights restored skew very heavily toward minority communities, is one of many examples as to why Gov. Scott is no friend to the Black community. Ms. Wimes touting Republican Gov. Rick Scott in such a ridiculous way over a sitting Democratic U.S. Senator is curious.

Also curious is the fact that a candidate that Ms. Wimes has supported got encouragement to run in a Democratic Primary against U.S. Sen. Nelson earlier this year. Nelson is not the only Democratic leader in Florida that Ms. Wimes has gone after recently. Ms. Wimes has gone after new Florida Democratic Party (FDP) President Sally Boynton Brown just in the past week.

One constant complaint from Ms. Wimes is that the FDP and Democratic leaders meddle in party elections and primaries. Ms. Brown pulled out of an event because the person holding the event is a candidate in a contested Democratic primary for US Congress. Ms. Wimes railed against Ms. Brown in a display of sheer hypocrisy by Ms. Wimes. Ms. Brown even provided her phone number to Ms. Wimes and said that Ms. Wimes should be free to call with any questions she may have. Ms. Wimes continued her bizarre attack against Ms. Brown (posted below) in spite of Ms. Brown extending an olive branch.

What is telling about Ms. Wimes’ actions is not only what she does, but also what she doesn’t do.

I have nothing but love and admiration for someone like Susan Smith, even though we don’t always see eye to eye. If someone isn’t in line with Ms. Smith’s values, she isn’t afraid to say so regardless of who that may irritate.

The difference between a great Democrat like Susan Smith and Leslie Wimes is that Susan Smith dedicates her time and her money to numerous Democratic and liberal causes she believes in. There is no doubt that all of Susan Smith’s actions are geared toward making the Florida Democratic Party successful in a way that aligns with her vision for the party. Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light. It is literally nonexistent.

Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light.

It is literally nonexistent.

Here is what would be on my list of how to undermine Democrats as a Machiavellian Republican in Florida: ensure Democrats don’t build a bench by steering good candidates into races they can’t win and hope they get disillusioned when they lose, sow seeds of doubt and/or discontent into the most loyal Democratic voting bloc(s), and attack/try to undermine major Democratic institutions, elected officials and statewide candidates. The list is not mutually exclusive.

I would do all this while making sure that I never actually supported a Democrat over a Republican. If (s)he needed a platform from which to do all this, I would offer television and other media outlets like Sunshine State News to spread messaging beneficial to Republicans.

It is funny how this all seems to overlap perfectly with Ms. Wimes’ actions. Again, I am not saying that she is a GOP plant. Just because something walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and acts like a duck doesn’t mean that it isn’t a unicorn that lays golden eggs. I leave it to you to consider the facts and come to your own conclusion.

Ms. Wimes Sunshine State News article catalog: http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/taxonomy/term/307

Ms. Wimes’ odd Facebook response to Ms. Brown (I blacked out her phone number for privacy purposes):

Sean Phillippi

(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas or hate mail to ThePhlipSideFL@gmail.com.)

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Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.

Ardian Zika: Tearing down ‘walls’ to reach American dream

Ardian Zika

Thirty years ago, on this special day, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany, sent a powerful message to Mr. [Mikhail] Gorbachev: “Tear down this wall!”

This powerful call to action brought hope for a new beginning and was a catalyst in delivering millions out of the bondage of communism. Only a few years later, the world witnessed the “fall of the Berlin Wall.”

A four-word sentence united a European continent divided between light and darkness.

It was indeed a powerful moment in the history of humanity.

I was a young boy growing up in Kosovo when President Reagan sent this powerful message … A day where the gates of freedom began to open for millions of East Europeans to join the free world.

As an American who started my journey as an immigrant, I’m very thankful to my fellow Americans for giving me the gift of lifetime … the gift of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Thus, I will forever be grateful for the blessing and opportunity to pursue the American Dream … a land where dreams come true!

Opportunities do come with responsibility … an individual responsibility to invest in others and help remove the invisible “walls” that prevent many Americans from achieving their American dream. When we are united as a community, we become an unstoppable force for greatness.

So why wait? Let’s make an impact!

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Ardian Zika serves a board member of CareerSource Florida. Join him on Twitter @ArdianZika.

Timothy Stapleton: Fighting the opioid epidemic in the exam room

FMA CEO Timothy J. Stapleton

The United States is in the midst of a public health crisis. Opioid addiction is taking mothers, fathers and children; destroying lives, breaking up families. The problem is particularly insidious in Florida, which has become a destination for rehabilitative services and sober home living. In the first part of 2016, approximately 2,600 people died from opioid overdoses in the state and the epidemic shows no sign of slowing.

Gov. Rick Scott recently declared a public health emergency over this crisis, which frees up nearly $30 million in federal funds to fight this battle for Floridians. State Surgeon General Celeste Philip, M.D., has been directed to keep a standing order of Narcan and Naloxone — drugs used to counteract overdoses — at the ready, and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was recently appointed to President Donald Trump’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission, has secured a deal for the two drugs to be purchased at a discounted rate.

The Florida Medical Association (FMA) represents more than 20,000 physicians in the state and provides them with access to expert advice, support and resources. As an advocate for the highest standards of medical care, we stand alongside our state’s leaders as we work to reverse the destruction being caused by opioid addiction and overdose in our state.

It’s up to all of us to come together as a community to fight this rampant problem at every level: education, prevention, treatment and recovery services. Physicians can effect positive change by staying educated on best practices and effectively communicating with their patients about treatment protocols for pain management. There is an inherent risk in prescribing highly addictive medications, particularly for patients suffering from severe chronic pain. Physicians have a duty to consider the risks versus clinical effectiveness of prescribing opioids and communicate those risks and benefits clearly and honestly to their patients.

The FMA recommends that physicians follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for prescribing opioids. This includes starting “low and slow” with dosages and prescribing no more than needed for acute and chronic pain. Physicians also have a responsibility to follow up with their patients, to ascertain effectiveness of treatment and, when necessary, include strategies to mitigate the risk of addiction or overdose.

Florida has established a state prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) to access and review an individual’s history of controlled substance use before making any decisions on best course of treatment. PDMP data is used by prescribers to avoid dangerous drug combinations that would put a patient at high risk for potential addiction or overdose. This, along with urine drug testing to identify prescribed substances and undisclosed use, prevents pill-seeking patients from “doctor shopping.” The FMA encourages physicians to utilize the database, along with established protocols, protections and research, to ensure that they are able to make appropriate clinical decisions for their patients and prescribe treatments responsibly, safely and effectively.

Physicians have an obligation to educate their patients while developing treatment goals. Treatment does not end when a prescription is written: An open line of communication is necessary to make appropriate clinical decisions and detect signs of opioid dependence.

The FMA remains steadfast in our commitment to the people of Florida who entrust their health to physicians. We will do even more as we continue fighting to protect patients’ health and well-being by arming Florida physicians with the tools necessary to empower their patients. Irresponsible treatment plans and illegal distribution of opioids have no place in the medical field.

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Timothy J. Stapleton is CEO of the Florida Medical Association.  

Pat Neal: Look to Colorado — cutting VISIT Florida funding would be disastrous

Pat Neal

Under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, the revival of the Florida economy has been marked by annual job growth and tourism rates that outpace the national average. The inextricable link between Florida’s investment in its tourism industry and this economic recovery is affirmed by the statistics.

Visitor spending in Florida has increased by an average of 6.8 percent annually over the past five years, with $78.3 billion spent in 2010 growing to a $108.8 billion total by 2015. The impact of this job creation spending cannot be understated, with statistics showing that for every 76 visitors that visit the state, one job is supported. In addition, the return on investment Florida sees from VISIT Florida is irrefutably positive, with each dollar invested in VISIT Florida generating $3.20 in tax revenue.

To gauge just how disastrous major cuts to VISIT Florida would be, one must look to Colorado. Keep in mind that Colorado has a more diversified and equitable share of its gross domestic product among different industries, and is not quite as reliant upon the tourism industry alone for its revenues. So, presumably, the effects of defunding tourism marketing programs in Florida would be even more drastic than those seen in Colorado.

In 1993, an obscure provision in the state law allowed for the funding of the state’s tourism marketing mechanisms to expire. This meant that Colorado became the first state to essentially eliminate its funding for tourism marketing.

The effects were fairly immediate and more drastic than could have been anticipated. The elimination of their $12 million tourism marketing budget manifested in a 30 percent decrease in Colorado’s share of the domestic tourism market. In terms of dollars, this constituted a contraction of Colorado’s tourism revenue by $1.4 billion annually.

Eventually, this loss would consistently top $2 billion, with Colorado’s summer resort tourism share, previously No. 1 in the nation, falling to 17th place as a symptom of these ill-advised cuts to tourism marketing.

Even more troublesome is the reality that despite this self-inflicted annual hemorrhaging of Coloradans’ tourism revenue is the reality that it took seven years to reinstate a tourism marketing budget. We all know the wheels of democracy can be sluggish, but it could be avoidable. With billion-plus dollar losses within the tourism industry, enduring for seven years without real intervention is a frightening prospect. It is a prospective reality that the legislature should seriously consider as it continues to push for cuts in funding VISIT Florida.

For comparison’s sake, in 2015 Colorado set a state visitor spending record with $19.1 billion collected. As noted, Florida’s 2015 visitor spending total was over $108 billion. One can understand that the impact of cutting tourism marketing funds in Florida would have exponentially significant and dire consequences to the state economy than Colorado experienced.

Fortunately, like Florida, Colorado’s tourism is now thriving, setting records in terms of visitor numbers, spending and tax revenues. Legislators acknowledge the critical role that marketing campaigns have served in producing record tourism numbers, and they have increased spending annually since the budget was reinstated in 2000. What started as a $5.5 million budget for tourism marketing in 2000 has become a $19 million resource pool in 2015, a relatively minor investment with a substantial payout.

Colorado provides a microcosmic, yet very real, cautionary tale regarding the value of funding marketing for Florida’s tourism industry. VISIT Florida, under the guidance of Gov. Scott, have installed a framework that spreads investment costs between the public and private sectors, all the while maintaining systems that allow for misspent money to be recouped.

Money spent through VISIT Florida is fiscally responsible, logical for businesses and critical to the prosperity of Florida’s citizens. For proof of their essentiality to Florida’s tourism-dependent economy, simply look to the West.

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Pat Neal is former state senator and the former chair of the Christian Coalition of Florida; currently serves as chairman-elect for the board of directors of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog; and is the president of Neal Communities.

 

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