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Emma Gisclair: Everyone can enjoy reading — if given the right book

Emma Gisclair

When I was 4 years old, I demanded my mom teach me to read so I could read my own books instead of being read to.

At 9, my best friend introduced me to Harry Potter. I devoured the four released books, then wrote a letter to author J.K. Rowling informing her that I had decided to be a writer because of her. It was the beginning of a dream that has guided my life ever since.

Two years later, I discovered “The Two Princesses of Bamarre” by Gail Carson Levine at my school book sale. I had never related to a character more than shy, unadventurous Addie. Someone like me could be a hero!

Then the summer before eighth grade, my family moved yet again, to my sixth city and seventh school. Books were my companions when I knew no one, a conversation starter with new classmates, and a connection to the friends I left behind.

I know that I was (and still am) an outlier when it comes to reading. And that’s fine — I’m a library assistant and a writer, so reading is my job in every way. I don’t expect everyone to share my goal to read 100 books in 2017, but the fact does remain that readership has decreased over the past decade across all demographics.

Multiple polls and studies have shown that the time a child spends reading declines steadily throughout childhood and adolescence, including a National Education Association poll that found 70 percent of middle school students reading 10 books per year, compared to 49 percent of high school students.

Of course, there are many factors that contribute to this statistic: increased homework loads, technology usage, the social life that comes with a driver’s license, the reading atmosphere in the classroom and at home. I am neither an educator nor a parent, and banning all technology and returning to a pre-Industrial Revolution society sounds like a dystopian novel concept, so no, I don’t have a magical solution to increase reading among children and teens.

But I do have one suggestion, based on the experiences of myself and others, which we, as adults, can be better at: Give children and teens the power of choice in their reading.

Consider this story, which happens far too often: A 7-year-old boy enters a bookstore and picks out a book with a princess on the cover; his mother takes it from him. “Oh no, this is a girl book,” she says. “You won’t like it. Let’s go find a book about monsters instead.” The boy doesn’t like the book about monsters or the one about sports or the pirate adventure story. He becomes less interested in reading as time goes by.

Or this: Students in a high school English class are required to read one book outside of their assigned reading. One girl, for whom reading is difficult, chooses a graphic novel at the recommendation of a friend. The teacher tells her it doesn’t qualify, and instead suggests the coming-of-age drama “The Outsiders.” The girl struggles with the book, confirming her belief that she just isn’t a reader.

A personal experience: I was in second grade at a school that used the Accelerated Reader program. On a trip to the library, I picked out an age-appropriate book featuring dragons — my current obsession — but when I tried to check it out, the librarian told me it’s too far below my reading level. The next year, when it was time to take the AR test, I intentionally chose wrong answers so I would score lower for my reading level.

I’m currently re-reading Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” in preparation to watch the new movie. The great evil faced by the Murray children in the book is a being called IT, who steals the individuality and agency of its victims and turns them into mindless drones. In “Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix,” we meet a villain who is arguably worse than Lord Voldemort — Dolores Umbridge. Like L’Engle’s IT, Umbridge seeks conformity at Hogwarts, forcing the students to read the books she approves and punishing those who speak out. These are just two of many children’s books that revolve around the importance of choice and individualism.

Perhaps adults — especially those of us who are gatekeepers of children’s literacy — can learn a lesson from these books. I’ve long believed that everyone can enjoy reading, if given the right book. The problem comes when we deny a child the opportunity to find that book because we deem it unworthy. The right book for me may not be the right book for you or for the child down the street.

And that’s OK.

Because if there’s one thing children’s literature taught me, it’s that individuality is essential to humanity.


UCF Forum columnist Emma Gisclair is a senior library technical assistant in UCF’s Curriculum Materials Center. She can be reached at


David Silvers: State must rethink policy about minors, mental health

David Silvers

In September 2016, a 6-year-old child threw a temper tantrum at his elementary school in Jacksonville. Usually, the story would end with the child being sent to the principal’s office for discipline, but, sadly for Nicholas, the child from this story, his journey didn’t end there.

Not knowing how to handle an unruly child, the school counselor contacted the local sheriff to pick the child up and drop him off at a psychiatric facility. Nicholas was held for three days against the wishes of his parents and had to wait more than 24 hours to see a psychiatrist. When the facility finally allowed his parents to take him home, Nicholas had suffered a bloody nose, scraped-up shins, and was in an overtired and almost hysterical state.

Under the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, commonly known as the Baker Act, this is legal. The law is a well-intentioned attempt to promote public safety by allowing medical professionals at a mental health facility to hold an individual for up to 72 hours to conduct an evaluation of whether the patient is mentally ill and at risk of causing harm to themselves or others.

However well-intentioned the law is, it can sometimes produce appalling, unintended consequences, such as permitting a 6-year-old child to be held against the will of the child’s parents and endure a traumatic and perhaps a life-altering experience.

That is why I filed House Bill 1183, which would require receiving facilities to initiate medical review for involuntary examination of minors within 12 hours of arrival. The bill would also create a task force to bring accountability and transparency to involuntary examinations of minors in Florida.

While the Senate companion for HB 1183 was not able to get any traction, I worked with several members of the Senate and got the language attached to HB 1121, which also seeks to improve mental health in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott signed that bill into law on June 26.

The task force created in HB 1183 is composed of stakeholders that include experienced experts from the mental health, education, and law enforcement industries, as well as a representative from a family whose child has been brought to a mental health facility for involuntary examination. The task force will analyze data on the initiation of involuntary examinations of children, looking for trends and potential solutions to improve the process and outcome of these situations. I truly believe using this data will improve safety, treatment and the experience of those receiving care through our mental health system.

Working toward solutions that will improve our mental health system and benefit all Floridians should be a priority for every legislator in Tallahassee. I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to work for my neighbors and for all Floridians to ensure that we have access to a health care system that reflects the importance of mental health for the future of our state.


Democrat David Silvers represents Florida House District 87.


Kate MacFall: Time to speak up for Florida panther

Kate McFall

Heads up, citizens: the federal government is about to review the endangered status of one of our state’s rarest species — the Florida panther — and now is the time for all of us to make our voices heard.

We Floridians clearly love our wild and mysterious panthers; in 1981, the state’s schoolchildren chose the panther as our official state animal over other animal contenders like alligators and manatees.

Biologists estimate that, at most, only 230 or fewer Florida panthers exist on Earth. Compare that to Florida’s human population, which has reached 20.6 million. Federal protections for Florida panthers are as essential as ever to prevent the big cats from going extinct. No scientific justification exists to strip panthers of their endangered species protection, and there is simply no pressing need to do so.

This U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review comes at a time when panther deaths on Florida roads are outpacing the number of documented panther births. The statistics are alarming: Last year alone, an average of three panthers a month died on our roadways as they traveled in search of food and mates. So far, this year 13 panthers have been struck and killed on roads. These highway deaths come on top of other causes of mortality, including poaching, predation on kittens and disease.

The road toll alone is too high to be sustainable. Every year since 2012, Florida has set a new record for the number of panthers killed by vehicles. Our panther population will face continual threats because massive new developments are planned for the southwest Florida lands that are the panther’s last home. Strip malls, housing developments, and new roads will all greatly impair Florida panthers’ prospects for survival. Panthers are particularly vulnerable to human threats due to their already-low numbers and because they require large ranges. Biologists know that the leading cause of species extinction around the world is habitat loss and human persecution. With developers encroaching more dramatically in southwest Florida, the panthers need the protection the Endangered Species Act provides more than ever.

We know too well how fragile our Florida panther population is; the cats were put on the Endangered Species list in 1967. In the 1990s, the population dwindled to just 20 to 30 cats before intensive rescue efforts began to save the species from extinction. The progress made in reviving their population should not be prematurely dismantled now. Unlike all other mountain lion subspecies, Florida panthers are specially adapted to their Big Cypress Swamp and Everglades habitats.

How can you do something about this? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comment about reviewing the Florida panthers’ endangered species protections until Aug. 29. We must let the federal government know we value Florida’s wild heritage and we want our panthers protected. Input should be sent to biologist David Shindle through one of the following methods:

— Regular mail: South Florida Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 12085 State Road 29 S, Immokalee, FL 34142

— Email:

— Fax: (772) 562—4288


Kate MacFall is Florida State Director of the Humane Society of the United States.

Vern Buchanan: Targeting police will not be tolerated – pass the Thin Blue Line Act

Officer Miosotis Familia, a mother of three and 12-year veteran of the New York Police Department, was ambushed and killed as she sat in her command vehicle last week. Familia never saw the assailant coming when he fired a shot through the passenger-side window striking her in the head. She was “assassinated in an unprovoked attack,” James O’Neill, the city police commissioner said.

On Tuesday, a sea of blue uniforms mourned Officer Familia’s senseless death in a ceremony at the World Changers Church in the Bronx. Officers from across the country traveled to the service, including representatives from at least 85 police departments. Quivering as he spoke, Commissioner O’Neill highlighted how Familia worked tirelessly to make the community “a better and safer place for everyone.”

Unfortunately, Officer Familia’s death is part of a disturbing spike in cop killings that continues today.

There have been 68 line-of-duty deaths so far this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The U.S. House passed my Thin Blue Line Act, H.R. 115, earlier this year making the murder or attempted murder of a police officer, firefighter or other first responder an “aggravating” factor in death penalty determinations. The Senate needs to get the bill to the president’s desk as quickly as possible.

Ambush-style killings of law enforcement officers last year skyrocketed 167 percent compared to 2015, according to the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO). These attacks on our brave men and women in blue include the multiple murders of five officers in Dallas and three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The Thin Blue Line Act is supported by key national police advocacy groups, including NAPO and the National Fraternal Order of Police. They are understandably also concerned about the rising rate of attacks on police and agree that the growing violence toward police has to stop.

My bill sends a strong message that the heinous targeting of police officers or first responders will not be tolerated.

I strongly believe that our communities owe a great debt to law enforcement and first responders. No first responders should be targeted solely because of the uniform they wear.

The Thin Blue Line Act applies whether the first responder is murdered on duty or targeted simply for being a firefighter, police officer or emergency medical technician. The bill specifically applies to crimes that fall under federal jurisdiction.

Federal law already considers the murder of federal law enforcement officers an aggravating factor for capital punishment determinations. This bill extends the list of aggravating factors to include state and local police officers, firefighters, or other first responders when a jury is considering the death penalty in a federal case.

Each year, I host congressional awards for first responders in southwest Florida to recognize the outstanding contributions to our communities made by these dedicated public servants. Honoring these men and women is among the highlights of my year. These are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who put their lives on the line to help their neighbors.

Our first responders don’t hide or waver in their commitment to public safety. Like Familia, these individuals run toward danger and take swift action to make our towns, communities and cities a safer place for kids to grow and families to prosper. These men and women in uniform make our lives safer and we’re lucky to have them.

Now we need to have their back.

Steve Webb: Run, John Morgan, run — no, not for that

Dear John Morgan:

All kinds of Florida Democrats are enthused that you will follow your successful campaign to expand legal medical marijuana with a 2018 campaign for governor.

You could self-finance, and the party sorely needs to concentrate its fundraising down ballot. You have name recognition, but it doesn’t carry the baggage of a government record. You aren’t timid, and at this point, we hunger for boldness to oppose a mess in Tallahassee, you could argue has been the template for the mess in Washington.

But stop, for a minute, and turn the question that justifies your running on its head. How are you any more qualified than Rick Scott or Donald Trump to run a government? In 2018, this question is important because Scott wasn’t qualified and still isn’t. Ditto Trump.

We lose the “amateur hour” argument if you are the candidate. It will be similar to waging the argument four years ago that the best way to turn the corner on four terms of Republican governors was to elect the third-term guy to a fifth.

However, Florida has a constitutional office you are highly qualified for, and frankly, the office begs even more for a change in direction. Florida has a bad governor, but it has an even worse attorney general. Pam Bondi should not be able to name her successor.

How did Bondi become the state’s chief lawyer? Not from a legal record. She functioned largely as a telegenic spokeswoman for the Hillsborough state attorney’s office, then parlayed a gig as one of Roger Ailes‘ blonde expert witnesses into her election campaign. She won, frankly, because losing is what we Democrats were doing in 2010.

Once in office, Bondi turned the Office of the Attorney General into a small-town law firm for mostly out-of-state interests. Clients who had put up a retainer when she was a candidate found her a less-than-energetic protector of consumers, investors or residents impacted by mistreatment of our natural resources. One client in particular — the Republican Attorney Generals Association — found her to be a much more enthusiastic co-plaintiff than a prosecutor. She led Florida into federal suits that on the surface stood outside or even in conflict with the state’s interests. The most famous involved the Affordable Care Act, and a 2012 image lingers of her and Scott confusedly having to abandon their victory lap news conference when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA.

But you and I both know that wasn’t Bondi’s most ridiculous co-plaintiff move. That would be one of the times when she signed the state of Florida on to stop other states from adopting standards Florida has itself adopted, sometimes introduced. I would love to see an accounting of how much taxpayer money she wasted pursuing various suits at the behest of the RAGA, how much she spent on outside attorneys to accomplish tasks she ignored while servicing her out-of-state clients, and how often the suits have ended poorly — losses, but also an increased acrimony among the states involved and a belief among large segments of Florida that Bondi is anyone’s lawyer but ours.

In addition, a state’s best government oversight is a strong attorney general, and Bondi has never challenged her party’s excesses. An attorney general who took the state and federal Constitutions seriously would have blocked the legislature from defying the Fair District amendments in the 2011 redistricting. The resulting litigation has ended up costing taxpayers more than $20 million. In 2015, Scott used taxpayer money to fly to and purchase radio advertising in Kentucky on the eve of their gubernatorial election, where he warned voters Democrat policies would allow Florida to steal all their jobs. The best you can say about her own ethical decisions is that she broke no criminal laws.

An attorney general who represented the people against the government would tell both Scott and the legislature that they were on their own passing HB 7059 the way they did. Such an AG might even act as plaintiff’s attorney if the government and legislature refused to fulfill voter-approved constitutional amendments.

I know it would be difficult to take what, on the surface, is a supporting role in changing Florida. It wouldn’t have to be. You would be a crusader, dragging Florida’s official legal presentation back into the sunshine.

In contrast, you might make a lousy governor. Your success has come doing a specific set of things, and they might not translate into a position that is administrative, collaborative. Baseball writer Bill James once said of a 70s Red Sox center fielder, that his doubles against Fenway’s wall became routine fly outs in Anaheim.

That might happen to you in the governor’s office.

But do you doubt for a minute that you would thrive as The People’s Lawyer? Please, think about it.


Steve Webb is a Lakeland resident and member of the Polk County Democratic Executive committee.


Rick Scott: DC needs to start rewarding efficiency, not inefficiency

Ed. Note: Gov. Rick Scott‘s office sent the following op-ed regarding “the national healthcare debate.”

I recently traveled to D.C. to fight for Florida as the U.S. Senate debated repealing and replacing Obamacare. For far too long, D.C. politicians have focused only on the grand bargain of repealing and replacing Obamacare, ignoring the opportunity to make incremental changes to get rid of the taxes and mandates and roll back the federal welfare state. 

For decades, the federal government has been willing to spend more than it takes in. We all know this is not sustainable, leaving debt for our children and grandchildren – more than $19 trillion in debt and counting. The inaction we’ve seen on repealing Obamacare shows that hasn’t changed.

Throughout this healthcare debate, a lot of people have been advocating for bigger government, and not a lot of people have been advocating for taxpayers. I will always advocate for Florida’s hardworking taxpayers.

While a new bill has been introduced this week, it has taken far too long to get rid of the disaster of Obamacare, and I fear the politicians in Washington will never find common ground on this critical topic. There is absolutely no question that Obamacare must be repealed immediately so Americans can actually afford to purchase health insurance.

To lower costs, fundamental reform to the Medicaid program is needed. Obamacare encouraged a massive expansion of Medicaid to cover able-bodied, working-aged adults, even as 600,000 elderly Americans and individuals with disabilities nationwide sit on waiting lists to access services through this program.  

States like Florida that have run increasingly efficient Medicaid programs, and have not expanded Medicaid, must be rewarded and treated fairly under any bill. What’s concerning is that under the most recently proposed Senate bill, tax and spend states like New York will continue to be rewarded for running an inefficient Medicaid program.

Long before the Obamacare debate, New York ran a terribly inefficient Medicaid program for decades which ran up their state’s deficit and hindered their economy. Florida is the exact opposite. We have been efficient with our dollars while providing quality care to those who truly need Medicaid. 

As a reward for its fiscal irresponsibility, for every dollar New York pays in federal income taxes, they receive a quarter back from the federal government for Medicaid. In comparison, Florida only receives 16 cents for every tax dollar that is sent to Washington. Current Congressional bills lock in past federal spending, which would make this inequity permanent.

That makes absolutely no sense. If Florida is going to get a smaller rate of return on its federal taxes, shouldn’t our federal taxes be cut? New York, with fewer residents than Florida, receives more than $33 billion per year for Medicaid while Florida receives less than $15 billion.

How is permanently locking in these spending levels fair to Floridians when New York has been terribly inefficient with their taxpayers’ dollars? The federal government should cut income taxes for Floridians by 30 percent. This would put our share of federal Medicaid funding as a percentage of taxes paid on par with New York. This reduction would save Floridians thousands each year.

The federal government must start rewarding efficient states like Florida and stop rewarding inefficient states. Our taxpayers deserve nothing less. 

Yolanda Hood: There will come a time when you’ll have to leave something behind

Goodbyes are never fun, except when they are.

Even if you haven’t read Gone With the Wind or watched the movie, everyone knows Rhett Butler’s famously delivered line as he says goodbye and shuts the door on his relationship with Scarlett O’Hara:

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

When I was a young girl I would watch “The Lawrence Welk Show” with my grandmother. I thought the best part was when the women and men would line up at the end of the show in their beautifully styled 1960s flowing chiffon gowns and polyester three-piece leisure suits and sing, “Good night, good night until we meet again. Adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehen ’til then.”

I know that those who are as old as I am are now humming that glorious tune.

There are also the inspirational goodbyes, like the one from Central Florida’s very own Fred Rogers that went generally like this:

You make each day a special day. You know how, by just your being you. There’s only one person in this whole world like you. And people can like you exactly as you are … and I like you so much. Bye bye.

It was this inspirational goodbye that helped to convince a 1969 Senate subcommittee on communications to maintain $20 million in federal funding for public broadcasting.

Then there are the goodbyes that make you weep.

John Travolta, in the 1996 movie “Phenomenon,” was in bed dying from a rare brain tumor. He turns to his girlfriend and asks, “Will you love me for the rest of my life?” His girlfriend responds: “No.  I’ll love you for the rest of mine.”

Just gets you in the heart every time.

So why my obsession with goodbyes?

Saying goodbye is always a hard thing to do when you are leaving a place where you have made friends, joined families, learned lessons, and maybe taught a few as well. Saying goodbye is hard when you love walking outside of your door and seeing sandhill cranes pecking in your lawn as you skip over and around the multitude of lizards that scuttle across the sidewalk.

Saying goodbye is hard when the sun is always there, warming your skin and brightening all of your outdoor activities – weeding, car washing, mowing the grass. You know, the things you have to do because it is always so warm and sunny, at least here in Central Florida.

But there comes a time when you’ll probably have to leave something behind, whether it is a city or job or loved ones – like I’m doing now as I leave UCF to begin work at a new university in Canada. That’s why I’ve been thinking a lot about goodbyes lately.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that life is a journey, not a destination. And, so, we all must journey on, to make more wonderful friends and learn more lessons.

I’ve decided I won’t be sad because I have many good memories and have met many great people here.

As Dr. Seuss suggested: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

It’s a lesson we all should learn.

And I’m smiling right now.


UCF Forum columnist Yolanda Hood is the former head of the UCF Curriculum Materials Center. For now, she can be reached at



Edward Timmons: Granting the privilege of work in Florida

Edward Timmons

This week marks an important time for veterans, their immediate families and low-income workers in Florida. The House Bill 615 that took effect July 1 will remove some meaningful barriers to employment. Veterans and their spouses moving into Florida will now be allowed to continue working in the profession that they were licensed to perform in their previous state of residence, without having to meet additional licensing requirements. Licensing fees will also be waived for most Florida veterans, spouses of veterans and low-income workers.

Florida lawmakers should be commended for taking these positive steps that will provide veterans and low-income workers with more employment opportunities. A lot of hard work, unfortunately, remains undone.

Veterans in Florida and across the United States that drove commercial vehicles in the military now have the opportunity to apply for a military skills test waiver within one year of the end of their service. But several other aspects of military training continue to not be accepted in the civilian sector. Many veterans receive extensive medical training throughout the course of their service, yet these individuals are still required to complete the same amount of mandated minimum levels of training as any other applicant. Hundreds of dollars of fees have been removed but thousands of dollars of fees associated with mandatory education and training remain.

Far too many Floridians are unnecessarily burdened by occupational licensing laws. According to a report from the Obama administration, 28 percent of the workforce in Florida has a license. This is almost seven full percentage points higher than the national average reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The elimination of licensing fees will be helpful for low-income workers, but what about all the fees for education and training? Florida is one of just three states and jurisdictions to license interior designers. Aspiring designers must complete six years of education and training. Once again, hundreds of dollars in fees may be gone, but thousands of dollars in education and training fees remain intact.

Another bill that would have allowed aspiring professionals in a wide array of job positions, from hair braiders to boxing announcers, to work without a license died in the Senate last month. Earlier versions of the bill also eliminated licensing requirements for interior designers, but successful lobbying efforts of existing interior designers in Florida resulted in a significant rewording of the bill.

Will scaling back education and training requirements of occupational licensing statutes cause undue harm to the public? The evidence that we have available says no. According to the Obama White House, just two of a population of 12 studies estimating the effects of stricter licensing on quality find evidence of any positive effects.

It is important to give credit where credit is due. While the reforms of House Bill 615 will make a meaningful difference for many Floridians, too many citizens in Florida will continue to find their hopes and dreams crushed by seemingly needless occupational licensing laws.


Edward J. Timmons is an associate professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania.


Vern Buchanan: Fighting our modern-day slavery

At a time when America faces serious challenges, it is imperative that Washington put aside partisan hostility in favor of common-sense solutions that move our state and nation forward.

Some people argue that it’s not possible to reshape the dialogue to a more public-spirited approach, but I believe that Florida can lead by example — working together to do what is right. That’s my goal as chairman of a diverse, 29-member Florida congressional delegation that includes Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, 16 Republican House members and 11 Democrats.

A prime example of our bipartisan resolve occurred last week when the Florida delegation held an official hearing to tackle the growing problem of human trafficking — a form of modern-day slavery.

Florida ranks third in the nation, behind California and Texas, in the number of reported trafficking cases and it experienced an alarming 54 percent increase last year. Children account for more than half the cases of human trafficking, a crime in which the victim is abducted or recruited for sexual exploitation. It can also involve illegal organ harvesting and forced labor.

At the hearing I co-chaired with Democrat Alcee Hastings of Fort Lauderdale, we spoke with several Florida experts on ways to combat this vile and monstrous crime.

One of the witnesses was Elizabeth Fisher, founder and head of Selah Freedom, a national anti-sex-trafficking nonprofit based in Sarasota. Ms. Fisher briefed the members on her group’s efforts to help more than 2,000 young women in the Suncoast region. She also shared the harrowing story of a Bradenton girl who was trafficked from 11 years old up until she was 26.

The scope of the global problem is staggering: 27 million people are caught in the modern slave industry, which turns billions of dollars in profits for the heinous individuals behind these crimes.

This is an issue that demands immediate action. Several of the witnesses offered constructive suggestions to confront the problem. Ms. Fisher told us that Congress should focus on helping victims reclaim their lives, given that demand for services is tripling annually.

Another witness at the hearing, Dr. Suzanne Harrison with the Florida State University College of Medicine, noted that training in the medical community is essential to treat the girls and young women who “go unrecognized in clinics and emergency rooms.

Congress should take these suggestions to heart as it moves to address human trafficking.

I have co-sponsored bipartisan legislation, the Abolish Human Trafficking Act, to increase penalties for perpetrators and give law enforcement more tools to treat human trafficking like organized crime.

I also voted for the Put Trafficking Victims First Act, a bill that provides federal grants to train prosecutors on how to best protect victims and investigate human trafficking. It also provides assistance for trauma care and mental health services to victims. The proposal is currently awaiting action in the Senate.

Too often, the subject of human trafficking flies under the radar and only receives mainstream attention when it appears on the movie screen. We must continue the fight, not as Republicans or Democrats but as Americans, to raise awareness and combat this abhorrent crime against women and children in our communities. The time to act is right now.


U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, serving his sixth term, represents Manatee County and parts of Sarasota and Hillsborough counties. He is also a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee.


Hold my beer and watch this! July Fourth fireworks light up ER

As the long July 4 holiday weekend continues, Sachs Media Group’s Breakthrough Research Division wanted to look on the brighter side of our independence-declaring holiday — and by that, we mean fireworks, of course! Specifically, we consulted the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) to look at the volume of recorded injuries involving fireworks since 1997.

We were illuminated to learn from Jim Rosica of that Floridians purchasing fireworks promise to use them “solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries” with few exceptions.

According to injury data, however, birds shouldn’t be the only ones frightened.

The NEISS uses a sample of hospitals across the US to estimate nationwide totals for ER visits involving an injury associated with consumer products.

Based on these data, a whopping 179,730 Americans have visited the ER for fireworks-related injuries since 1997.

And get this: a shocking two-thirds of these visits occur on or just after one day of the year: July Fourth. Comparatively, Independence Day sees nearly seven times as many fireworks-related injuries as New Year’s Eve each year.

So what happens to cause these injuries? Well, based on the data, we can infer that most injuries involve lighting mistakes. Over 20 percent of all hospital visits due to fireworks include an injury to the hand, and another 12 percent involve an injury of the fingers.

The head also sees as a fair amount of action with 20 percent of all fireworks-related ER visits relating to the eyes, 12 percent to the face area, 3 percent to the ear, and 2 percent to the head.

Less than 1 percent of reported injuries involve the “pubic region,” though this stat may not be of much comfort to the estimated 319 men who experience such an injury each year.

Take these data as a precautionary tale for your July Fourth weekend festivities: don’t pick up a lit firework, stay away from Roman candles, and please, if you find yourself saying to your friend “hold my beer,” you shouldn’t start the fire.


Andrew Bryant is a sophomore at Florida State University majoring in economics and statistics, and is a research intern with Sachs Media Group.

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