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FAPA: Yes on Amendment 2 will avert tax crisis

The Florida Association of Property Appraisers (FAPA) recommends Floridians vote YES on Amendment 2.

The amendment asks voters whether to make permanent a 10 percent limit on the annual increase in assessed value of a non-homestead property. A “yes” vote will avert a sudden and largely unexpected tax crisis for more than 5 million residential and business property owners throughout Florida.

Most homeowners in Florida enjoy the tax savings afforded by two $25,000 homestead exemptions. Business owners, rental property owners, second homeowners and part-time retirees, whose permanent residence may be in another state, are not eligible for those exemptions.

For them, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2008 that placed a 10 percent limit on the annual increase in assessed value of a non-homestead property, commonly referred to as the 10 percent cap.

Over the past 10 years, these property owners have enjoyed significant tax savings as a result of this assessment limitation.

What many people do not know is that the 10 percent cap on non-homestead property is set to expire at the end of 2018. If Amendment 2 does not pass, those non-homestead property owners will have to pay more than

$700 million additional property taxes next year according to the state Revenue Estimating Conference.

For property owners running their own small business, property taxes are one of, if not the largest, expense. For example, a business owner operating a local diner has been enjoying the benefits of a $200,000 non-homestead cap for the past 10 years. Without the cap, this property’s taxable value will increase by $200,000 January 1, 2019, which may represent an additional $2,400 in property taxes.

What is perhaps most concerning about the cap’s looming deadline is that many of the people whom it will directly affect are unaware of the cap and/or its expiration date. We encourage all voters to talk to friends, family, and local business owners in your neighborhood about the importance of this amendment. If you are the owner of a non-homestead property, we urge you to call your local property appraiser to find out how the repeal of the 10 percent cap will affect your property.

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The Florida Association of Property Appraisers (FAPA) is a statewide professional organization comprised of locally elected, constitutionally authorized property appraisers.

Mike Prendergast: Duty, honor and country

America’s veterans understand the meaning of those hallowed words like no other group of citizens in this country.

Now more than ever, it is every Floridian’s responsibility to ensure that our state’s returning veterans and their family members know that we have their back, and we thank them for their personal sacrifices and their selfless service.

We are less than a week away from one of the most important elections in a generation. Early voting is in full swing and absentee ballots are flowing back into the offices of every Supervisor of Elections in our great state.

On this ballot, voters across the state of Florida will have an epic opportunity to ensure that they protect our veterans and thank them for their service in a way that has never been done before in our state’s history.

A “yes” vote on Amendment 10 will ensure that the needs of our military members are always supported and that the priceless service of our veterans is never forgotten.

Florida is home to the nation’s third largest population of veterans, with more than one-half of our veterans having served in combat. I write today to stress the importance of Amendment 10, the “Protection Amendment.”

No matter when they served and no matter where they served, Florida’s veterans return home to the most welcoming state in our nation. That status could be in jeopardy if we don’t protect them by voting in favor of Amendment 10.

As it stands right now, there is no statute requiring the legislature to retain our Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. So, on Nov. 6, we need to overwhelmingly pass Amendment 10 to show our support and thanks to our veterans.

Passage of Amendment 10 will ensure that our state’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA) will be a permanent part of our state government’s structure. This agency (FDVA) is the essential conduit for every veteran in Florida to get access to their earned services and benefits.

These benefits range from transition back to civilian life, to health care, to education, to employment and many others. In sum, by having a nationally recognized and award-winning agency known as the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, this vital link between our veterans and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can be preserved and protected.

I urge you to vote “Yes” on Amendment 10 to protect our veterans.

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Colonel Mike Prendergast served on active duty for more than 31 years as a United States Army Military Policeman and U.S. Paratrooper, to include multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also served for five years as the Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. He continues his service today as the Sheriff of Citrus County.

Andy Pelosi, Igor Volsky: Guns have no place at the polls

Nov. 6 is one of the most important midterm elections in recent memory and hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country and across Florida have registered to vote for the very first time.

Following the shooting in Parkland, a growing number of young people have committed themselves to participate in our democratic process. Data show that in the first eight months of 2018, 450,000 Floridians registered to vote — a quarter of whom are between the ages of 18 and 24.

Regardless of where we stand on the issues, we can all agree that every U.S. citizen deserves to have their voice heard. Anyone who wants to do their civic duty can and is able to access the polls without any kind of intimidation.

Voter intimidation is any concerted effort to coerce the voting behavior of a group of voters and it’s a federal crime. Intimidating someone with a firearm at a polling place is illegal.

In 2016, we saw numerous instances of people bringing firearms to the polls and given our divisive political climate, it’s not improbable that we may experience similar acts of intimidation come November. The president’s characterization of his political opponents as “an angry left-wing mob” who “oppose law and order, fairness, freedom and justice” only heightens the threat.

The problem is, states around the country have different rules and regulations when it comes to bringing firearms to the polling place. According to the nonprofit Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, only six states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas — have clear laws that generally prohibit guns in polling places. Florida also prohibits people from openly carrying firearms in public.

But in light of the focus on gun issues in Florida this election season, the intensity the issue generates among some who carry firearms, and the growing hostility in our political discussion, a group of nonpartisan organizations, including the two we lead, are launching an educational campaign called Guns Down at the Polls to ensure everyone can safely exercise their right to vote.

As part of our effort, we’re running Facebook and Instagram ads in key areas of the country, including Florida, to educate voters about their rights and empower them to take action.

If you see someone at your local polling place attempting to suppress voter turnout with a firearm, find somewhere safe and text GUNSDOWN to 91990. Your information will be passed on to the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights, who will be able to take further action.

By working together to keep voting safe, we can make sure that everyone can participate in our great democracy.

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Andy Pelosi is the co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. Igor Volsky is the executive director of Guns Down America, an organization dedicated to building a future with fewer guns.

Nadine Smith: ‘Rainbow Wave’ may decide key Florida races

At a time of renewed political attacks on LGBT Americans, the pro-equality vote — the ‘Rainbow Wave’ — may prove decisive in Florida’s midterm election.

Candidates ignore this growing voting bloc at their peril.

Equality Florida has invested deeply in connecting with voters for whom LGBT rights are the motivating issue.

We have identified 1.3 million voters in Florida for whom a candidate’s positions on marriage equality, gay and transgender workplace protections, and LGBT youth are definitive. We represent a game-changing voting bloc in a state where fewer than 65,000 votes decided the last two races for Governor.

This cycle, we’ve run our largest ever campaign to turn out pro-equality voters with mail and phone programs targeting hundreds of thousands of voters in support of more than 110 endorsed candidates, including Andrew Gillum.

There are so many reasons for LGBT people and our allies to vote: The Trump administration’s relentless attacks on the transgender community, businesses refusing to serve LGBT individuals, and Gov. Rick Scott’s broken promise to protect LGBT state workers after the massacre at Pulse Nightclub are all top of mind.

And in the race for Florida Governor, a longtime pro-LGBT champion, Mayor Gillum, faces Ron DeSantis a former congressman with one of the worst records on LGBT rights in the U.S. Congress.

For the past 12 months, Equality Florida Action PAC, the only statewide political committee working to elect pro-equality candidates at the state and local level, has been testing and fine-tuning our strategies. Through local and special elections, we’ve proven that pro-equality voters can shift the electoral landscape and provide the margin of difference.

No clearer example of this can be found than this year’s primary election in Florida Senate District 38.

Embattled anti-equality incumbent Sen. Daphne Campbell faced off against political newcomer Jason Pizzo. Equality Florida Action PAC committed $25,000 and the full force of our political apparatus to elect Pizzo. We turned out volunteers to knock on doors, funded mail pieces contrasting the candidates’ positions on LGBT issues, and ran digital ads supporting our endorsed champion.

Campbell’s anti-LGBT record became a defining, headline-grabbing issue in the lead up to primary Election Day, including a memorable moment during a televised debate where while clutching a copy of our mailer she said: “The gays have their rights and I have mine.”

Pizzo won by 9 points.

Whether it’s the Senate District 38 primary, the 2018 St. Petersburg Mayor’s race, or the race for Governor of Florida, the battle for LGBT rights puts defining markers on the playing field.

Will we build a Florida of inclusion and prosperity or a Florida mired in the Trump era politics of division and exclusion? For a growing and bipartisan coalition of voters, a candidate’s positions on LGBT rights tells them all they need to know about which side of this divide a candidate stands on.

The days of using LGBT issues as a wedge are waning.

Failure to support basic LGBT protections is a liability. Some candidates, including DeSantis, try to have it both ways. They mute their public attacks, while voting to please the dwindling but fervent extremist base.

But the candidates who fully embrace equality are the ones thriving in this emerging electorate.

Gillum, who has been an unflinching advocate of equality for decades leads, unites and speaks to the values of equality and fairness, while DeSantis has no platform beyond slavish devotion to Trump. Even Donald Trump waved the rainbow flag and claimed support on LGBT issues during the campaign. Of course, it was one of many lies, but the political calculus that led him to lie proves the current place of LGBT equality in the electorate.

The rainbow wave of 2018 has been decades in the making. In the remaining days, we’ll work to unleash the power of the LGBT and pro-equality allies’ vote, to hold accountable elected leaders like DeSantis who place a target on us and our families, and to elect champions like Gillum who represent the future of Florida and the South.

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Nadine Smith is the executive director of Equality Florida/Equality Florida Institute.

Walter West: Five reasons I am voting for Democrat Lauren Baer

In preparation for my trip to the voting booth Nov. 6, I did some extensive reading on the election in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, between Republican Brian Mast and Democrat Lauren Baer.

While this midterm election is obviously a vote of confidence (or disapproval) of the Trump administration, I really tried to concentrate on some critical issues that matter most to my neighbors here in South Florida and me.

Five reasons Mast lost my vote:

GUN SAFETY

Mentally ill individuals are getting a hold of military-style assault weapons and gunning down large numbers of innocent Americans on a regular basis. There was a horrific school shooting like this just down the road from us this year in Parkland. Seventeen innocent people were murdered for no reason. This past weekend there was another random killing of 11 innocent people with an assault rifle at a synagogue in Pennsylvania.

Mast has not followed through on any gun safety measures, and he supported the idea that we should just arm our teachers to deal with school shootings. He takes money from the NRA, whose primary mission is to promote the sale of as many guns as possible.

Baer has vowed to deliver on comprehensive gun safety legislation and at least eliminate the sale of military-style assault weapons. She does not take money from the NRA.

I believe that Americans should be able to own guns if they chose, but I just can’t find a good reason to allow the general public to buy military-style assault weapons. We just have to take immediate steps to do something about the mass shootings in our country.

HEALTH INSURANCE

Mast voted to repeal the ACA (“Obamacare”) which would have left thousands of people in our community without health insurance. One of my neighbors would have lost her insurance because she is self-employed, and another because he had a pre-existing condition from previous back surgery.

Mast lost my vote here by showing a disregard for thousands of local citizens he would have been abandoning with no health insurance options.

Baer accepts that the ACA needs some improvement to be affordable and sustainable. She plans to achieve that goal via new incentives to purchase health care on ACA markets which will boost enrollment and spread risk among providers.

She also supports solutions via an expansion of Medicare and Medicaid. Baer believes that health care should be a right for all Americans.

I believe that everyone should be able to go to the doctor.

ENVIRONMENT

Mast takes donations from the big corporations who are actually the ones guilty of polluting our environment. The blue-green algae blooms have tripled in size in the two years that Mast has been in office, and the recent red tide at the beach near my neighborhood was the worst I have ever seen.

Mast proposed some legislation to deal with the pollution issues recently, but it seems like he did that just in time for the election.

Baer does not take money from the corporations who pollute, and she has committed to pushing for stronger environmental protections, and for the funding that is needed to clean up our waterways.

I want to be able to walk on our beaches without choking from the red tide. I want to enjoy our waterways without encountering an invasion of blue-green algae and extensive dead marine life. I believe we must maintain a clean and healthy earth for our children and grandchildren.

ECONOMY

Mast voted for the tax plan that is adding $1.9 trillion to our deficit. He will likely support a Republican plan to put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block to actually pay for those tax breaks that were given to corporations and special interests.

That approach is not sustainable and just makes no sense.

Baer has vowed to support a more balanced tax plan that includes helping the middle class, and lowering the deficit. She wants to protect Social Security as a top priority.

I do not feel comfortable with the recent direction of the U.S. deficit, the stock market and our economy. I do not want to see any seniors lose a penny of their hard-earned Social Security benefits.

LEGISLATIVE RESPONSIBILITY

Brian Mast rode the Trump wave into office two years ago, so it appears that he is continuing to be a yes-man to the Trump Administration to get re-elected. As a legislator, Mast is supposed to serve as a check and balance to the executive branch, not just go along with whatever he is told to do.

In two years in office, Mast has not adequately done his job.

Baer has promised to work with the Trump administration as much as possible to get things done, but is also ready to stand up to the executive branch when needed, no matter who is president.

Baer is highly educated, experienced, and seems like a far better choice to make a difference as our representative in Congress.

I believe in the three independent branches of our government, and I believe that it is time to get some balance back in Washington.

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Walter West, a graduate of Georgetown University, is a freelance journalist based in Jupiter, Florida.

Florida State Hispanic Chamber recommends voting no on Amendment 3

The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is urging a no vote on Amendment 3. A no vote stops big business interests from weakening our representative form of government for the purposes of tipping scales toward deep-pocketed corporations.

As they say, follow the money: Businesses such as the Seminole Tribe and Disney have poured more than $40 million to create the illusion that by passing Amendment 3 the voters will have a say in gaming. In reality, it does nothing to benefit the little guy, let alone family-owned businesses. If Amendment 3 were to pass, local businesses — but not the Seminole Tribe, the largest gaming operator in Florida — would be required to seek a statewide vote to change sometimes outdated business regulations. That’s a process that costs millions, if not tens of millions of dollars, something just a handful of Florida companies can afford to do, while small businesses would be locked out. Does that sound like something meant to help the average Floridian?

The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce knows better. This Amendment would take regional business issues and force them to be decided on through a statewide voter campaign. The notion that Floridians in Pensacola should have to vote on the ability of local businesses in South Florida to create jobs, improve infrastructure and raise the quality of life in their communities is simply ridiculous. Yet, proponents for Amendment 3 want you to think that if their amendment passes, you will have a greater voice in democratic process.

Why?

A few big businesses want to suppress small businesses and citizens who may want to improve their local communities with gaming regulation now or in the future. It’s about protecting their own market share and their own profit margins. Of course, they cannot campaign on that self-serving message, so they fabricate the idea that Amendment 3 will empower you. It won’t – it takes your voices out of the policymaking process, because your state representatives will no longer have the power to regulate through legislation and only big business can afford to launch multi-million dollar statewide campaigns.

Our state chamber represents hundreds of thousands of small-business owners who work hard, pay their taxes and create jobs, so we want to keep the playing field level and fair. The Hispanic Chamber is strongly encouraging our members to Vote NO on Amendment 3. Big corporations already have advantages over small businesses, and we cannot allow Amendment 3 to bypass our representative form of governance to protect big business interests in Florida.

Bottom line, Amendment 3 is being sold as harmless voter empowerment—but it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing to empower a couple of big Florida companies, and voters need to know they should vote no on 3.

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Julio Fuentes is the founder and president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the state’s largest Hispanic chamber.

James Grant: For the good of America, let Robert Mueller get to the truth

Many of us are concerned for the future of our republic.

American politics has devolved into a divisive, hyperpartisan battle in which we spend more time launching personal attacks than focusing on solutions that make a real, positive impact in our lives and communities. Better and smarter governance requires putting truth at the forefront.

The truth is that our nation’s sovereignty is not a partisan issue, nor is the rule of law. Undermining our elections is an attack on our country. Period.

Fortunately, our republic, the rule of law, and the institutions that defend it are stronger than the efforts to incite partisan discord in an attempt to weaken them. U.S. intelligence personnel continue to work tirelessly on behalf of the American people, and these agencies remain in full agreement on the truth — Russia meddled in the 2016 elections.

The efforts by Vladimir Putin’s cadre of hackers were an attack on American sovereignty and serve as a training ground for future campaigns. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray are all warning of more threats on the horizon. These efforts to undermine American elections have the sole purpose of diminishing America’s standing by dividing us as a people.

Far more efficient than attacking your adversary is getting your adversary to attack itself. Our adversaries can only be successful if we allow them to be. They could not possibly succeed if we were as united as a country against these attacks as we were on September 12, 2001.

This ongoing challenge to U.S. sovereignty must not go unpunished. Every individual involved, foreign and domestic, must be held accountable to send a clear message that we will defend our nation and deter future attacks. Anything less than an efficient and transparent report of the truth will exonerate those responsible for these attacks while simultaneously preventing the exoneration of anyone wrongly accused.

We must allow those charged with producing the truth to accomplish that mission. Firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would only serve to delay, if not fully derail, our efforts to obtain the truth.

As a conservative, I’ve vowed to protect the Constitution and fight alongside the men and women who have and continue to defend it, especially those who put their lives on the line. The framers established a system of checks and balances curbing the powers of all U.S. officials, even the leader of the free world.

Just as I will question bureaucratic overreach and campaign against activist judges, I will combat any expansion of executive authority that sets any individual above the law or puts citizens’ liberties at risk.

For the good of the country, Republicans need to put aside our grievances and frustrations about the Mueller investigation and simply pursue the truth. We should ensure the special counsel can finish the job he was charged to do, to bring truth to the American people

If we keep faith in and preserve the rule of law, I am confident in the outcome. Relief will wash over America when we have in hand every detail about an adversarial nation’s attack on our election — and when those who did wrong are brought to justice.

The greatest victory, however, will be for the American people if we demand truth and accountability. If we stand up in unapologetic defense of our Constitution — we will all win in the end.

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Republican state Rep. James Grant represents House District 64.

Mark Wilson: Florida’s future is worth protecting; yes on Amendment 3

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has long advocated for restraint in amending Florida’s Constitution. We believe our constitution should only be amended in rare and extraordinary circumstances.

Amendment 3, which would require voter approval of future gambling expansion, meets that threshold. Keep in mind, Florida is creating 1 out of 11 new jobs in America. We don’t need the casino industry, they need Florida.

Rather than introduce anything new, the amendment simply reinforces language already in the constitution — a provision that gives voters the final say on gambling decisions. Florida voters inserted that protection in 1968 and it’s important we don’t let politicians work around it.

Their reasons for doing so remain valid today. The widespread introduction of Las Vegas-style casinos in Florida brings dubious benefits and potentially serious consequences for our state. Any decision to go in this direction should be done so with due diligence, much caution and voter input.

Voters exercised such caution when considering five gambling referendums from 1978 to 2004. Three times they rejected large casino resorts in Florida. But they also approved the Florida Lottery and the limited introduction of slot machines in Broward and Miami-Dade pari-mutuels.

Since 2005, when Florida lawmakers began attempting to take over gambling decisions, the restraint of voters has been replaced by the politics of Tallahassee. The drumbeat for more and bigger casinos from the powerful gambling lobby has been loud and nonstop.

There is no end game here. No matter how many casinos might be approved, there always will be pressure for more. We have seen this in other states, where the gambling industry continues to push for expansion even in markets so glutted that existing casinos are losing business and even going bankrupt, sometimes at taxpayer expense.

Consider New Jersey. The Atlantic City casino market imploded in 2014 because of an over-saturated market, throwing thousands out of jobs and the city into an economic depression.

However, New Jersey requires voter approval of gambling expansion. And by an overwhelming margin, voters rejected new casinos.

Voters serve as a controlling mechanism on an industry that often has no self-control of its own. They slow down decision-making and ensure the pros and cons of casino expansion are fully and publicly vetted.

As the organization representing Florida businesses, the Florida Chamber is focused on making Florida more competitive, and the casino business model is anything but that. It is not one that grows the economic pie, but rather one that often cannibalizes existing economic activity.

Casinos represent the past, whereas Florida is moving into the future.

This year Florida’s GDP topped $1 trillion, which if we were a country would place us 17th in the world. Florida’s economy is the 20th most diversified economy in American and wages are increasing.

U.S. News & World Report ranked us first nationally in higher education and the University of Florida now ranks among the top 10 public universities.

Noted University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith describes Florida’s recovery from the Great Recession as “Phoenix-like.” One reason for that is Florida’s remarkably resilient tourism industry.

The Florida Chamber sees strong economic growth in Florida for the next 30 years.

All this is not by accident. It is due to a competitive business climate, smart policies and strong fiscal leadership.

The international casino conglomerates are desperate to get a toehold in Florida, not to add to what we have created but to feed off it.

Florida has come too far to go down this path without the people of Florida having a say. I’ll be voting yes on Amendment 3 because Florida’s future is worth protecting.

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Mark Wilson is CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Michael Brawer: Vote yes on Amendment 7 for Florida State Colleges

On Election Day, Florida voters will have the opportunity to vote on several constitutional amendments included on the general election ballot. Among the proposals is Amendment 7.

This amendment, like several others voters will consider in just a few weeks, combines matters that share a common thread – in this case, higher education.

Most important to Florida’s colleges, Amendment 7 provides voters a unique opportunity to formally recognize our state and community colleges in the state constitution. The Florida College System is the only component of public education not currently included, even though the K-12 and the state university system were added some time ago.

Passing Amendment 7 would officially recognize the role of the Florida College system as an important part of the pathway to higher education in the state.

Another crucial element guiding Florida’s colleges is the District Board of Trustees governance that provides oversight and direction specific to each college. Amendment 7’s emphasis on preserving local control is key to the success of the system. District Boards of Trustees ensure that colleges can remain responsive to the academic and workforce needs of their communities and are important to the continued relevance of the system as a whole.

The professionals who comprise these boards know the college, the community-based businesses, and can guide their institution toward serving their needs. This, balanced with statewide oversight as it currently exists under the State Board of Education, will strengthen the seamless K-16 system as we know it.

As CEO of the Association of Florida Colleges, I am proud of the successes of our state and community colleges. I have seen firsthand how each individual college is committed to the communities they serve by working with the businesses and industries in their backyards to ensure they produce skilled professionals to meet local and regional workforce needs.

Amendment 7’s passage would mean a great deal to the Florida College System and those almost 800,000 students across our state who attend our colleges as a pathway to a university as well as those who look to the colleges to acquire the skills they need to secure a specific job right in their own communities.

The Florida College System is consistently recognized as the top college system in the nation and solidifying these principles into Florida’s Constitution will promote its continued success and long-term vitality.

Voting in favor of Amendment 7 will also provide education benefits to family members of first responders and military members killed in the line of duty and require state university boards of trustees to have a 2/3 majority to raise tuition and fees.

Amendment 7 truly has the opportunity to help current and future students advance their careers and strengthen their futures.

Taking this issue straight to voters is what’s right and I hope they will consider how a “yes” vote will positively impact the impact their state colleges and fellow Floridians.

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Michael Brawer, MS.Ed., DPL, is CEO and executive director of the Association of Florida Colleges.

David Donahue: Misinformation about contractor-managed correctional facilities prevalent during election cycle

This election cycle has been wrought with misinformation regarding Florida’s correctional institutions which are managed by private-sector service providers, specifically The GEO Group (GEO).

For some politicians, these attacks have become nothing more than oft-repeated talking points without merit, truth or facts to back it up.

While it may score political points with some voters to attack a private-sector service provider, the fact is, GEO is proud to be a three-decade partner to the State of Florida in delivering private-sector solutions to our state’s correctional needs.

Contrary to the false narratives, we believe our organization is most effective when preparing individuals entrusted to our care to re-enter society with the tools and skills they need to be productive. And, we are proud that the work we are doing is changing lives for the better and reducing recidivism through the enhanced programming services we deliver in comparison to state government-operated facilities.

For context, today, of the 56 prisons in Florida, only seven are operated by private contractors — five by GEO. These contractor managed institutions account for approximately 10 percent of the total state prison population. Moreover, each of these contracted facilities is subject to extensive regulation and oversight by state officials.

Additionally, contracted correctional institutions must provide, at minimum, a 7 percent cost-savings while delivering innovative programs designed to reduce recidivism, including educational courses, vocational training and substance abuse programming.

The Florida Department of Corrections is also solely responsible for assigning individuals to contracted facilities and the judicial system exclusively determines the length of criminal sentences. Furthermore, GEO does not lobby or advocate — for or against — any criminal justice policies such as criminalizing certain behaviors, mandatory minimum sentencing, etc.

In Florida, GEO is proud to be leading the way through of our innovative Continuum of Care (CoC) program that has already established a track record of measurably reducing recidivism. To demonstrate its initial effectiveness, data collected as part of a 12-month recidivism reduction report, showed that CoC participants have a reduced return to prison rate that is 40 percent lower than before these enhanced programming services were initiated.

This initiative began in 2015 when GEO launched, at no cost to the state, the CoC program at the Graceville Correctional Facility. Designed by a diverse team of experts, CoC offers enhanced in-custody offender rehabilitation programming that includes cognitive behavioral treatment, integrated with intensive case management and unparalleled post-release support services.

CoC is also tailored to meet the individual needs of those returning citizens, which allows our dedicated caseworkers to identify specific re-entry needs and then provide these individuals with post-release support services, including access to a 24/7 call center, as well as direct resources and assistance to help fulfill their essential local community needs, such as food, clothing, housing and transportation.

Since launching the CoC initiative at Graceville, GEO has self-funded more than $2 million above contractual requirements at the facility by investing in additional programming, technology enhancements and rigorous staff training. And, because of the program’s success, the state is now funding the CoC program at the other four GEO-operated institutions on a direct cost reimbursement basis.

And in recognition of GEO’s leadership in addressing the challenges of recidivism, earlier this year, GEO received the “Innovation in Corrections Award” from the American Correctional Association for the CoC program at Graceville Correctional Facility.

Politicians looking to use GEO as a political talking point should first know the facts.

We welcome any public official or candidate seeking political office in Florida to visit one of our facilities and learn more about how we’re making a difference in the lives of those entrusted to our care and reducing recidivism for those returning to Florida’s communities.

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David Donahue is President of GEO U.S. Corrections and Detention. He has 40 years of correctional management experience and previously served as Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction.

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