Guest Author, Author at Florida Politics

Guest Author

Paul Davidson: Florida Senate needs to act on auto insurance reform

Paul Davidson (Photo courtesy Plam Beach Post)

One year ago, I was riding my bicycle down A1A. Out of nowhere, a woman driving a 1988 LTD hit me going 45 miles per hour.

The force of the collision sent me flying 60 feet. I landed face first.

The next thing I remember is being rolled into the hospital.

My lip was ripped up to my nose. Two of my teeth were knocked out. Even though I (thankfully) wore a bike helmet that day, I suffered a concussion. I broke just about every bone in my face. My doctor says I have a road-rash tattoo on my face because the scarring from the accident will not go away.

The driver who hit me carried the mandated minimum $10,000 in bare-bones PIP insurance. Unlike 48 other states, Florida has no requirement for drivers to carry bodily injury coverage.

What did that mean for me, the victim? It meant I had to figure out how to pay the $350,000 health care bill created by an accident I didn’t cause. Because I have appropriate insurance coverage, the bills are getting paid.

What upsets me is there were no consequences for the woman who hit me. It’s as if carrying bare-bones PIP insurance provides a free pass for irresponsible drivers who hurt other people.

What happened to me isn’t an isolated incident.

I recently saw a similar story from Tampa where a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran was on his bicycle and was hit by a driver who carried only minimum PIP insurance coverage. According to the story, his bicycle was the man’s only means of transportation, so he doesn’t have auto insurance. He suffered serious injuries in the accident but, did not have insurance coverage to pay for his $200,000 in medical bills. People are helping him through donations on a “GoFundMe” webpage.

It’s really a policy change that’s needed to help people like us who could become victims of Florida’s outdated PIP insurance system and have to pay dearly because of the irresponsibility of others.

Lawmakers have an opportunity to change this by passing legislation to repeal PIP and replace it with a requirement that drivers carry bodily injury insurance at $25,000 per person/$50,000 per incident. The Florida House has already passed a good proposal to make this happen. The ball is now in the Florida Senate’s court.

Forty-eight states require drivers to carry bodily injury insurance. Why not Florida?

I understand that we’re down to the last days of the scheduled legislative session. With a little creative leadership that we know exists in the Legislature, the Senate can get this bill on its last-week agenda and send it to the governor.

We urge our children to take personal responsibility. We should also promote it in our state policies.

Please join me in calling on the Florida Senate to join their colleagues in the House by passing this good bill to repeal PIP and replace it with coverage that increases responsibility on our roadways.

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Paul Davidson is an engineer living in Boynton Beach and was a triathlete before the accident.

Mike Williams: Meaningful workers’ comp reform must protect Florida’s workers

Mike Williams serves as president of the Florida AFL-CIO,

With the House version of workers’ compensation reform, our state legislators are dangerously close to repeating the mistakes of the past. We cannot have a lopsided system that creates a chasm between the army of lawyers and executives who represent workers’ comp insurance companies and the injured worker who needs a competent lawyer to fight for the benefits that their employer has purchased.

Thankfully, the Florida Senate has taken the lead in advocating for effective, meaningful reforms that we know to be constitutional.

We must always keep in mind that workers’ compensation laws are designed to ensure the quick and efficient delivery of medical benefits to injured workers so they can recover from their injuries and return to work. The laws are not designed to grant one side a competitive advantage in the court system. Families that depend on the livelihoods of injured workers are counting on a fair system that will give them an avenue for redress when they are wrongly denied benefits.

The Legislature has an opportunity to fix several problems that would benefit both small-business owners and injured workers. The system must allow for appropriate access to the courts when an injured worker’s benefits are wrongfully denied. Maintaining a reasonable standard for attorney fees is the only remedy that will ensure this access for injured workers.

While there is still work to be done, I applaud the Senate for placing a cap on attorney fees, which are paid only when benefits are wrongfully denied.

Although an injured worker must retain counsel to pursue these benefits, the cap is reasonable and will not invite a constitutional challenge. The legislation also establishes a mechanism for containing defense expenditures by insurance companies by requiring them to refund money to policyholders if defense costs exceed a certain percentage.

We also have an opportunity to streamline the process for authorizing medical treatment. Under the current system, workers are unable to have any say in their own physician, and there are significant consequences from not being able to utilize a trusted physician.

Inevitably, there is a trust gap between the worker and the designated doctor paid for by the insurance company. This isn’t fair to either party and this simple fix will go a long way to reducing unnecessary claims. The Senate bill streamlines the authorization of medical treatment and will expedite how and when care is provided – avoiding the need for unnecessary litigation

There has been a great deal of discussion about the unique rate filing system that workers’ compensation insurance companies enjoy here in Florida. The Senate version smartly creates a competitive ratemaking system that will allow employers to shop for affordable coverage and eliminates the longstanding single rate system, which has granted a monopoly to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).

Florida’s workers’ compensation system has favored the insurance industry over employers and employees for far too long. There is much to be done to bring fairness to the system, more than the current Legislature seems willing to tackle. However, the bill being offered in the Florida Senate is a fair start and represents a far more balanced approach than the unconstitutional measure in the House.

Whatever happens, this session has put a spotlight on the many inequities in the system and we will continue to work to correct these for all of Florida’s working families.

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Mike Williams is a construction electrician from Jacksonville and serves as president of the Florida AFL-CIO, representing almost a million workers, retirees and their families across the state.

 

Bob Martinez, Dominic Calabro: The time is now to address the Everglades crisis

Florida’s Everglades is an American iconic national park known and revered throughout the world for its biodiversity.

Floridians, regardless where they live, must join together to protect and restore this treasure before the Everglades reaches a point of no return. The Everglades is home to thousands of plant and animal species and draws millions of visitors to Florida. Unfortunately, decades of massive changes to the habitat’s water flow have resulted in unintended consequences that threaten Florida’s environment, residents and economy. The situation requires immediate action.

During the wet season, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discharges large volumes of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee west into the Caloosahatchee River and east into the St. Lucie River to prevent flooding in the urbanized areas south of the lake. These discharges of lake water cause a number of problems to the east, west and south.

To the east and west, the introduction of large quantities of fresh water to the fragile estuaries where the rivers meet the coast harm or destroy wildlife, which rely on a delicate balance of fresh and salt water. Similarly, the lack of fresh water flowing to the south results in too much salinity in Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay, and harms or destroys the ecosystem there. Furthermore, nutrients in these discharges have resulted in harmful algae blooms along the affected rivers and coasts, which you may remember from numerous news stories last summer.

But in addition to the environmental effects, this situation impacts many Florida industries and small businesses. Unhealthy and unsightly estuaries discourage tourists from visiting Florida. Unhealthy waterways negatively affect commercial fishers, which affects other businesses in their supply chain. All of these reduced economic actives result in less tax revenue. Yet, these are just a small glimpse of the people and industries affected; when viewed as whole, from an economic and fiscal standpoint, it truly affects all of us in Florida.

It is rare in public policy when any solution would be a significant improvement over the status quo, but this one such situation. We are at a tipping point where we don’t have the luxury of time to wait for the perfect solution. These effects will cascade into economic and fiscal costs borne by all Floridians. There is too much at risk for us, as a state, to do nothing.

Recent a proposals in the House and Senate have seen spirited debate. Governor Scott recently came out in support of Senate President Joe Negron’s reservoir plan to send Lake Okeechobee water south into the Everglades and the House agreed to fund the reservoir as part of a budget compromise deal to ensure session ends on time.

A recent Florida TaxWatch report examines these issues and explores the costs of inaction. The report finds that “each day Florida waits to solve the problem, the solution becomes more expensive. While the price tag to address the issues may be a shock to the system, the cost of inaction could be far more devastating to the state of Florida and its hardworking taxpayers.” The report is available at www.FloridaTaxWatch.org.

It is clear that our state’s leaders are aware of and understand the importance of this issue. The questions now being debated are how to solve it and can we afford to fix it, but the real issue is not what we can afford, but the true and widespread cost of failure to act.

Florida’s livelihood is dependent on the strength of the Everglades. The cost of the solution will never be less than what it is today and any action is better than no action. Failure to act will send Florida down a terrible path. Soon, the damage will be beyond the point of no return and taxpayers across the state, and the state itself, will suffer irreparable harm.

These effects will cascade into economic and fiscal costs borne by all Floridians. There is too much at risk for us, as a state, to do nothing. Luckily, it seems that the Legislature is paying attention.

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Bob Martinez, 40th Governor of Florida and former Mayor of the City of Tampa, is a senior policy adviser with Holland & Knight’s Public Policy & Regulation Practice Group and is co-chair of the firm’s Florida Government Advocacy Team.

Dominic M. Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute & government watchdog.

Pat Neal: Florida must commit to the future and invest in high-tech jobs

Pat Neal

The world around us is constantly changing as technology evolves. Investing in high-tech jobs can set Florida up to succeed far into the future while providing people with high-wage jobs that will keep the American dream alive and well in our great state.

Other states have already committed to investments in the future, with millions of dollars being poured into high-tech centers that boost the economy and create hundreds of jobs.

Luckily, our state leadership is committed to this goal, with Gov. Rick Scott recognizing the growing need for high-tech jobs in the state. He has consistently touted STEM programs in Florida’s education system, including his $10,000 STEM Degree Challenge to steer students into high-tech STEM jobs. He approved $15 million in funding last year for the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, now BRIDG, which partners with universities and companies to develop high-tech sensors.

Studies have shown that regions and states comprising of high-tech research and industrial centers achieve economic boons.

The Bluffs, an advanced manufacturing park in Pensacola, is a prime example: A Florida TaxWatch report found that about 6,000 new positions in Pensacola’s manufacturing sector would be created if The Bluffs reached its maximum potential. It goes on to state that new wages in the region as a result of increased job creation could grow by as much as $400 million and that Florida’s Gross State Product could rise by as much as $1.1 billion.

Research centers like BRIDG and The Bluffs are critical pieces to Florida’s high-tech puzzle and need both private and public support to attract companies to invest in them. We will need every available resource in the toolkit to do so, including Enterprise Florida (EFI), which has played a large role in the development of BRIDG and The Bluffs.

Unfortunately, EFI is at risk of being eliminated completely by the Florida Legislature, which would cut our investments on opportunities in high-tech fields. This would be an unwise move, especially as other states bolster their efforts to build up their high-tech industries and put Florida at a disadvantage to other states, halting the progress the state has made in high-tech principles. Instead, lawmakers in Tallahassee should consider the benefits of using EFI and other state resources to boost our high-tech footprint.

In this global economy, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Making an investment to ensure that Florida becomes a high-tech hub that attracts the top individuals and companies to the state is essential to the success.

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Pat Neal is a former state senator and the former chair of the Christian Coalition of Florida; he 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.

Kim Syfrett: Senate workers’ comp plan provides balance for businesses, workers

Kim Syfrett

Reforming Florida’s workers’ compensation system has been one of the most contentious issues discussed this legislative session. Numerous players have weighed in on this often-complex legislation, including representatives from big business, corporate insurers, and the legal community.

However, the “Grand Bargain” – and its implications for the workers this system was meant to protect – seems to be forgotten in the version of the bill advocated for by insurance lobbyists and recently passed by the Florida House. Thankfully, the Senate version of workers’ comp reform, championed by Sen. Rob Bradley, offers a significant step in the right direction.

The Senate version (SB 1582) strikes an appropriate balance by keeping costs down for businesses. It does this by creating a competitive ratemaking system that would allow employers to shop for affordable coverage, requiring insurance companies to refund money to policyholders if defense costs exceed a certain percentage, and capping claimants’ attorney fees at a constitutionally-valid amount, which are only paid when benefits are wrongfully denied.

Unlike the insurance industry’s bill in the House, the Senate bill rightfully provides the injured worker with greater access to the courts. It streamlines the authorization of medical care, which speeds up treatment and avoids the need for unnecessary litigation.  Finally, the Senate bill removes incentives for insurance companies to deny advancing necessary medical care for a worker.

These meaningful reforms have the ultimate result of creating a more predictable and stable market for workers’ comp insurance. What employers really need is more certainty over the course of the system rather than a new crisis every few years with rate peaks and valleys because of the lack of a constitutional law. It also benefits everyone when injured workers can get the care they need and get back to work quickly, rather than a system that doesn’t return skilled workers to their jobs.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. If the House version of this bill somehow made its way into Florida law, we would see the courts rule it unconstitutional once again. This happened with the workers’ comp laws passed by the Legislature in 2003 and 2009, and would continue the same rollercoaster ride of rates for businesses that stifles job growth and creates market uncertainty.

I’ve worked with hundreds of injured workers throughout my career and can speak firsthand about how, without a working law, we ALL end up paying the costs because so many end up on social programs funded by taxpayer dollars when they can’t get an insurance company to approve a course of care.

Florida finally has a chance to get this right by passing comprehensive reform found in Sen. Rob Bradley’s legislation.  These reforms are simply too costly to us all not to get it right.

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Kim Syfrett is a Panama City attorney who represents injured workers. She also serves as secretary of Florida’s Workers’ Advocates.

Adam Putnam: Florida is a tinderbox, Florida Forest Service works around the clock

In every corner of our state, severe drought conditions have made Florida a tinderbox. Roughly 100 wildfires are currently burning about 75,000 acres, and our Florida Forest Service wildland firefighters are working side-by-side with partnering agencies to battle these fires and protect life, property and wildlife.

On Friday, Collier County had to evacuate approximately 7,000 homes due to a massive wildfire. We’ve not seen fire conditions this bad since 2011, and we have wildfires burning from the state line to Miami.

Current conditions conjure memories of one of the worst years on record—1998, when at one time I-4, I-75, and I-10 were all closed at the same time, Disney World was closed, the Pepsi 400 was postponed, and an entire county, Flagler County, was evacuated. In 2017 so far, more than 130,000 acres have burned due to wildfires. Many homes have been saved, but some have been lost.

My grandfather used to say, “extremes beget extremes.” Some of the wettest El Nino cycles that we have are followed by the driest conditions that are ripe for wildfire. These tough drought conditions are worsened by the abundance of undergrowth—brush and weeds—that grows and thrives due to the heavy rainfall the prior year. With dry conditions, all of it turns into kindling that fuels large and swiftly moving wildfires, whether caused by people or nature.

Recently, I asked Governor Rick Scott to issue an executive order to enable us to use all available resources to combat these wildfires. National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters are assisting our other aircrafts fighting these wildfires. One of the most concerning aspects of these conditions is the last time an emergency order was issued in 2011, it was mid-June. June is typically the peak of wildfire season, so it’s a very serious situation that it’s even earlier in the year that we’re seeing such extreme conditions.

Unfortunately, the two most common causes of wildfire are people. The leading cause of wildfire is human carelessness, such as allowing a debris pile to grow out of control or a spark from an intentional fire to land on dry land and start a wildfire. The second leading cause is arson. We’ve seen a 70 percent increase in arson cases this year compared to last year with 240 cases so far.

Education and awareness are important components of preventing wildfires. Residents should obey county burn bans, which can be found on FreshFromFlorida.com. They can also track current fire conditions on the website and learn how to create defensible spaces around their homes. Most importantly, if evacuation orders are given, residents and visitors should heed those warnings and keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

Combatting wildfires is truly a partnership. When we recently had a fire on St. George Island, our Florida Forest Service firefighters were out there cutting fire lines, bringing down the intensity of the flames, while the local structural firefighters were up against the houses, making sure they were the last line of defense to protect those homes. As a result, no homes were lost in that fire.

We recently had a firefighter overtaken by flames in his dozer in Okeechobee, and Okeechobee County Fire and Rescue were already on the scene and assisted in getting him out safely. Thanks to their swift rescue efforts, our firefighter is safe and in good health. The comradery of the firefighting service is an extraordinary one, and we should all be proud of them.

The Florida Forest Service will continue to work around the clock to protect residents and visitors, property and wildlife from fire. And I encourage every Floridian to do their part to help prevent wildfires and report any suspected cases of arson by calling local authorities. May God bless our firefighters.

Adam Putnam is Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture.

Eric Draper: Florida making smart progress on solar

Eric Draper

On a sunny day in Florida, I watched the American flag rise and fly over hundreds of acres of solar cells. It was an amazing experience to think the million panels I was looking at in Manatee County were replacing energy from conventional fuel combustion plants. Yet this solar field feeding directly into the power grid was not using any water nor emitting pollution. I could not have been more excited.

In recent years, Florida has increasingly lived up to its name as the Sunshine State, with more and more solar panels dotting our landscape. Solar energy makes so much sense for Florida’s natural environment because every watt of solar electricity reduces energy produced by traditional generation.

Growth in Florida’s solar capacity is accelerating largely as a result of large solar power plants Florida Power & Light is building, just like the one I visited in February. On that day alone, six FPL solar plants generated 335 megawatts of electricity — the same capacity as a coal-fired power plant.

Along with saving water and reducing air pollution, solar plants have an additional benefit. The land used to build fields of solar panels can be used to enhance habitats for birds and other wildlife. Fallow land repurposed for solar can recharge groundwater by allowing rainfall to soak into the earth. With so much of natural Florida being gobbled up by development and agricultural uses, I’m for using every acre we can to restore some lost wildlife habitat.

Audubon Florida has long been a proponent of solar power. We were there nearly a decade ago promoting the policy that led FPL to build the state’s first solar plant in DeSoto County, the largest in the country at that time.

On the day I watched our flag fly over the new solar plant, FPL announced one of the largest expansions of solar power ever in the southeastern United States — eight new solar power plants with 2.5 million solar panels that will generate enough electricity to power 120,000 homes by early 2018. Shortly thereafter, FPL furthered its commitment with plans for an additional 1,500 megawatts of new solar under development across its Florida service area.

Each will feed electricity directly into the grid to serve all FPL customers at no net cost.

In support of our clean energy and water conservation goals, and in keeping with Audubon Florida’s commitment to community-based conservation, we are partnering with FPL to advance solar energy while improving the environmental values of the land where the solar plants are sited.

By recommending bird and pollinator-friendly vegetation for the solar plants, Audubon and its local chapters will make these facilities home to wildlife and nature. Audubon already has provided recommendations of native trees, shrubs, grasses and vines.

FPL’s solar energy advancement already aligns with Audubon’s goals. But it is the potential of partnership with local communities to protect and enhance wildlife that says more about FPL’s motivation. They are investing in making these sites friendly for butterflies, bees and birds.

Working together, we can harness solar energy and the power of Audubon’s grassroots community. We can ensure solar power plants not only advance zero-emissions and zero-water-use energy but also benefit the local communities where they are built.

That’s a partnership worth celebrating for Earth Day in the Sunshine State.

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Eric Draper is executive director of Audubon Florida.

FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center, a 74.5-megawatt solar power plant in Charlotte County, Fla., is one of three massive new solar farms built by Florida Power & Light in 2016. FPL is currently building eight more new solar power plants and plans to add a total of 2,100 new megawatts of new solar over the next few years.
The American flag flies over the FPL Manatee Solar Energy Center in Parrish, Fla. The 74.5-megawatt solar power plant is one of three massive new solar farms built by Florida Power & Light in 2016. FPL is currently building eight more new solar power plants and plans to add a total of 2,100 new megawatts of new solar over the next few years..

 

Mark Holden: A ‘safety valve’ needed for drug mandatory minimum sentencing

William Forrester was 52-years-old, on disability, and suffering from numerous health problems when he was arrested in 2008.

His offense? A pharmacist filled a fraudulent prescription for 120 oxycodone pills.

When he came back the next month to have another prescription filled, which was also fraudulent, the pharmacist called the doctor, who told her he did not authorize either prescription. Forrester was charged with painkiller “trafficking.” He was convicted at trial and sentenced to 15 years in prison, the mandatory minimum sentence for that offense. He will not be released until 2021, a month shy of his 65th birthday.

Unfortunately, Forrester’s story — highlighted in a recent report by the James Madison Institute and Reason Foundation — is not unique. Mandatory minimums have sent thousands of low-level drug offenders to prison unnecessarily since 1999. And though the legislature modestly reformed those sentences in 2014, it’s still possible to be sentenced to decades in prison for comparatively minor drug offenses.

While harsh mandatory minimums were intended to apply to drug kingpins, evidence suggests they are routinely applied to low-level and first-time offenders. A 2012 report by the state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability found that the majority of inmates incarcerated for these offenses sold roughly the “equivalent to one or two prescriptions.” More than one-third of those inmates — like Forrester — were arrested for just possessing too many pills illegally. The majority had substance abuse problems and were at low risk for recidivism. Nearly two-thirds of inmates incarcerated for painkiller “trafficking” offenses had never been to prison previously.

Incarcerating these low-level offenders is expensive. For the roughly 2,310 inmates incarcerated for these offenses, taxpayers are paying $123,562 per day, or approximately $45.1 million per year. These costs might be justified if mandatory minimums were working, but all available evidence suggests Florida’s drug problem is worse today than when mandatory minimums were imposed in 1999.

The problem with mandatory minimums for drug offenses is that they strip courts of all flexibility in sentencing, even when imposing the minimum results in absurdity and injustice. For instance, Judge Mark Blechman, who sentenced William Forrester, told him his hands were tied. Judge Blechman said, “I have to sentence you to 15 years, and there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. The Legislature has said for this particular crime, we prescribe a fixed sentence.” Make no mistake: Forrester committed a crime, and he deserves punishment. But no one is safer when courts are deprived of all flexibility in cases like his.

One way to fix this problem is by enacting “safety valve” legislation. As described in another recent James Madison Institute paper, a safety valve neither eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence, nor requires judges to sentence offenders below the minimum term. It is a narrowly tailored exception for certain offenders and under certain circumstances.

Several states have safety valves for drug trafficking offenses already. Georgia, Oklahoma, and Mississippi have all passed drug safety valve legislation in recent years. In fact, Florida already has safety valve legislation in place for certain offenses, and for habitual offenders. In these cases, judges may depart below the required mandatory minimum if the sentence is “not necessary for the protection of the public.”

A similar safety valve for drug offenses would allow judges to depart below mandatory minimum sentences for individuals who would be better served by shorter terms or alternatives to incarceration, such as drug treatment. It could also save taxpayers millions of dollars annually without negatively impacting public safety, and would limit the negative unintended consequences created by the status quo.

Florida taxpayers deserve the benefits of individualized and proportional sentencing for drug offenses. That’s why more than a dozen national and state conservative organizations, including Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks, and the American Conservative Union Foundation — have asked Florida House and Senate leadership to pass drug sentencing reform this year. And it’s just one reason many of the same groups support a task force to conduct a comprehensive review of Florida’s criminal justice system.

Florida is not made safer when individuals are deprived of all liberty for years — or decades — longer than necessary. Public safety is enhanced, not threatened, when judges are allowed to make individualized sentencing decisions. State Attorney Glenn Hess of Florida’s 14th Judicial Circuit said it best: “Every case should be treated on its merits … Leave it up to the judge to decide which offenders are dangerous and treat them appropriately.”

That makes sense to me.

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Mark Holden is senior vice president and general counsel for Koch Industries, Inc.

 

Steve Hough: Florida’s chance to fix its ‘rigged’ election system

Steve Hough

Florida has a once in a generation opportunity to fix our “rigged” political system via the Constitution Revision Commission.

If you’re like me, you don’t need some expert to tell you about the adverse effects of gerrymandering.

Acrimonious partisan rhetoric, high-dollar campaign financing, and a terrible closed primary system locking out 3.1 million independent voters in our state, has allowed power to shift from citizens to politicians and party leaders.

Every 20 years, Florida convenes the Constitution Revision Commission. It’s a group of 37 political appointees that have the power to put constitutional amendments before the voters in 2018. Coming on the heels of the most destructive and divisive presidential campaigns ever, it’s a welcome opportunity for Floridians to demand the commission help fix our broken elections.

Despite very little notice of the commission hearings, Floridians are packing rooms to speak their minds. In fact, the commission had to move several meetings to larger rooms to accommodate the large crowds.

One of the key topics cited by dozens of speakers: getting rid of the horrible closed primary system that locks out over a quarter of our registered voters and forces politicians to cater to a small fraction of the electorate during the primary, where the majority of races are actually decided. These primary voters are often the most ideologically extreme in both major parties.

As one speaker put it at the recent hearing in Orlando, “When I talk to my young daughter about the presidential election, I’m disgusted by both sides. I don’t hear about how I like this candidate or that one. Instead, people talk about how they hate this candidate a little less than the other. That is abhorrent to American democracy.” He goes on to cite the need for open primaries so that candidates have to connect with all voters, not just the partisan extremes.

Another speaker rose at the Miami hearing to say: “The parties claim primary elections are private elections. But they are paid for by the taxpayers and run by government employees in public buildings on public owned voting machines. So I’m sorry, but their argument doesn’t fly. We can do better.”

The speakers have been a diverse group. They have been men and women. White, African-American, Latino and Asian. It’s truly been a showcase for the diversity of our state.

These speakers are not alone. My organization, Florida Fair and Open Primaries, sponsored a poll of Florida voters along with the national organization Open Primaries and the Florida-based Progress for All. The poll findings mirrored the sentiments of those at the commission hearings: 93 percent of Floridians want their elected leaders to bring opposing interests together to create good policies for the state. 92 percent want their elected officials to put the interests of Florida voters ahead of the interests of their own political party. Most importantly, 70 percent of Florida voters, and a full 74 percent of Florida’s Latino community, favor a top-two open primary where all candidates appear on the same ballot, regardless of party affiliation. All voters will be able to vote for any candidate, with the top two vote-getters moving on to the general election.

The commission will continue these public hearings for some time. It’s critical we keep up this drumbeat at every meeting, and increase the volume.

The time is now. The concern is real. We demand change. We want open primaries.

Commissioners, are you listening?

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Steve Hough is the lead spokesperson for Florida Fair and Open Primaries, an all-volunteer grassroots organization of Florida independent voters.

Danny Burgess: It’s vital Florida workers get care they need

A lot of people talk about jobs. How to create them, how to save them, or how to move them.

No matter what side of the “jobs argument” you are on, one thing is certain. There can be no job without a worker to perform that job. That worker is – normally – a human being subject to the vicissitudes of life.

That’s why there’s workers’ compensation insurance – which is coverage purchased by an employer to provide benefits for job-related employee injuries. In Florida, virtually all businesses are required to carry it.

I’m sure you’ve heard in the news the dire situation our workers’ compensation insurance the State of Florida is in. Let me give you a little history on how we got here.

In 2003, Florida’s workers’ compensation insurance rates were the highest in the nation. The Florida legislature tackled the crisis and, since 2003, workers’ compensation insurance rates have fallen 61 percent for Florida’s job creators. This was all done without restricting access to courts as the percentage of workers’ compensation cases in which an injured worker was represented by an attorney remained largely the same before and after the reforms. In addition, these reforms ultimately saved Florida business owners over $3 billion in insurance premiums.

Enter the Florida Supreme Court. Last year the court invalidated a portion of the earlier reforms that kept costs under control.

Even the most ardent detractors of the 2003 reforms will admit that the elimination of those reforms will increase insurance premium costs to small business. We’ve already seen a 14.5 percent increase in workers’ compensation insurance premium rates effective Dec. 1, 2016. That increase would eat away at $435 million of the $3 billion saved by the reforms.

To absorb that cost, employers may choose to shed jobs. Even assuming that each of these jobs pays the average salaried wage in Florida of $46,000, it would, currently, take nearly 65,000 jobs lost to absorb the cost of a $3 billion rate increase.

To put it in perspective, in the last year over 240,000 new jobs were created in Florida. Without fixing the workers’ compensation system a quarter of those jobs could be in jeopardy.

I’ve been fortunate, thanks to Speaker Richard Corcoran and Chairman José Felix Diaz, to lead an effort to prevent that job loss and fix the system. We’ve proposed, and this week will pass, the largest and most comprehensive set of reforms to Florida’s workers’ compensation system in 15 years.

It was vital to me that injured workers get the care they need, while protecting the jobs of the very workers who have been injured.

When we set out to reform Florida’s workers’ compensation system, there were three objectives I sought to achieve. First, the reform had to be constitutional; it would do us no good to pass a bill, and then have the Florida Supreme Court strike it down as unconstitutional. That would put us right back where we are today, with every business in Florida facing an unsustainable 14.5 percent rate hike. Our bill effectively addresses recent case law by not infringing on the injured worker’s access to courts while simultaneously combating the system’s biggest cost drivers, including excessive attorney involvement and fees. This will bring stability to the system and lead to more affordable and significantly lower rates for Florida’s business owners.

Secondly, I believe that we must strike a fair balance between workers and employers. The goal of most injured workers is to get back to work. We should have a system that encourages and medically targets that goal.

Thirdly, I want to ensure that the “Grand Bargain” is kept in place. Without the buy-in of the workforce and the business community — both at the heart of the Grand Bargain — I fear we’ll be right back in the same place next year — a very uncertain place.

This might not be the most exciting issue. The TV cameras won’t be beating down my door. But I’ll rest well at night knowing that real jobs of real families in real need were saved because of what we did. And it doesn’t get much better than that.

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Danny Burgess represents District 38 in the Florida House of Representatives.

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