Guest Author, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 156

Guest Author

Ted Deutch, Liza McClenaghan: Voters deserve fair maps; time to end gerrymandering

“The fact is, gerrymandering has become a national scandal.”

That was true when President Ronald Reagan said it in a 1987 speech to the Republican Governors Club.

And now, 30 years later, the electoral map drawing process in America is even more shameful as craven political operatives use computers to generate partisan political results.

Today’s electoral mapmaking tactics have denied voters competitive elections and produced safe seats and extreme candidates and office holders who have refused to compromise. Gerrymandering continues to foster a paralyzed and dysfunctional Congress that can’t tackle the big problems facing America.

This morning, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case, Gill v. Whitford, to determine whether hyperpartisan gerrymandering by the Wisconsin legislature violated the U.S. Constitution.

Gerrymandering is the practice of politicians drawing their own district lines to enable an easier re-election. The Court will be weighing whether those who drew the maps in Wisconsin baked such an extreme partisan advantage that voters’ preferences wouldn’t matter. This is a blatant conflict of interest that must end.

Gerrymandering undermines the American values of democracy; of government by the people, not the politicians. High-tech gerrymandering enables partisan politicians to rig the process by cherry-picking their voters. The modern tactics are so advanced that elections are often decided behind closed doors by sitting elected officials. In this case, the Supreme Court must say no to gerrymandering so that voters can choose their elected officials, instead of the other way around.

Gill v. Whitford could have a significant impact in Florida. In spite of the fact that Florida is a “purple state” — with narrow advantages in both registered party affiliation and presidential outcomes in recent elections — U.S. House races do not reflect that competitiveness. For instance, last year only 2 out of 27 seats were decided by less than 10 percentage points.

In our state, residents have been demanding fairness in the redistricting process for years. In 2010, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments to reduce partisan advantages in the redistricting process and strengthen the connection between voters and their representatives. The amendments laid out principles that districts in Florida must be compact and contiguous, and they cannot be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party.

Unfortunately, even after Floridians spoke out loudly, the state Legislature continued to draw partisan maps that were rejected by the courts. Floridians must continue to hold their legislators accountable for delivering district maps without the need for court orders.

Gerrymandering often leads to partisan gridlock by drawing artificially uncompetitive districts that empower the fringes of both parties. Doing so reduces the incentive to build consensus among members of opposing parties. As a result, government often cannot develop comprehensive solutions to help improve the lives of everyday Floridians.

Toward the end of President Reagan’s 1987 speech, he stated: “And that’s all we’re asking for: an end to the antidemocratic and un-American practice of gerrymandering …” We hope President Reagan’s words will ring loudly and clearly in the Court. The Supreme Court has the opportunity to end this national scandal once and for all.

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Congressman Ted Deutch signed an amicus brief with a bipartisan group of 34 Republican and Democratic Members of Congress urging the Supreme Court to end hyperpartisan gerrymandering in the Gill v. Whitford case.

Liza McClenaghan is the board chair of Common Cause Florida, which continues to fight for redistricting reform.

Christian Ulvert: A victory that sets a blueprint for success

Over the last 12 years, I’ve worked intimately on various legislative campaigns throughout Florida. Democrats have seen our share of wins and losses and often, many attribute those to different factors.

This week’s victory by state Senator-elect Annette Taddeo has many asking — what propelled her, and Florida Democrats to victory?

It comes down to one overarching narrative: disciplined coordination, where egos were checked at the door. Yes, there were many strategies and operatives that came together to deploy varying tactics that secured a big win for us, but in the end, it was disciplined coordination that allowed the best ideas to be executed.

I have now seen this play out in three pivotal races for Democrats, all in Miami-Dade. First, in 2014, we defeated an incumbent Republican county commissioner in Miami-Dade and elected a strong champion in County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. This race was a high mark for our side because the three ingredients to success were in full force: a strong candidate with the right message and coordinated resources.

The race nearly topped $1 million on the Levine Cava side and ally groups and a massive field operation was executed, propelling her to a 4-point victory, resulting in only the third time in county history where an incumbent commissioner was defeated.

Next up was Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez’s victory in 2016 where he defeated an incumbent state senator and was outspent by nearly $2 million. Again, at play for us was a strong candidate with the right message and coordinated resources being deployed.

This victory brought together a candidate and our team, with the Florida Democratic Party, Florida Democratic Senate Victory and Florida Strong (a coalition of progressive groups and labor organizations). The resources again were invested strategically and a flawless field effort was executed. On election night, Sen. Rodriguez’s 3-point victory was a bright spot in what was a tough night for many.

The biggest test came this past Tuesday night with the SD 40 special election and needless to say, Taddeo and the campaign team rose to the occasion. The stakes were high and the pressure was running deep; though again, the disciplined coordination rule was applied successfully.

Again, the Florida Democratic Party, Florida Democratic Senate Victory, Florida Strong, For Our Future and labor and community groups came together to implement a strong campaign.

Despite being outspent (a regular occurrence, unfortunately), our side notched a win.

In the SD 40 special election we saw the winning formula of a strong candidate with the right message and coordinated resources once again implemented, resulting in a 3.7-point win for Taddeo. The team delivered an effective message that focused on key local issues while tapping into the growing anxiety voters feel about the White House and President Trump’s divineness.

It’s important to note though that this race wasn’t about Trump — it was about a strong candidate who delivered a message directly to the voters and responded with force and passion to one of the worst attack pieces I’ve seen in the business.

Further, the coordinated team executed a truly massive, impressive and flawless field operation- the scale of which has never been used in past legislative campaigns.

In the end, elections are about winning and our side did so because we stayed focused and disciplined.

Many deserve the credit, starting with our candidate, Annette Taddeo, who remained steady and calm even when facing some of the worst attacks that caused her family to relive a painful time in their family history.

I was proud to see a true coordinated effort launched by Florida Democratic Party President Sally Boynton Brown, the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Political Director Josh Weierbach and Field Director Brian Lacey, For Our Future Florida Executive Director Ashley Walker, Florida Alliance Executive Director Carlos Odio, and a number of ally groups and community organizations because in the end, that made the biggest difference in why we celebrate a victory!

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Christian Ulvert is president of EDGE Communications, a bilingual Florida-based Political & Public Affairs consulting firm and served as Taddeo’s political strategist.

 

Syd Kitson: Proud to be a Floridian

Storms are a fact of life for the 20-plus million that call ourselves Floridians. Mother Nature reminded us of this when Hurricane Irma made her one-two punch – the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005.

Before and after Irma’s impact, Floridians responded.

With Gov. Rick Scott’s leadership, Florida safely executed the largest evacuation in U.S. history. He successfully negotiated lifting the federal government’s 1920 Merchant Marine Act, commonly referred to as the Jones Act, which immediately reduced regulations limiting the delivery of much-needed fuel in Florida – spurring a convoy of fuel trucks from seaports to gas pumps.

Law enforcement, first responders and direct service providers quickly jumped into action to protect and serve. Utility providers from Pensacola to Key West pre-staged – joined by more than 30,000 linemen from throughout the United States and Canada – and immediately began restoring power to more than 6.7 million homes and businesses that were in the dark after Irma’s wrath.

In business, leaders routinely assess what worked and what didn’t, and make necessary improvements. And in Florida, we have a long history of doing the same. It’s why, after Hurricane Andrew, Florida implemented some of the strongest building codes in the country, and the results are encouraging. For Irma, teams of building code experts will be conducting a deep dive looking at code performance and will continue to learn and improve, but one thing is for certain, the homes built under the current Florida Building Code performed remarkably well. Special thanks to the leaders of the Florida Home Builders Association and the Association of Florida Community Developers for working to make Florida stronger.

Perhaps most importantly, Floridians embraced their neighbors from all walks of life to lend a helping hand. Democrats, Republicans, people of different races and religions came together to help each other in a time of desperate need. As was the case in Houston, this unity was on full display when Irma engulfed Florida with its fury.

Wouldn’t it be great if this caring, respect and compassion lasted long after the impact of Irma begins to fade?  Unfortunately, politicians are trying to use this disaster for personal gain and are already fanning the flames of partisanship and extremist views rather than focusing on what is most important – the actions that were taken to ensure the safety of Floridians from Irma’s wrath.

With Gov. Scott, our first responders, utility providers, neighbors and more, we saw leadership. Colleges, universities and schools opened their doors to shelter their neighbors, and in several communities, local chambers of commerce served as community Wi-Fi locations to help connect families with their loved ones, and to provide water and cooler temperatures.

Leaders from throughout Florida will gather this week for the annual Florida Chamber Future of Florida Forum to focus on ways to make Florida more competitive. We’ll discuss Irma’s impact on Florida, but most importantly, we’ll take time to be thankful for and to honor the leadership of many.

After all, these heroic efforts should make us all proud to be Floridians.

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Syd Kitson is chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and is chairman and CEO, Kitson & Partners. He can be reached at skitson@kitsonpartners.com.

Fernando Rivera: Should I stay or should I go? A disaster researcher’s personal dilemma

I am a disaster researcher. I study the social processes by which communities work in building resilience to emergency events, particularly natural disasters. But earlier this month when the possibility of Hurricane Irma striking Central Florida was becoming real, I also became part of the unfolding event.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday, Sept. 4, and as I went grocery shopping, the water aisles started to empty. I addressed my honors medical sociology students, told them to take the threat seriously and encouraged them to complete their disaster kits and possible evacuation plans. As the class concluded, I told them that I was hoping to see them back in class that Thursday. But that never happened.

Concerns grew as I received a text Wednesday from UCF Alert, a communication system that informs the university community about emergency situations. The text stated that all classes were canceled for the rest of the week. On Thursday, there was still some sense of normality; my kids went to school, I did some work at the office, and kept a watchful eye on Irma’s projected path.

Then another notice, this time from the Seminole County Public School System: Classes were canceled for that Friday. By now, resignation. Like it or not, Irma was coming.

I have visited and spoken with most emergency managers in Central Florida. I know we are in very good hands. I know that Florida is one the best emergency-management systems in the country. But I was hearing all the talk in the media about the strength, size and unprecedented nature of this storm.

I should have been level headed and I tried my best. In all honesty, I was afraid and wondered what I should do. Pack up and head north? Stay? Go to a shelter? Even with my expertise, these were decisions that were not meant to be taken slightly.

By Saturday, my family and I decided to stay. We had all the supplies we could get, window shutters were up in the house, and the forecast suggested the hurricane eye was moving east away from us. Things were looking good and spirits were lifted. Now the waiting for the storm began.

As I continued to monitor the path of Irma, bad news trickled in. The storm was moving west, expected to ride up the gulf coast of Florida, directly impacting Tampa. My heart sank as I know that the eastern side of hurricanes always pack the strongest winds and rain. Resignation, again. Did I make the right choice? Did I put my family in harm’s way?

Glued to weather reports I was hoping for a change in Irma’s trajectory. Saturday night brought even worse projections, the eye of Irma shifted more east, and the possibility of a direct strike was upon us. It was the beginning of one of the longest nights of my life.

Saturday evening, emergency alerts started to arrive: “Tornado warning, seek shelter immediately!” We all packed into the safety of the bathroom and waited for the warning to expire. No luck, as the night progressed we received six additional tornado warnings.

Time stood still that night.

The wind started to blow, rain began to pour and we were bracing for the worst of it at 2 a.m. I did my best to comfort the kids. We played games and kept an eye on the news. As reports of power outages began to trickle in, flashlights were nearby and we waited for our power to go out. Luckily for us, it never did.

Around 2:30 a.m., the eye approach our area, the winds kept blowing, gusts shook the house to its core, and in the darkness of night it was hard to tell what was going on. By 4:30 a.m., I couldn’t stay awake. For an hour or so, sheer tiredness allows me to sleep. But it was short-lived. The howling of the winds woke me up and I was just hoping for it to stop. Please just stop, Irma. Move on, please!

Daylight finally arrived and I peeked through the window to get a glimpse of the damage. I could see a section of the back fence was down and several roof shingles on the ground. In all, I felt a sense of relief that the worst of the storm had passed and that we were going to be OK. Resignation turned into relief. Good call on staying put. We made it!

As neighbors started to come out to assess the damage, there was a strong sense of community. Everyone asked if others were OK, how they could help, etc. By far, we dodged a bullet; things could have been a lot worse, and it was for many others around the state, Georgia, South Carolina, and those in Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Kitts and Nevis, Turks and Caicos, and the Virgin Islands.

I am grateful to all emergency personnel, media and government officials for their hard work to keep us informed and safe.

As I reflect on the experience, I cannot be certain that I would stay if a hurricane like Irma comes our way again.

But one thing that was reinforced for sure is that preparation is the best tool to get ready and recover from a storm.

Should I stay or should I go next time? Hopefully, I won’t have to find out soon. My fingers are crossed.

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Fernando Rivera is a UCF Forum columnist and an associate professor in UCF’s Department of Sociology. He can be reached at Fernando.Rivera@ucf.edu.

 

Lila Jaber: Thank a lineworker

Amidst the post-Irma “tweet storm,” there was a visual that made me pause: two lineworkers from Gulf Power, a Florida Panhandle utility, descending a power pole after replacing a transformer in a St. Augustine neighborhood outside Gulf Power’s service area. Having traveled to that area to provide extra support, the utility team lead expressed his group’s eagerness in helping the residents in any way possible to “get their life back to normal.”

His sincerity made me think of all the lineworkers whom I have had the privilege of meeting over the years. What each of them had in common is a strong commitment to service. At no time has that commitment shone brighter than when we weathered the storm together in recent days.

Hurricane Irma ravaged our state, stealing power from the majority of us. Our lineworkers – as prepared as they could be to handle the worst-case scenario – faced what The Washington Post rightly dubbed a “Herculean task” in getting our neighborhoods restored and returned to routine. As always when duty calls, these men and women left their own families behind in the wake of the storm to help families like yours and mine. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with paramedics, firefighters, police and the like, their dedication during and in the days since Irma has renewed the dialogue on how lineworkers, too, should be designated as “first responders.”

Yet, despite all their preparation, sacrifice and grueling shifts, the aftermath of Hurricane Irma has seen the rise of another kind of surge. Sadly, some who benefit from these lineworkers’ services are now critical of the pace of restoration. The task of restoring power is not as quick and certainly not as simple as one might think when the issue is spread over such a large area so dense with trees and power lines that serve as hosts for electricity, telephone and cable. As they work to support the needs of nearly 20 million Floridians, it is important that we extend our willingness to learn, understand, and unite with these dedicated professionals in solidarity as they do what they do best: supporting each and every one of us.

It is easy to overlook our lineworkers’ passion as we go about our lives as usual in the comfort of our homes and workplaces. But it is times like these when we must recognize the comforts they forgo to support us in living our daily lives. These hardworking people deserve all the grace and compassion of our Southern hospitality.

To them, I say thank you. #ThankALineWorker

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Lila Jaber is the Regional Managing Shareholder and Governmental Affairs Practice Group Leader of Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, P.A. She is a former chair of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the founder of Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum (FWELF).

Sterling Crockett: For one company, medical cannabis is personal

Last November, Florida voters revolutionized the way patients with debilitating diseases can pursue their road to recovery.

Following passage of Amendment 2, the Florida Constitution now allows licensed physicians to administer cannabis-derived medicines to individuals who suffer from a number of significant medical conditions.

In just a few short weeks, the Florida Department of Health – the agency responsible for regulating medical cannabis production and distribution centers – will issue licenses to five additional companies allowing them to grow and process cannabis plants.

The company I co-founded with my business partner Bruce Goldman, AGRiMed Industries, is among the applicants being reviewed by the department for these five licenses. For me, this is not just business – my desire to serve patients in need stems from a deeply personal family experience.

My journey with AGRiMED began shortly after I experienced the joy of learning I would be a grandfather, when my daughter Nicole was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Three weeks after giving birth to my first grandchild, Nicole had a kidney removed and began a 16-week regimen of chemotherapy. My daughter suffered nonstop from the symptoms associated with chemotherapy and the cancer itself, stealing precious time she should have been sharing with her newborn daughter.

Amid this adversity, medical cannabis gave Nicole a second chance to enjoy life in a way nothing else could. Thanks to the effective medical treatment she received, Nicole is now tumor-free and raising her beautiful daughter. After witnessing the significant medical benefits cannabis provided to her, the idea for AGRiMED was born.

Years later, our company is a fully integrated organization, bringing medical cannabis from cultivation to patient care. We’re not in the industry simply to grow it, sell it, and move on – we take great pride in our dispensary operations that put our legal product in the hands of patients who need it.

AGRiMED’s therapeutic professional-grade cannabis products are produced in state-of-the-art greenhouse facilities, ensuring consistent, contaminant-free medicines designed to treat a variety of patient conditions. Beyond that, our team of distinguished business and medical professionals, including acclaimed neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes, fully integrates with the communities we serve, working with and educating local caregivers.

AGRiMED submitted the top scoring application to be awarded a grower/processor license in Pennsylvania, and we intend to bring that same level of professionalism to Florida. As a minority-owned company, we also are committed to supporting research into the use of cannabis for sickle cell anemia and working with historically black colleges and universities to provide training and internships to students for early experience in the industry. Our relationship with Lincoln University generates a knowledge center for cannabis-related research and development fueled by minority students, the first of its kind in the country.

As the medical use of cannabis becomes more common, it seems unreasonable to brand the plant’s qualities based on negative stereotypes. Our industry is extensively regulated and patient-centric, providing tangible relief to those who, like my daughter, truly need it.

AGRiMED is in the business of producing and selling high-quality medical cannabis, but to a greater degree we are really in the business of helping people whose ailments often make normal life unbelievably challenging. Whether by improving the health of patients or empowering underserved communities, we are committed to improving the health and wellness of ailing patients who can benefit from the positive effects of cannabis-derived medicines.

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Sterling Crockett is CEO of AGRiMED Industries. AGRiMED Industries is a leading medical cannabis company committed to improving the health and wellness of ailing patients.

Theodore Kury: Should power lines go underground?

It is the height of a highly destructive hurricane season in the United States. The devastation of Harvey in Texas and Louisiana caused nearly 300,000 customers to lose electricity service, and Hurricane Irma has cut service to millions of people. Soon, winter storms will bring wind and snow to much of the country.

Anxious people everywhere worry about the impact these storms might have on their safety, comfort and convenience. Will they disrupt my commute to work? My children’s ride to school? My electricity service?

When it comes to electricity, people turn their attention to the power lines overhead and wonder if their electricity service might be more secure if those lines were buried underground. But having studied this question for utilities and regulators, I can say the answer is not that straightforward. Burying power lines, also called undergrounding, is expensive, requires the involvement of many stakeholders and might not solve the problem at all.

WHERE SHOULD RATEPAYER MONEY GO?

Electric utilities do not provide service for free, as everyone who opens their utility bill every month can attest. All of the costs of providing service are ultimately paid by the utility’s customers, so it is critical that every dollar spent on that service provides good value for those customers. Utility regulators in every state have the responsibility to ensure that utilities provide safe and reliable service at just and reasonable rates.

But what are customers willing to pay for ensuring reliability and mitigating risk? That’s complicated. Consider consumer choices in automobile insurance. Some consumers choose maximum insurance coverage through a zero deductible. Others blanch at the higher premiums zero deductibles bring and choose a higher deductible at lower premium cost.

The damage from Hurricane Irma on the Florida Keys was extensive. Putting power lines underground will make electricity service more resilient to wind damage but also make flooding a bigger concern.

To provide insurance for electricity service, regulators and utilities must aggregate the preferences of individual customers into a single standard for the grid. It’s a difficult task that requires a collaborative effort.

The state of Florida’s reaction in the wake of the 2004-2005 hurricane seasons provides a model for this type of cooperative effort. Utilities, regulators and government officials meet every year to address the efficacy of Florida’s storm hardening efforts and discuss how these efforts should evolve, including the selective undergrounding of power lines. This collaborative effort has resulted in the refinement of utility “vegetation management practices” – selective pruning of trees and bushes to avoid contact with power lines and transformers – in the state as well as a simulation model to assess the economic costs and benefits of undergrounding power lines.

Nationally, roughly 25 percent of new distribution and transmission lines are built underground, according to a 2012 industry study. Some European countries, including the Netherlands and Germany, have made significant commitments to undergrounding.

Burying power lines costs roughly US$1 million per mile, but the geography or population density of the service area can halve this cost or triple it. In the wake of a statewide ice storm in December 2002, the North Carolina Utilities Commission and the electric utilities explored the feasibility of burying the state’s distribution lines underground and concluded that the project would take 25 years to complete and increase electricity rates by 125 percent. The project was never begun, as the price increase was not seen as reasonable for consumers.

2010 engineering study for the Public Service Commission on undergrounding a portion of the electricity system in the District of Columbia found that costs increased rapidly as utilities try to underground more of their service territory. The study concluded that a strategic $1.1 billion (in 2006 dollars) investment would improve the reliability for 65 percent of the customers in the utility’s service territory, but an additional $4.7 billion would be required to improve service for the remaining 35 percent of customers in outlying areas. So, over 80 percent of the costs for the project would be required to benefit a little more than one-third of the customers. The Mayor’s Power Line Undergrounding Task Force ultimately recommended a $1 billion hardening project that would increase customer bills by 3.23 percent on average after seven years.

SHIFTING RISK

In addition to the capital cost, undergrounding may make routine maintenance of the system more difficult, and thus more expensive, because of reduced accessibility to power lines. This may also make it more difficult to repair the system when outages do occur, prolonging the duration of each outage. Utility regulators and distribution utilities must weigh this cost against the costs of repairing and maintaining the electricity system in its overhead state.

Electricity service is valuable. A 2009 study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated an economic cost of $10.60 for an eight-hour interruption in electricity service to the average residential customer. For an average small commercial or industrial customer the cost grew to $5,195, and to almost $70,000 for an average medium to large commercial or industrial customer. The economic benefits of storm hardening, therefore, are significant.

Beyond the economic value of undergrounding, one could consider other benefits, such as aesthetic ones, which may be more difficult to quantify. But all costs and benefits must be considered to ensure value for the customer’s investment.

In terms of reliability, it is not correct to say that burying power lines protects them from storm damage. It simply shifts the risk of damage from one type of storm effect to another.

For example, it is true that undergrounding can mitigate damage from wind events such as flying debris, falling trees and limbs, and collected ice and snow. But alternatives, such as proper vegetation management practices, replacing wood poles with steel, concrete or composite ones, or reinforcing utility poles with guy wires, may be nearly as effective in mitigating storm damage and may cost less.

Also, undergrounding power lines may make them more susceptible to damage from corrosive storm surge and flooding from rainfall or melting ice and snow. Areas with greater vulnerability to storm surge and flooding will confront systems that are less reliable (and at greater cost) as a result of undergrounding.

So, the relocation of some power lines underground may provide a cost-effective strategy to mitigate the risk of damage to elements of a utility’s infrastructure. But these cases should be evaluated individually by the local distribution utility and its regulator. Otherwise, consumers will end up spending more for their electricity service and getting less.

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Theodore Kury is Director of Energy Studies at the University of Florida.

 

Tom Feeney: Federal tax reform is a critical part of recovery for Florida

In the wake of the recent catastrophic storms, like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it is essential we continue to look at all avenues to bolster Florida’s business and economic opportunities that create a robust private market that includes fair and adequate catastrophic insurance coverage.

While safety is a No. 1 priority for Floridians, we must continue to nurture a private marketplace that goes a long way in building a great future for our state by creating jobs for our bright young men and women.

Governor Rick Scott has worked hard to create nearly 1.5 million jobs in the last seven years and to make Florida a global destination for job creation.  At the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), we are a proud advocate for Florida’s business community, actively engaging with our state and nation’s leaders on measures aimed at fostering continued growth and development among the diverse industry sectors.  Chief among them, Florida’s manufacturing community.

As the state affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, AIF has been working to propel this industry that has the highest indirect job creators of any employment sector forward.  In fact, manufacturers perform half of all research and development in the nation, driving more innovation than any other sector.  These economic dynamics lead to many of our members within the business community advocating that growing manufacturing output and jobs has the ability to get our country’s economy back on track.

A key element among the basic business principles that serve to bolster our economy and provide Florida businesses with the badly needed relief they need so we can be internationally competitive is getting President Donald Trump and our U.S. Senate and Congressional leaders to support tax reform.  We need a working tax system that benefits all Floridians, not only allowing hard-earned dollars to go back into the pockets of Floridians, but also making Florida a No. 1 destination for businesses to form and thrive.

But our nation’s corporate income tax is hindering this progress from happening.  Did you know the U.S.’ corporate income tax is the highest in the developed world?  That’s right, our rate is 15 percent higher than average developed countries.  Why?  Our tax code is outdated, making it hard for businesses to compete with countries that provide lower tax rates and incentivize businesses to move from America to offshore.  In fact, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Fortune 500 corporations are holding more than $2.6 trillion in profits offshore to avoid $767 billion in federal taxes.

By simply reducing the tax rate on businesses and workers across the country, we could overcome these incredible disadvantages and see a positive shift in the number of businesses wanting to relocate and grow their businesses here in the Sunshine State.  The reality is, Florida is a unique state.  We have 14 seaports and numerous attractions, allowing trade, transportation and tourism to be major driving forces for our state’s economy.  And, we recently witnessed just how heavily dependent Floridians are on a healthy and vibrant marketplace – both in goods and services – with the recent preparations for Hurricane Irma, including making certain Floridians are treated fairly as they purchase their own hurricane insurance protection.

As businesses and workers across the Southeast recover from Hurricane Irma, we are committed to making Florida’s future shine even brighter.  We believe there is no better time than now for Washington to take a hard look at supporting tax reform.

Tom Feeney is president and CEO of the Associated Industries of Florida.

Emmett Reed: Tragic deaths, inaccurate reporting shouldn’t tarnish nursing home professionals

Florida’s nursing home industry is populated by hundreds of excellent centers staffed by thousands of dedicated, caring professionals. It’s unfortunate, but inevitable, that they will get painted with the same negative brush when one facility fails to meet the high standards we set for ourselves.

It is grossly unfair, however, for that challenge to be exacerbated by misleading news reporting that inaccurately suggests that the long term care profession actively blocked reforms that could have saved lives.

Every compassionate person was shocked and saddened by the death of eight residents of a single South Florida nursing home in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Even though that center is not a member of Florida Health Care Association, all of us in the long term care profession were deeply troubled by the circumstances that led to these losses and look forward to the culmination of a thorough investigation, which will hopefully shed light on that situation.

After Florida endured the one-two punch of the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, when eight named storms battered our state, FHCA reviewed emergency protocols and took numerous steps to make our centers as safe as possible. As part of these efforts, we fully supported legislation that would have helped nursing homes upgrade their emergency power generators by providing partial state reimbursement if the facilities agreed to take in residents from nursing homes in evacuated areas.

The goal of this proposal was to increase the number of nursing homes suitable to care for frail residents when their centers were no longer safe in the aftermath of a disaster. With FHCA’s support, the 2006 legislative proposal passed the Florida House and cleared two Senate committees, but stalled when the Senate Appropriations Committee balked at funding it. FHCA protested that without an appropriation, the bill amounted to an unfunded mandate. The bill died in Appropriations – the victim not of industry opposition, but of whoever pulled the funding from the proposal.

Despite this documented history, the most prominent story on the front page of Friday’s Miami Herald proclaimed that the nursing home industry helped killed the measure. Not only is this unfair to the many members of our profession, it is also patently inaccurate.

FHCA’s member centers are dedicated to doing everything possible to help provide a high quality of life for our residents, particularly during the most challenging times. Faced with Hurricane Irma, for example, we have worked tirelessly with utility companies to help them understand the importance of making nursing homes a priority so these facilities can get their power restored as quickly as possible. We also secured ice, chillers, and other resources to keep our residents and safe and comfortable as possible.

Throughout the past decade, we have recognized the obvious benefits of having effective backup generators in all nursing homes. My team and I have spoken with hundreds of nursing home administrators before, during, and after this hurricane and have learned countless stories of caregivers putting the needs of residents above their own or of facilities taking in residents from evacuated areas so they can be safe. Those stories have been eclipsed by the tragedy in Broward County, but that shouldn’t diminish the heroic actions of individuals across the state who put resident care above all else.

When the dust settles, we’ll have ample time to reflect on lessons learned and how we can improve upon emergency planning. Our focus right now is getting every nursing home in the state back to full operations, so we can meet the needs of our residents. The men and women of the long term care profession do heroic work every day, providing the best possible quality of life for many of our state’s most fragile individuals. They deserve better than to have their reputations tarnished by the tragic events at a single nursing home.

Emmett Reed is Executive Director of Florida Health Care Association, the state’s first and largest advocacy organization for long-term care providers and the residents under their care. He can be reached at ereed@fhca.org.

Dominic Calabro, Bob Ward: It’s time to rethink class size requirements

Remember the last special legislative session when the world was abuzz with the news that $100 million more was being added to the schools budget?  Now, imagine at least 20 times that amount being added every year. It could happen.

Substantial scientific research shows that the current class size requirement in the Florida Constitution loses much of its effect above the Grade 3 level. That means that the state is plowing about $2 billion each year into an unproven education reform which does little to help our children succeed. Simply put, it’s money that could be better spent on other educational programs.

Since 2002, taxpayers have invested more than $36 billion to reduce class sizes with the expectation that smaller classes will improve student achievement, but they have little to show for that investment in most grades. The most definitive study of class size reduction in Florida, conducted by Harvard University researchers, shows that class size reduction had no discernible impact on student achievement, absenteeism or behavior in grades 4-8. There is evidence that smaller classes for PreK through 3rd grade has promising effects on student learning, and both Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Council of 100 agree those class sizes should remain small or get smaller. However, the substantial body of research shows that the policy should be abandoned for grades 4 and above with the money reinvested in strategies that will increase student learning.

That’s the underlying theme of years of TaxWatch research, available on the TaxWatch website, and the Florida Council of 100’s recent report, Horizons 2040:  Prekindergarten to Grade 3. Horizons 2040 makes numerous recommendations for improving our school systems, including attracting and retaining high-performing teachers and leaders; expanding high-quality voluntary prekindergarten programs; providing school districts with a flexible source of funds for specialized student populations, such as English language learners, struggling or at-risk students, or students needing intensive reading instruction; expanding the use of technology and personalized methods of school instruction; and even reducing class sizes where proven effective like in grades PreK-3. The Council of 100 recommends paying for these enhancements with class size savings, and years of independent research by Florida TaxWatch concurs with the need to reinvest the money wasted on class size reduction.

Despite the substantial investment of state funding and the flexible methods to comply with the constitutional requirement afforded by statute, local school districts continue to struggle financially to meet the requirements and some districts have had to choose between hiring more teachers and saving vital programs.

Florida TaxWatch and the Council believe that there is no substitute for having a well-qualified and experienced teacher in every classroom and that districts need the flexibility to cater to the educational needs of their students.

The idea would be for the Legislature to develop a special list of uses for the money and then let school districts decide how best to allocate the dollars to help their students. For example, a district with many English Language Learners might want to invest in more reading coaches while a district needing laptops could spend its funds on that. Additionally, school districts could use the repurposed funding for the No. 1 factor in a student’s success — hiring and paying more outstanding teachers.

To make this happen, though, we must amend the Florida Constitution. The Florida Council of 100 has proposed just such an idea to the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), and it’s vital that we all get behind it.

Florida is the only state that gives taxpayers a voice in amending their state constitution through a Constitutional Revision Commission. Every 20 years, this body meets to consider reforms that will better serve the people and taxpayers. The CRC is a once in a generation opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our children. Please join TaxWatch in calling on the CRC to take up this issue and put it on the 2018 ballot for all to vote on. Our students and the taxpayers of Florida funding their education deserve nothing less.

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Dominic Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch; Bob Ward is president and CEO of the Florida Council of 100.

 

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