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Assessing why the Tampa Bay Rowdies aren’t moving to MLS in this round of expansion

Multiple reports have surfaced showing the Tampa Bay Rowdies will be shut out in this round of MLS expansion.

Several factors are contributing to the Rowdies miss this time, when two new teams will be added. However, the Rowdies remain in contention for the next two teams, which will be announced in 2018.

According to the reports, this year’s two selections will come from Sacramento, Cincinnati and Nashville. The announcement of two new MLS franchises should take place next month.

Sacramento an established front runner

The Sacramento Republic, a Rowdies’ USL rival, has long been an established frontrunner in terms of MLS viability. Sitting in a top 20 TV market both in overall and Hispanic households, the club has been one of the few at the lower division level of North American soccer to consistently draw over 10,000 fans per game.

The ownership squabbles that threatened to derail the city’s chances earlier this year have been resolved and now the California city sits as a clear option for MLS expansion.

Nashville has surged and is a “hot” city that MLS has logical interest in

Sometimes timing and fortune play a bigger role in this process than anything else.

Nashville is currently enjoying its day in the sun as an emerging center of culture and of soccer fandom. Supporter-owned Nashville FC was successful in the amateur ranks of American soccer, prompting USL, the co-second division in North America, to award the city a franchise.

But before that team has even kicked a ball in USL, the city could be awarded an MLS team.

This summer’s US Men’s National Team match against Panama in the CONCACAF Gold Cup drew over 40,000 fans and an International Champions Cup match between English giants Manchester City FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC drew over 60,000 fans.

Unfortunately for the Tampa Bay area, comparable attendances aren’t on display. The US Men’s team played a Gold Cup match days later in Tampa which drew only 25,000 fans and the International Champions Cup opted to hold games in Orlando and Miami instead of Tampa. (It should be noted the International Champions Cup is run by a marketing company owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross — therefore all but guaranteeing Miami gets high-profile matches.)

The success of FC Cincinnati in attracting fans

The biggest success story in domestic soccer in recent years has been the interest generated by recent start-up FC Cincinnati (FCC).

The Rowdies got the best of FCC on the field this year, eliminating the Ohio-based second year club from the USL Cup Playoffs. However, FCC is averaging close to 20,000 fans a game, a remarkable number for a lower division team.

The Cincinnati market is not one MLS was particularly interested in prior to the team’s marketing success. It would be one of the smallest in MLS and prior to the on-field start of this team in 2016, the market had very little history of success in the sport.

But FCC has surged to the front of the expansion line drawing crowds far bigger than anyone else in the lower divisions.

Questions about stadium plan

One former MLS general manager who had a new stadium built during his tenure told me earlier this past week that he felt the Rowdies stadium plan was “naive” and a “non-starter.”

This former GM who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity praised Rowdies owner Bill Edwards for doing what he could with Al Lang Stadium but felt the ground would simply be too small (a capacity under 19,000) and that the configuration was not “soccer-specific” enough to thwart Tampa Bay’s hopes.

The Rowdies are limited in what they can do in a congested downtown. But it is worth noting the vista provided of Tampa Bay from the stadium would perhaps represent the best TV images of a facility from the league.

St. Pete instead of Tampa

While MLS constantly talks about the need to find its teams playing in or close to downtown, some speculation has begun to surface that playing in a secondary city, which the Rowdies do and would continue to do in MLS, hurts the club’s bid.

While on the surface this might be true, much of the Tampa Bay Area’s media is housed in Pinellas. While St Petersburg is a longer drive than Tampa for many of the fans who’d flock to an MLS team, it is still in market.

Proximity to Orlando and Miami

Orlando has one of the most successful MLS clubs in terms of local interest. Miami remains a market that is being essentially gifted a team outside of the normal expansion process.

But geography didn’t help the Rowdies bid. MLS’ thinking probably should change on this as local rivalries and traveling fans are what make professional soccer around the globe much more like US college sports than North American pro sports.

A Tampa Bay-Orlando rivalry which is a holdover from the lower division days of Orlando City SC would instantly be one of the biggest MLS rivalries and a triangular “derby” including Miami also would be an instant hit.

Tampa Bay has missed out on this round of expansion but Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards remains committed to moving the team up to MLS. Considering the three solid bids described above likely represent three of the four new MLS expansion teams, the Rowdies will need to beat the rest of the competition.

Working in the Rowdies favor is a larger TV market, larger established fan base and deeper historical legacy than any of the other serious bids that could take the fourth spot.

So, not all is lost yet for Rowdies fans.

Brecht Heuchan: FHCA ‘wrong on all’ counts

The Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), a nursing home industry trade association, recently attacked my proposed “Resident’s Bill of Rights” amendment to the state constitution saying that it does not belong there, that it “weakens protections for residents,” and that it is “glaringly bad.”

Unfortunately, they offered nothing in the way of evidence to support these claims and are wrong on all. Here is my take:

Heuchan

I cannot count the number of times I have been told one issue or another does not belong in the constitution. When it comes from the mouths of special interest groups it is code for something else.

What they really mean is: 1. they think they have other forums wired in their favor, and 2. they know if voters have a chance to consider the proposal, it would pass.

Make no mistake—rights for residents belong in the Florida Constitution. Our constitution is a place where rights of the individual are protected, especially when it comes to the rights of the vulnerable. As we so sadly saw in the recent, preventable deaths of 14 residents of a South Florida nursing home, the elderly in our society are far too often the most susceptible targets for neglect, abuse, and exploitation.

According to a news account just this week, a hidden camera in a nursing home-room showed a 94-year-old man with dementia being thrown, hit and doused with mouthwash by a facility worker. The man later developed stage three ulcers and bed sores and died.

Is it any wonder the industry opposes cameras in resident’s rooms? We as a society can do better and should demand it.

People that live in these facilities are there necessarily, because they cannot care for themselves. Consequently, they need and deserve the highest levels of protections, and these protections should be free from the cyclical nature of politics and instead guaranteed to residents by the permanency and consistency of the Florida Constitution.

The suggestion by FHCA that the proposed amendment weakens protections for nursing home residents is an ignorant one. It is as if they did not read the proposal, or they have a distorted view of what is in the best interest of residents.

You do not have to be a constitutional lawyer to get this. The plain reading of the amendment is simple and sensible. If adopted by the Constitution Revision Commission and then passed by Florida voters next November, much needed basic rights would be afforded to our frailest and most vulnerable citizens.

The proposal merely says this: Residents of long-term care facilities would have the right to be treated courteously, fairly, and with dignity. They would have the right to adequate and appropriate health care that puts their needs and best interest first.

Residents would have the right to safe, clean, and comfortable living conditions and the right to insist the government does its part to safeguard their welfare. They would have the right to require facilities get meaningful insurance in case something goes wrong. And in the terrible event of abuse, neglect, or death, residents or their heirs would have the right to identify who is ultimately responsible for their harm and hold them accountable.

My proposal clearly strengthens protections for residents of long-term care facilities in Florida; it is obvious to any reasonable person who reads it, and to say otherwise is flatly false. This brings me to my last point.

The FHCA said the proposal is “glaringly bad,” but bad for whom? The FHCA represents facility owners, so we can assume they mean bad for the owners. I do not share that view.

The welfare of residents and the viability of the long-term care industry in Florida do not have to be zero sum games of mutual exclusivity. A healthy industry is in the best interest of residents but not when it comes at their expense.

Thankfully, there are many very good facilities in this state, and the caregivers that work there perform miracles each and every day. But here is the reality, the nursing home industry in Florida is largely a for-profit one.

Undoubtedly, a profit motive encourages efficiencies and innovations and many other desired outcomes. But sometimes the motive for profit in nursing homes is at odds with the objective to prioritize the welfare of residents first. In these circumstances, a Bill of Rights for residents is needed to ensure their safety to the highest degree possible.

Nearly 20 percent of Florida’s 21 million people are over the age of 65, making it the oldest state in the U.S. Approximately 150,000 Floridians live in long-term care facilities in this state, and as the baby boomer bubble hits the hardest, these numbers will exponentially rise along with the cost to care for them.

The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years to evaluate the Constitution in an effort to prepare our state for the future. In my view, and it is one I believe to be shared by industry and resident advocates alike, is that there are few issues more important or more relevant to the future well-being of our state and its people than how we treat and care for the elderly.

So let’s work to be better.

Brecht Heuchan is a member of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission.

Keyna Cory: What have you recycled today?

There are many actions each of us can take to reduce our environmental impact and support a clean community. One of the easiest actions to take every day is to recycle.

That’s why the Florida Recycling Partnership invites all Floridians to join us when we host Florida Recycles Day Wednesday, Nov. 15 beginning at 9 a.m. at the Florida Capitol – Plaza Level in celebration of America Recycles Day, a Keep America Beautiful national initiative.

This will be the 5th Annual Florida Recycles Day at the Capitol hosted by the Florida Recycling Partnership and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Florida has a recycling rate of 56 percent, which is ahead of the national average of 34 percent. Together, we can certainly recycle more and recycle right.

DEP will launch a new statewide recycling education program RETHINK … RESET … RECYCLE during the Nov. 15 event. We need to RETHINK what we recycle and RESET our behavior to focus on what we RECYCLE. The new FloridaRecycles.org campaign is in partnership with the Florida Recycling Partnership, Recycle Florida Today, Waste Management, Waste Connections, Marpan, and Single-Stream Recyclers LLC and is designed to boost awareness of the top items in a successful recycling program including paper and cardboard, plastic bottles and jugs, and aluminum and steel cans.

Through the simple act of recycling (and buying products made with recycled content), we can continue to “give our garbage another life.” That plastic bottle can become a pair of jeans and that aluminum can become a new aluminum can in less than 60 days.

But it all starts with putting more of the right clean and dry recyclable items into your curbside recycle container – and keeping non-recyclable materials OUT especially plastic bags (take them back to your retailer to recycle), cords and hoses, food and clothing. Remember, when in doubt, it’s better to “throw it out” than ruin your good recyclables.

With this in mind, and as America Recycles Day approaches Nov. 15, the Florida Recycling Partnership wants to thank you for your efforts to recycle – at home, at work or school, and on the go. Join us in our effort to make our state environmentally and economically healthier by recycling more and recycling right.

For more information regarding Florida Recycles Day at the Capitol, go to www.flrecycling.org.

#whathaveyourecycledtoday

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Keyna Cory is executive director of the Florida Recycling Partnership, she can be reached at keyna@flrecycling.org. The Florida Recycling Partnership is a coalition of top Florida businesses and associations with the mission to educate policymakers, other businesses and the general public on the benefits of recycling.

 

Joseph Thornton: Former Florida Death Row doctor with a Veterans’ Day message

Did you know that 18-percent of Florida’s death row is made up of veterans of our military services?

It is an important fact as we prepare to honor those who have served our country this Veterans Day. I have learned from firsthand experience that veterans sentenced to death can help us all to understand some of the failures of Florida’s death penalty, as well as how to improve our justice system overall.

I am a psychiatrist trained at Stanford University with more than 30-years of clinical experience, including 3-years overseeing medical and psychiatric care on Florida’s Death Row.

In our system, for a conviction and execution, a defendant must meet a legal standard of competency at the time of at the time of the crime, during the trial, through the appeals, and right up to the execution. However, even cases where guilt is certain, we cannot be 100-percent certain of mental capacity, yet an execution is a 100-percent final.

There is a better way.

We can learn from veterans and their experience in the criminal justice system.

Take the case of Michael Lambrix, who was executed by the state of Florida last month. Lambrix served in the Army and was honorably discharged after becoming disabled in a training accident. He became involved with drugs, was arrested for murder in 1983, sentenced to death and executed 33-years later.

Patrick Hannon, who was executed by Florida this week, had extensive drug use while in the military. However, neither of these men had the benefit of current intervention tactics deployed by the Veteran’s Administration to care for veterans with a history of trauma and drug abuse.

In response to the growing needs of veterans suffering from trauma and drug use, in 2008 the Veterans Health System established the Veterans Justice Initiative.

Florida now has 2 dozen Veteran Treatment Courts. While under the supervision of these courts the veterans must attend treatment for indicated conditions such a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse. For those with substance use disorders there is periodic mandatory urine drug testing. The objective is rehabilitation and successful adjustment to the community rather than incarceration.

If we truly want to honor those who have served in our military this Veterans’ Day, then we should expand the number of veterans’ courts and the services they provide.

We should also urge the governor to place a moratorium on executions, and not just those of veterans, but everyone on Florida’s death row.

The fact is, almost all of them experienced childhood trauma, drug use and more. The time and money Florida spends on the death penalty can be much better spent on more mental health treatment services, especially for military veterans, who deserve better treatment after sacrificing so much for our country.

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Dr. Joseph Thornton is a psychiatrist with the North Florida-South Georgia Veterans Health System. From 2003 to 2010 Dr. Thornton served as the medical executive director of the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center a maximum security forensic mental health treatment facility in Gainesville. Before that he was the Medical Executive Director at Union Correctional Institution.

Mary Barzee Flores: ‘Impeach Trump’ must be Democratic candidates’ rallying cry

President Donald J. Trump should be impeached and removed from office.

As a former judge, I don’t make that statement lightly, but I have come to believe such steps, sadly, are necessary to restore trust, respect, and dignity to the American presidency.

That said, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — and those of the U.S. House and Senate — must continue unimpeded, particularly in light of the indictments unsealed last week against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos’ guilty plea.

We deserve a complete accounting of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and answers to whether the president obstructed justice in the course of that investigation. Any who violated our laws deserve swift and sure punishment.

I spent nearly a decade as a judge and over a decade prior as a federal public defender. I have a deep and abiding respect for the notion that no man or woman — even the president of the United States — is above the law. But prosecuting a sitting president is not as simple as empaneling a grand jury and filing an indictment in federal court. Nor should it be.

This is why the U.S. Constitution lays out the standards and procedure of impeachment. Unlike the justice system, a “crime” need not be committed to impeach a public official, nor does committing a crime necessarily warrant impeachment. Articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution grant the legislative branch broad responsibility to determine which acts rise to a level requiring the exercise of this authority.

But even in the unlikely event that Mueller’s investigation does not find that Trump himself committed criminal trespasses, it doesn’t require a team of prosecutors to make the case that this president has — in ways large and small — violated the sanctity of the public’s trust to an extent great enough to merit removal from office.

We needn’t await Mueller’s report to know that, in less than a year in office, Trump has:

– Fired an FBI director investigating his administration for failing to demonstrate sufficient loyalty.

– Hired a national security adviser who the nation’s highest intelligence officials warned was compromised by Russia.

– Pardoned a political supporter in such a way as to disrespect and weaken the judiciary’s inherent authority.

– Betrayed the trust of one of our closest allies, Israel, by passing classified intelligence to Russia, risking human lives and compromising national security.

– Appointed family members, sycophants and business partners to high-ranking government positions.

– Profited personally in office, in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

For all these reasons, and many more, this president should be impeached and removed from office.

While the White House veers dangerously off course, only the U.S. House of Representatives has the constitutionally endowed power to get our country moving back in the right direction by initiating articles of impeachment.

Unfortunately, under the leadership of Speaker Paul Ryan, this House has only acted to empower and enable Trump. This House’s own “investigation” into the president is so compromised as to be laughable. This House is still launching investigations into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Ryan’s House will never impeach Trump — and if we don’t elect a Democratic majority next year, the Trump administration might even survive to see a second term in power.

I call on all my fellow Democrats running in 2018 to make the case against this president, to be willing to hold him to full account, and to use impeachment as a central rationale in our argument to Americans.

This needs to be a rallying cry for Democrats.

Donald Trump isn’t on the 2018 ballot — but his presidency must be. We must be willing to tell voters, “Yes, I will vote to impeach Donald Trump and restore honor, respect and decency to the presidency.”

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Mary Barzee Flores, a Democratic candidate for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, is a former circuit court judge and federal public defender. President Barack Obama nominated her the federal bench.

Jeff Kottkamp: Real animal welfare reform starts with shelters

Jeff Kottkamp

State Sen. Tom Lee has proposed a constitutional amendment, as a member of the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission, that would end live greyhound racing and allow all 12 of Florida’s greyhound tracks to essentially continue operating as minicasinos.

It has been suggested that the proposal is an animal welfare proposal. There have been numerous attempts to end live racing in the Legislature over the years. All of those efforts have failed, in large part, because most members of the Legislature oppose the dramatic expansion of gambling that would result from such efforts.

The fact is — if live racing is stopped the welfare of over 8,000 majestic racing greyhounds would be put in jeopardy. If you take away the ability of the dog owners to make a living — you also take away the ability of the owners to care for the dogs.

And please don’t suggest that we can adopt out 8,000 greyhounds. While we have a robust greyhound adoption program in Florida — it would take many years to adopt out 8,000 greyhounds. When it comes to the welfare of dogs — the biggest problem we have is not greyhound racing — it’s the number of dogs killed by animal shelters.

In 2008, the Florida Senate Agricultural Committee sent out 180 surveys to municipal and private animal shelters to help determine the welfare of animals at the shelters. Only 30 shelters responded. Their responses were analyzed by committee staff and the Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research. The information provided by the shelters was shocking.

In 2007 alone, the 30 animal shelters that responded to the survey took in 66,513 dogs. During that same year, the responding shelters killed over 37,000 dogs. It was particularly noteworthy that municipal shelters killed more than five times as many dogs as private shelters.

It has been estimated that somewhere between 3 and 8 million animals are killed each year in pet shelters nationwide. It has also been estimated that in Florida 450,000 dogs and cats were killed by shelters just in 2012. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the shelter in Orange County killed 2,232 dogs in 2012. I think those numbers underestimate the problem — but even those numbers are horrific.

As a proud owner of two dogs that have been rescued, I believe that improving the welfare of dogs is a worthy goal. However, ending live greyhound racing would do nothing to achieve that goal. A better approach would be to lead an effort to make all animal shelters in Florida “No Kill” shelters. Such an effort would save the lives of thousands of dogs — and save the taxpayers millions of dollars.

One of the first bills I passed as a Member of the Florida House of Representatives was a bill to increase penalties for the intentional cruelty to animals. My wife Cyndie volunteered her time to help me pass the bill. In fact, without her efforts the bill probably would not have passed. Thus, I know from personal experience that, with enough commitment and effort, an animal welfare bill can be passed in the Legislature.

In addition, while in the House I sat on the Select Committee on Constitutional Amendments. At the time we were concerned that our State Constitution was being used by special interests to accomplish what they were unable to achieve in the Legislature (the most glaring example was the pregnant pigs amendment). We looked for ways to prevent the Constitution from being misused in the future.

Apart from the fact that making our shelters “No Kill” shelters is a far better way to improve the welfare of dogs than ending greyhound racing — I do not believe the greyhound issue belongs in the Constitution because it does not involve a fundamental right. The Constitution should be reserved to set forth our state’s founding principles and fundamental values — not used to circumvent the Legislative process. For that reason, I urge the Constitutional Revision Commission to reject the greyhound proposal.

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Jeff Kottkamp is president of Jeff Kottkamp, P.A. He was Florida’s Lieutenant Governor from 2007-2011 and served three terms in the Florida House of Representatives. Kottkamp represents the Florida Greyhound Association.

Stephanie Garris: Free and charitable clinics have important hurricane role

The storms that barreled through Florida and wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico are long gone. Their impact, however, continues to be felt by millions.

Since September, more than 70,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to Florida after the catastrophic damage of Hurricane Maria. While fleeing from one crisis, they’re now encountering another: finding that their health insurance from Puerto Rico isn’t accepted on the U.S. mainland.

Finding yourself without medical coverage or care can be terrifying. Imagine that, after having to leave your home, possessions, and perhaps even friends and family behind. It’s another layer of confusion and exhaustion in an already difficult situation.

Fortunately, that’s where Florida’s free and charitable clinics come in.

The clinics of the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics provide free health care for uninsured, low-income communities. This year, our 82 volunteer-driven clinics provided nearly 200,000 patients with more than 400,000 medical, dental, vision, specialty care, behavioral health, and pharmacy visits at no cost.

These front-line medical providers are now serving an influx of newly arrived patients from Puerto Rico. In some cases, the treatment received is life-saving — and life-changing.

One woman had just completed cancer surgery, but had to flee before starting chemotherapy. Another was pre-operative for cancer, forced to evacuate before getting the surgical care she needed. Both got the care they needed. Two of our Orange County clinics were the first and only on-site medical providers at Orlando International Airport’s assistance relief center. Yet another clinic is distributing food, water, and hygiene supplies to those in need.

Our nonprofit, faith-based, community-based clinics are saving lives with strong support from the Governor and Florida’s lawmakers. Legislative funding of Florida’s free and charitable clinics has always been a smart investment. It has helped keep vulnerable, uninsured Floridians healthy and working. And it has lowered the state’s health care costs, by decreasing indigent care at emergency rooms, and reducing avoidable hospitalizations and readmissions. Our member clinics and specialty care networks this year provided more than $100 million in medical services with a $10 million appropriation — an unparalleled return on investment.

But it’s in the days and weeks following these disasters that our clinics have never been more important. No one has more experience than Florida’s free and charitable clinics activating medical volunteers and providing direct medical care to underserved communities. In the aftermath of a crisis, our clinics are the best prepared to ensure our state’s most medically needy are cared for.

In the wake of these storms, another opportunity has arisen for the state to support health care for the uninsured. Florida Statute 458.315 gives our Surgeon General the authority to determine “areas of critical need” in the event of health care shortages. Surgeon General Philip also has the ability to grant temporary certificates to licensed medical professionals coming to Florida from Puerto Rico.

Granting these certificates and designating areas of critical need would not only allow our clinics and specialty care networks to increase their capacity, but also potentially add some of these temporarily licensed medical professionals to our teams to care for tens of thousands of evacuees who find themselves uninsured and without income. We are hopeful Surgeon General Philip will work with us to help these folks in need.

Florida’s free and charitable clinics are here for the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who will pass through our doors this year. We’re here when our state needs us the most. And we’re here for our fellow Americans from Puerto Rico seeking stability, compassion, and care here in the Sunshine State.

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Stephanie Garris is the chief executive officer of the Grace Medical Home and chairs the public policy committee for the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. She lives in Orlando.

John Stemberger: Constitutional privacy fix will protect Floridians

I read with great interest the letter by First Amendment Foundation (FAF) President Barbara Petersen to Lisa Carlton, chair of the Declaration of Rights Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), regarding her concerns over the proposal written by former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell, and which I am sponsoring, entitled the “Florida Privacy Restoration Act.”

I am somewhat bewildered by FAF’s letter. In my opinion, it reads as if the Foundation never read the last sentence of the existing privacy amendment as found in Article 1, Section 23, and/or the ten words I am proposing to be added to the provision: “with respect to privacy of information and the disclosure thereof.”

As you may know, Florida newspapers have a history of consistently opposing Florida’s privacy laws, often with little serious legal analysis and with the same type of alarmist tones and hypothetical scenarios you expressed in your letter.

In 1977, newspapers across Florida opposed the 1977-78 CRC’s proposed privacy amendment because of fears that the ability of the media to collect information would be stifled. The St. Petersburg Times argued that it “could have a chilling effect upon news gathering and would provide a convenient excuse for government secrecy … harmful to the public interest.”

In 1980, Florida newspapers continued to raise “grave concerns” and stoke fear over the privacy amendment proposed by the Legislature. A strong “government in the sunshine” provision was added, which stated “[t]his section shall not be construed to limit the public’s right of access to public records and meetings as provided by law.”

This clear added language should have allayed all concerns, but the Tallahassee Democrat’s editorial board still recommended a “no” vote to the privacy amendment in 1980.  Despite the scare campaign by the news media, the amendment was adopted by the people of Florida by a 59 percent vote. People understood it was intended to protect informational privacy, which is what they wanted and why they voted for it.

After 37 years and 52 Florida Supreme Court cases citing the privacy clause, none of the many issues newspapers were concerned about have come to pass – not a single one.

The Florida Privacy Restoration Act is simple, clean and well thought out. The language will require Florida courts to interpret the privacy clause in the manner intended by its original drafters and the people who adopted it. The intent being to protect the people from the government’s collection and more importantly, disclosure, of personal and private information.

Existing federal privacy rights robustly protect virtually all of the privacy interests ruled on by Florida courts except informational privacy.  This is the very reason the amendment was passed but Courts have ignored both intent of the drafters and the people who adopted it.

The truth is — today we have an even more rapid growth of technology resulting in the increased invasion of personal and private information through various forms of surveillance and the monitoring of personal electronic devices. This information can be collected directly by government or obtained by them from private corporations. This alone warrants the amendment.

The number one concern raised by people speaking during the CRC’s ten public hearings around the state was fixing the privacy clause so that it could no longer be hijacked by Florida’s high court and used for purposes other than what it was intended. Concerned citizens wanted the privacy clause returned to its original purpose – to protect informational privacy.

The Florida Privacy Restoration Act responds to the voice of the people and provides a necessary fix to the state constitution.

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John Stemberger is a member of the 2017-18 Florida Constitution Revision Commission. He is an Orlando attorney, president of Florida Family Policy Council, and one of the leading pro-family advocates in Florida.

Karl Dix: Ceres Environmental diligently working to clear debris

For nearly 40 years, Ceres Environmental Services, Inc. (Ceres) has been dedicated to helping communities recover after major storms and natural disasters by removing, reducing and disposing of debris. We understand the importance of this step, as it allows communities to be restored and residents to return to normalcy.

Under pre-storm contracts, Ceres partners closely with valued members of local government staff to prepare for major storm events, like Hurricane Irma. Following the landfall of Hurricane Irma, communities across the state called upon Ceres to clear streets of immediate threats to life, infrastructure and the environment while allowing access to impacted areas by first responders and damage assessors.

Together, Ceres and local government staff enacted debris removal plans to begin immediate debris removal from streets, parks and schools. To date, Ceres has removed in excess of 2 million cubic yards of debris with more than 1,300 hauling units where we have contracts with the local governments. In fact, 80 percent of our clients have already had our crews come in and complete a first pass, and the remaining 20 percent of our clients will see first pass complete by the end of October. This is a commitment Ceres made at the onset to staff, elected officials and communities when we signed pre-storm contracts. This is a commitment Ceres intends to keep.

Despite these efforts, however, there have been a number of erroneous news reports that claim Ceres is deliberately delaying the removal of debris or asking for higher rates in the region before work is performed. These claims are categorically false. Ceres has worked around the clock to ensure debris is removed in the wake of this devastating storm and have never demanded higher rates before performing our duties. While it’s true that there have been market forces at play beyond our control that have created challenges with retaining workforce throughout Florida, Ceres has worked tirelessly to resolve these issues quickly and have never wavered in our commitment to removing debris in the communities we serve.

And, for those communities that are currently underserved, Ceres stands ready to assist the local governments and its residents. For example, Ceres is prepared to make a number of crews available in Collier and Lee Counties, one of the hardest hit areas of the state, to augment the ongoing cleanup effort in the region. This will allow for those communities to recover more quickly and residents to return to a sense of normalcy.

The reality is, Hurricane Irma was an unprecedented storm that touched almost every county in the Sunshine State. The storm left massive amounts of debris in its wake and created an arduous and time-consuming cleanup process. As a Sarasota-based company with employees living in the same communities in which we currently serve, we understand that it is frustrating for residents, elected officials and staff to still see debris in their neighborhoods and are anxious to put the recovery process behind them. As your partner, Ceres hears your frustrations and is committed to removing debris as quickly and efficiently as possible.

We take seriously the vital role Ceres plays in the recovery after a major storm like Irma. As we move forward, Ceres is mindful of the challenges that remain, but we have demonstrated our unwavering commitment to removing debris as quickly as possible in communities across the state. And, Ceres will continue to uphold that commitment.

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Karl Dix is Director of Client Services, Ceres Environmental Services, Inc.

 

Greg Steube: Hotels want Florida to be like Communist China

Recently it was reported by The New York Times that President Xi of China and the Communist Party, in order “To reduce the flow of outsiders to the capital, Airbnb and similar home-sharing services have been temporarily suspended.” Nothing would make the Florida hotel industry and local governments happier than if they could do the same and ban short-term vacation rentals in our state.

Since 2011, local governments and hotels have attempted to restrict or outright ban vacation rentals. Flagler County has an ordinance in place that prohibits the rental of private property for less than six months – they currently have over $22 million in Bert Harris claims as a result. Additionally, the City of Miami Beach is fining private property owners for violating their vacation rental ordinance to the tune of $20,000 a day.

In my region, you can’t rent out your property in Longboat Key for less than 30 days. Anna Maria Island has millions of dollars in Bert Harris claims from private property owners due to their vacation rental ordinance.

A recent op-ed by Carol Dover of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) presents an alarmist, inaccurate and unfair portrait of short-term vacation rentals that fails to acknowledge their important contribution to our local and state economies – or her organization’s self-interest in limiting them.

Large hotel chains like Hilton and Marriott, for example, pay untold amounts to FRLA and its national organization to protect their market share. Dover claims that vacation rentals are “illegal hotels” – which is absurd. Florida Statutes Section 509.242 defines “A hotel is any public lodging establishment containing sleeping room accommodations for 25 or more guests …” Most vacation rentals are privately-owned single-family homes or condos. The only difference between a vacation rental and renting out your private property under the landlord-tenant law is the length of time the occupant stays.

The fact is, travelers love the options they have with vacation rentals and the authentic experiences they enjoy staying in rented rooms, homes, apartments or condos. A recent statewide survey found that 93 percent of Floridians believe Florida travelers should be permitted to rent accommodations other than hotels – such as vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts.

An economic impact study showed that Florida’s vacation rental market had a total economic impact of $31.1 billion from an estimated 17 million vacation rental visitors in 2013. Florida’s vacation rental industry directly or indirectly supports a total of 322,032 jobs annually generating approximately $12.64 billion a year in labor income.

Although that study is four years old and was released well before companies like Airbnb and HomeAway became household names, we can only assume the economic impact has grown. For a state that relies heavily on sales tax revenue, that economic impact is significant.

As the 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft, once so eloquently stated: “Next to the right of liberty, the right of property is the most important individual right guaranteed by the Constitution and the one which, united with that of personal liberty, has contributed more to the growth of civilization than any other institution established by the human race.”

The FRLA’s interest in this issue is not about creating a level playing field. It’s about taking away consumer choice and protecting hotel market share.

Hotels are the taxi cabs of yesteryear. When innovation and competition begin to threaten an industry, they resort to name calling and political protectionism. I see it year after year in Tallahassee. Last year it was Uber and Lyft versus taxi cabs and now it’s the national and state hotel lobby declaring war on vacation rentals.

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State Sen. Greg Steube represents Senate District 23, which covers parts of Sarasota and Charlotte counties.

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