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Guest Author

Aubrey Shines: Florida’s minority businesses need tax cuts most

As Congress prepares to cut taxes, our nation’s job creators have high hopes for the economy.

The Republican tax plan cuts the federal small business tax rate from nearly 40 percent to a much fairer 25 percent. Under the current tax code, the overwhelming majority of small businesses (95 percent) are considered “pass-through” entities, which means their owners are taxed at the highest individual marginal tax rate. The federal pass-through tax rate stands at 39.6 percent, while state and local taxes often bring the small business tax burden to 50 percent.

This is not only unacceptable, but destructive to job creation, business expansion and America’s economic activity. The U.S. tax system hasn’t been changed since the 1980s, when Democrats and Republicans banded together for the common good. Pro-growth tax relief is long overdue, and Washington, D.C. has no excuse not to get the job done.

Just imagine the economic impact of tax cuts. I’m a pastor in the great state of Florida, where there are 2.3 million small businesses, employing over 3 million workers — roughly half of Florida’s workforce. In my state, small business accounts for more than 95 percent of all exports. Nationwide, there are nearly 30 million small businesses, employing about 60 million workers. And small business generates over $470 billion in exports every year.

As the founder of G2G Ministries, Inc. just outside Tampa, I know the tremendous value of small businesses. When they succeed, America succeeds. Lower taxes would leave small-business owners with more of their hard-earned money, allowing them to reinvest in their businesses and local communities. They could hire new employees, raise wages and lift millions of people up the career ladder.

This is especially true for America’s minority entrepreneurs and the people they serve. In Florida, there are nearly 930,000 minority-owned businesses, which make up almost half of the state’s small businesses.

Nationwide, their impact is even more profound. According to the most recent data, America is home to 8 million minority-owned businesses. And minority business ownership is on the rise: From 2007 to 2012, minorities increased their share of overall business ownership from 22 percent to nearly 30 percent — an inspiring increase. All in all, minority business owners contribute more than $1 trillion in revenue and 7.2 million jobs.

Our government needs to reward these life-changing entrepreneurs with a tax code that helps them help others, rather than impeding them at every turn. For too long, our nation’s most devoted job creators have been overburdened by the heavy hand of Big Government. When that burden is removed, small-business owners — minorities and others — will guide us to economic prosperity more passionately than ever before. This prosperity will stretch from our inner cities to our farmland and beyond.

It’s time to try something new. Since the Great Recession, the U.S. economy has only averaged a few percentage points of growth. Jobs are not being created as often they could be.

This is a matter of right or wrong. When job creators struggle, their employees struggle. Will Uncle Sam keep erecting barriers on the road to professional development? Will Uncle Sam continue blocking Americans as they climb the career ladder? Or will our government — of, by and for the people — help them climb to unprecedented heights?

My state is a shining example of good government. Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott signed a $180 million tax cut package to help small businesses grow. The new law cut taxes charged on business rent, saving our state’s small businesses more than $60 million a year. Job creation and business expansion will surely follow.

And now it’s time for the federal government to follow suit. Cut taxes. Help small businesses.

Congress, our economy is in your hands. Do the right thing for your constituents.

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Pastor Aubrey Shines is the founder of G2G Ministries, Inc. in Florida.

Frank Shepherd: Marsy’s Law brings equity to victims’ and criminals’ rights

Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) currently has before it a proposal called Marsy’s Law for Florida, which seeks to provide victims of crime and their families with constitutional protections equal to those afforded to the accused and convicted.

As a former judge, I support this measure.

Our justice system is one of the best there is, but admittedly, it is an imperfect one. During my years on the bench, I saw both the good and bad sides of the system. I have seen the imperfections firsthand. One of the most disheartening is the way in which victims are left with no clear, enforceable rights to protect them.

Marsy’s Law for Florida would bring equity to victims’ and criminals’ rights. Neither the victim nor the accused or convicted would have more or less rights than the other. If placed on the 2018 General Election ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission and passed by the voters, Marsy’s Law would ensure Florida victims and their families have certain rights and protections that are clearly spelled out in our state’s most powerful legal document.

In my mind, one of the most important protections Marsy’s Law would provide victims is the right to choose whether they will consent to a deposition by the defendant’s criminal defense attorney. Right now, defendants are entitled to extensive discovery rights by rule. They can receive and review all police reports, all witness statements including the victim’s, all exhibits, all expert reports and they are permitted to take sworn deposition testimony of anyone on the state’s witness list, which typically includes the victim.

Unfortunately, taking a victim’s deposition, or in some cases, multiple depositions, has become an intimidation and harassment tactic. Frequently, a State Attorney will make a plea offer with a reduced punishment if the defendant will agree not to take the deposition of the victim in order to shield the victim from additional trauma. Justice is not fully served in an effort to protect the victim.

Under Marsy’s Law for Florida, defendants would continue to have extensive discovery rights. They would still receive all police reports, all statements including the victim’s, all exhibits, all expert reports and the same deposition rights except the right to take the victim’s deposition. Victims would be able to choose to agree to a deposition and would make that decision in consultation with the State Attorney, but it would their choice and not a legal requirement.

Providing victims with a choice on defendant depositions would also bring Florida in line with the federal government and nearly every other state in the union. The federal government does not allow victim depositions. Florida is one of only five states that permit criminal defense discovery depositions. In Florida, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Vermont, the defense has the right to take discovery depositions from the victim. In Texas, the defense may take depositions, but they first must seek court approval.

We need a more enlightened approach to victim depositions and victims’ rights in general. Marsy’s Law for Florida is the path toward that enlightenment.

I commend Constitution Revision Commissioners Sheriff Chris Nocco, Patricia Levesque, Carolyn Timmann, Sherry Plymale, Darlene Jordan, Brecht Heuchan, John Stemberger and Tim Cerio for their sponsorship of the Marsy’s Law for Florida proposal.

I earnestly hope other CRC commissioners will join them in their support of this important measure.

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Frank Shepherd is a retired judge who served on the Florida Third District Court of Appeal until January 2017.

 

In a sudden flurry, Trump looks to deliver for his voters

For the moment, U.S. President Donald Trump is going it alone.

After weeks of seeing his agenda imperiled by Republican divisions and infighting among his aides, Trump has been a whirl of activity this week, reasserting his campaign priorities and trying to deliver wins for his fervent but frustrated base of supporters.

Trump took steps to dramatically undercut the Obamacare health system, sent notice he was willing to scuttle the nuclear deal with Iran, moved to roll back coal-plant limits, and again demanded a wall along the Mexican border.

And on social media the Republican president appeared to relish his feuds with the news media, senior Republicans in Congress, and National Football League players who have protested during the national anthem.

In a sense, it was the vintage, freewheeling Trump: throwing red meat to his voter base, following his gut, and haranguing his critics.

But by the end of the week, he had made more progress in undoing the policy accomplishments of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, than he had in some time.

“Trump knows he has to make good on several of his campaign promises,” said Ford O‘Connell, a Republican strategist. “The clock is ticking, Congress is useless and portions of his base are growing frustrated.”

At the same time, there is still chaos and uncertainty in the White House, so much so much so that Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, took the unusual step of telling reporters that he was not resigning. Meanwhile, the job status of his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, appears to remain tenuous.

The timing of some of Trump’s measures this week was driven by external deadlines, especially in the case of the Iran deal. And his administration has also been occupied by a spate of deadly hurricanes and the shooting spree in Las Vegas, which have hampered its ability to move forward on its policy agenda.

“The president campaigned on a bold agenda, and Congress’s inaction won’t stop the administration’s tireless efforts to boost the economy, improve healthcare, and protect the American people,” said Raj Shah, the White House’s principal deputy press secretary.

When he sat in the Oval Office, Obama defiantly declared that he would circumvent a hostile Congress by using a “pen and a phone,” issuing executive orders where possible.

And when Trump ran for president last year, he frequently said that only he “alone” could fix the nation’s problems.

But once he took office, Trump attempted to follow the lead of Republicans on Capitol Hill, and he watched with dismay how little movement was made on priorities such as healthcare, immigration, and national security.

Trump, too, remains bothered by another time he deferred to congressional Republicans and supported incumbent Senator Luther Strange in a divisive primary fight last month in Alabama.

Strange lost to Roy Moore, an archconservative backed by Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, with many of Trump’s core supporters voting for Moore.

The loss came after Trump alarmed some conservatives by saying he could cut deals with Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to advance his agenda, particularly on providing relief from deportation for ”Dreamers” – immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

That led to speculation that he was going to chart a more centrist course.

But there was little of that talk this week after the White House released a series of hard-line immigration proposals that stand to threaten any bipartisan deal. Pelosi called the proposals “trash.”

Trump, too, rejected the advice of Kelly, Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and other aides in decertifying the Iran nuclear deal, according to two administration officials, intent on staying true to his fierce criticism of the deal during the campaign.

Sam Nunberg, a former campaign aide to Trump, said Strange’s loss served as a reminder to Trump that he has to look after the interests of his political base.

“That was a big punch in the stomach,” Nunberg said, one that showed the president that “this is not a cult of personality. It’s about deliverables.”

Those deliverables are the fulfillment of the campaign promises that Bannon once featured on a whiteboard in his White House office, said Nunberg, who added that Bannon’s shadow “still hovers over the West Wing.”

Bannon has pledged to support primary challengers to Republican Senate incumbents in several states next year in a bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he blames for impeding Trump’s policy agenda.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week showed Trump’s approval slipping among the rural voters he so successfully courted in last year’s election.

In September, 47 percent of people in rural areas approved of Trump while 47 percent disapproved, the poll found. That was down from Trump’s first four weeks in office, when 55 percent said they approved of the president while 39 percent disapproved.

The poll found that Trump has lost support in rural areas among men, whites and people who never went to college. He lost support with rural Republicans and rural voters who supported him on Election Day.

— James Elephant, Reuters

Melissa Larkin-Skinner: State resources are needed to address the opioid epidemic

The opioid epidemic in Florida is wreaking havoc on individuals, families and communities. The negative consequences of this crisis can be seen across our state — in the health of our people, our schools, our businesses, our hospitals, our streets, our jails.

Our state legislature has an opportunity right now to enhance its response to this growing epidemic by increasing funding for prevention and treatment programs. This is an opportunity that we must take to ensure a healthy future for all of Florida for generations to come.

We see and hear about the ravages of opioid use nearly every day. In Manatee County alone, the county Emergency Medical Services (EMS) has experienced a 100 percent increase in the use of naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdose, every year for the past four years. Naloxone was administered by EMS 2,504 times in 2016, up from just 325 doses in 2013.

This increase comes with a hefty price tag. Additional usage of the drug has increased EMS costs from $14,000 in 2013 to $109,000 in 2016.

No one is immune from this crisis. Children in Manatee County were removed from their homes at twice the statewide rate over the past three years. The number of children under state supervision has doubled in Manatee, Sarasota and Desoto counties, increasing state costs for out of home care from $3.5 million to $7.2 million.

Parent deaths, which previously were no more than two per year, tragically, reached 17 this past year from opioid overdose and medical issues related to drug use.

Prevention and Treatment Needed to Address Addiction

Addiction is a disease, and a combination of prevention and treatment is needed to address it and combat the current epidemic.

Prevention through education will help us to halt the current crisis, keep it from extending to the younger population, and prevent future epidemics. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) data have shown that evidenced-based prevention curricula offered in schools can save communities $18 for every dollar spent on programming. Physicians also need to be appropriately trained in non-opioid pain management options as well as how to screen and refer patients for whom they have prescribed opioids.

Treatment — in a range of forms — also is needed. With rising opioid use across our population, need and demand for treatment is unprecedented, and we need to ensure that Floridians have access to the care they need for recovery.

Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all treatment, so health care providers must work with individuals to determine which treatments will be best for them and their unique lives, personalities and circumstances.

Many people benefit from inpatient detoxification to begin their road to recovery safely and need 24/7 care. Some people can detox safely on an outpatient basis with medication-assisted treatment, attending services daily before returning home overnight.

After detox, some individuals may need residential treatment, 24/7 care and time to relearn how to live a life without drugs, a life of recovery.

People who complete detox and residential treatment need outpatient care when they are discharged — ranging from daily services to weekly services including therapy, peer support, case management, and supportive and sober housing.

Each of these services are pieces of a puzzle for each person struggling with addiction and determined on an individual need. We cannot simply focus on one type of service or one part of the continuum and ignore the others.

The broader the treatment options we are able to provide, the better chance we have of helping people reach the goal of recovery.

We have an opportunity in front of us to set a national example for the proper response to opioid addiction, and we must take it. The Florida legislature should allocate funds to the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders. This will help individuals on their personal paths to recovery and put our state on the path to economic recovery from funds that are now being allocated to additional spending in the wake of the epidemic.

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Melissa Larkin-Skinner is chief executive officer of Centerstone.

Mike Valdes-Fauli: Pass small business tax cuts now

In the wake of this year’s hurricane season, many Floridians face an unexpectedly challenging holiday season. No one public policy can fix the physical and emotional toll of the last few weeks.

But with a few long-overdue improvements to America’s unfair tax code, Congress can ensure that small businesses give Americans more bounteous returns on all their hard work.

As the president and CEO of Pinta, a full-service marketing agency with clients including Amazon, Humana, McCormick, NFL and T-Mobile, I can attest to the challenges of running a startup, scaling to competitive levels and making payroll.  It’s what small business does every day for Americans of all kinds on Main Street. Nationwide, Florida is a top-three state for minority and African-American small business ownership. In the Miami area, we boast similar numbers for Hispanic ownership.

Small firms are so prevalent here that they make up about 90 percent of the whole economy in southern Florida. Statewide, roughly half of our 6 million workers are employed by small business.  Why would we ignore the unique needs of such a critical element of our society?

The outsized importance of Florida small business is reflected in the priorities of all branches of our state government. Gov. Rick Scott has been a small business champion, supporting a $180 million tax cut package the state Legislature wisely passed into law earlier this year.

Floridians are uniquely aware that small businesses need all the help they can get: While no business owner wants to shrink their business, nearly half of South Florida’s small businesses don’t last more than five years.

How can such a large sector of our economy experience such instability? The culprit is hiding in plain sight. It’s the outdated tax code. Burdensome tax rates foisted on small businesses from Jacksonville, FL to Juneau, Alaska. Under the current tax system — last updated in the days of the Reagan administration — many small businesses are forced to pay the highest possible marginal individual tax rate.

This so-called “pass-through” taxation takes a gigantic bite out of the revenue owners like me typically seek to invest right back into their business. With as much as 40 or 50 percent of business income disappearing before they even have that chance, even successful small businesses can struggle to do the things all Americans count on them to deliver — such as new jobs, increased wages, improved facilities and more locations statewide.

Recent polling proves that voters know if these burdens are left in place by legislators, it’s going to be harder for all of us until the tax code changes. Three in four say it’s important for Congress to pass a comprehensive tax bill, while more than two in five say it’s the most important thing lawmakers can do, according to a new survey by the American Action Network.

By seven points, voters agreed today’s old system is unfair to businesses. Four out of five said we need tax laws that incentivize businesses to create jobs right here at home. The math is simple: The more unfairly small businesses are taxed, the harder it is for them to add American jobs, and to keep the ones they’ve already created.

People on both sides of the aisle are looking to Capitol Hill for solutions, and closing out this year with a win. Passing tax cuts for America’s small businesses is the way to get it done.
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Mike Valdes-Fauli is the president & CEO of Pinta, a national marketing agency with its headquarters in Miami.

Matt Kiessling: Florida needs commonsense short-term rental policies

In an effort to stifle competition from short-term rentals and maintain their ability to price gouge consumers during compression periods, the hotel lobby is pressuring government officials in states like Florida to implement regulations that would severely restrict or ban homeowners from welcoming visitors into their private residence.

A recent piece penned by the hotel lobby on Florida Politics cites AirbnbWATCH Florida as a coalition of “Florida residents and commercial lodging businesses of all sizes” – “focused on the need for solutions that protect Florida’s careful balance as a tourism leader and ideal place to call home.”

In truth, it’s been well reported that AirbnbWATCH is actually a hotel funded front group designed to shut down short-term rentals, not the “coalition” claimed in the article.

Short-term rentals have been available across the nation for decades, but have become more popular as technology has helped make them more accessible and affordable. Technology innovators have helped to create a vibrant marketplace for travelers and property owners, expanding the travel landscape by making it easier for travelers to find and book short-term rental accommodations and providing economic benefits to communities around the world.

It is important for public policy to reflect the changing travel dynamics brought on by the popularity of short-term rentals, allowing both travelers and residents the ability to benefit from the options and flexibility that short-term rentals provide. Destructive short-term rental regulations being pushed by the hotel lobby can have the unintended consequence of limiting those benefits for both the residents and economy in Florida.

Short-term rental innovators such as Expedia’s HomeAway and VRBO platforms, Airbnb, TripAdvisor and Booking.com, are transforming the way millions around the globe travel. Not only do short-term rentals provide travelers with authentic experiences, but owners, operators and hosts act as ambassadors to the local community – sending new foot traffic to local small businesses and attractions.

Short-term rental platforms have also used their innovative technology to help assist victims in the path of deadly storms such as Irma, which caused severe damage to the state of Florida last month. Thanks to disaster relief programs managed by short-term rental platforms, those individuals and families who were displaced by the storm could find a safe place to stay at no cost. Ironically, some of the very businesses the hotel lobby advocates for were caught using the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma as an excuse to price gouge families in desperate need of help.

Multiple studies have shown that short-term rental guests stay longer and spend more than those staying in a hotel. And that spending spreads throughout the community rather than sticking to the hotel districts.

According to travel research company Phocuswright, just 10 years ago less than one in 10 leisure travelers opted for a short-term rental when traveling, but by 2016 that number had grown to nearly one in three. With this growth in popularity has come an increase in economic benefits to those owners and hosts who open their homes, as well as for the communities in which they are located.

In addition to diversifying available travel experiences, short-term rental platforms provide property owners with a new source of valuable extra income. That income is used to pay the mortgage, save for retirement, fund household improvements or pay for college.

Whether the hotel lobby likes it or not, the sharing economy is here to stay. For everyone’s benefit, it is critical for local municipalities in Florida to develop reasonable, efficient policy frameworks that ensure short-term rentals continue to thrive, protect property rights, and promotes economic growth throughout the state. A solution that deserves serious consideration in the Sunshine State is a bill (SB 188) introduced earlier this year by State Senator Greg Steube to create a statewide protection for homeowners who choose to use their property as a short-term rental.

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Matt Kiessling is vice president of Short-Term Rental Policy for The Travel Technology Association (Travel Tech). Travel Tech is the trade association for online travel companies, global distribution systems and short-term rental platforms. Members of the association include well-known short-term rental companies such as Expedia’s HomeAway and VRBO platforms, Airbnb, TripAdvisor and Booking.com.

 

Bill Herrle: Joint employer standard stifles entrepreneurship

Small businesses and entrepreneurs are facing troubling challenges due to a recent 2015 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision.

The decision, which muddies the water regarding who is an employer, dismantles the way small businesses work with one another and prevents entrepreneurs of all trades from following their dreams.

The NLRB’s decision in the Browning-Ferris Industries case brought sweeping changes to the joint employer standard and posed a direct threat to businesses striving for growth. Joint employer is a legal theory that seeks to more broadly define who is an employer, particularly in certain instances where two companies may have a working relationship.

The most common example is the franchise model, under which franchisees operate independently of the parent company except for the branding.

Under the NLRB’s ruling, the franchisor is the “joint employer” of the franchisee’s employees, and is thus liable for the franchisee’s employment law violations. If forced to assume such additional liability exposure, or spend more money and time overseeing their franchises, why would companies continue to use the franchising model as a method of business growth?

This new standard has sown so much confusion with small business owners we work with on a day-to-day basis, leading to higher legal and compliance fees, and it has held back further investment given the legal limbo that has been thrust into existing contracts.

Under this 2015 ruling, companies that hire IT firms for contracted technology services, for example, will be held directly responsible for the firm’s employees. Not only would the IT company be liable for any alleged violation of employment law, but the businesses it serves could be liable as well.

Beth Milito, Senior Executive Counsel at the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Legal Center, called the ruling “a warning shot aimed just over the heads of businesses that regularly contract with other businesses.”

“If you hire other firms for certain types of work, you may try to limit your exposure by discontinuing those relations and hiring direct employees to perform those services,” Milito said. “Obviously that hurts the entrepreneurs who are mostly small businesses. But it also hurts the larger firms since their payroll costs are very likely to increase. It creates pressures on both sides of the contract.”

The NLRB’s ruling will no doubt have a negative impact on job growth and business confidence – two metrics we watch to gauge how our economy is doing. According to the Small Business Administration, roughly two-thirds of all jobs are created because of small, locally-owned businesses, such as franchises. In addition, the average franchise creates 10 new jobs per location. The NLRB’s rule is a direct threat to these jobs.

In June, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced that the joint employer rule would be withdrawn. But small businesses aren’t safe unless the NLRB reverses the ruling or Congress passes a law to overturn it.

That’s why NFIB is pushing for legislative action. Congress recently introduced a bill to return the joint employer to its original intent, and we’re urging Florida’s Congressional delegation to support it. The Protecting Business Opportunity Act, H.R. 3441 is good, common sense legislation that will allow small business owners to breathe a sigh of relief and will protect the many relationships that the small business engine runs on.

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Bill Herrle is the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business/Florida, the nation’s leading small business association.

John Simmons: Florida’s nursing centers – setting the record straight on quality care

I always thought journalists were trained to avoid reaching a broad conclusion from just one specific example, no matter how shocking it may be. Yet in his guest commentary in Wednesday’s Tallahassee Democrat, opinion columnist Carl Hiaasen unfairly slammed Florida’s entire long-term care profession based on the shameful and inexcusable actions of a single nursing home.

His column, unfortunately, followed the recent trend of other media outlets, which have been quick to embrace sweeping overhaul proposals while completely overlooking many extraordinary actions nursing homes all over Florida took before, during, and after Hurricane Irma to protect those living in our centers.

In Hiaasen’s view, the tragic deaths of 12 residents at a Hollywood Hills nursing home were the inevitable result of years of neglect, and worse, by a powerful industry that imposed its will on the Florida Legislature. While I certainly agree that the deaths at this facility are intolerable and need to be properly investigated, the assertion that this somehow represents the entire long-term care profession couldn’t be further from the truth. It also does a great injustice to the thousands of highly skilled professionals who dedicate themselves to caring for some of our state’s most fragile residents.

I wish to be very clear about this: Nothing is a higher priority for our centers than the well-being of those entrusted to our care. To further that objective, we embrace Gov. Rick Scott’s goal to have generators in place at every long-term care center – to make sure they can maintain a safe temperature should the power go out in an emergency.

During a summit on this issue we hosted last month, we heard from a variety of speakers that the shortened timetable is not achievable, but nonetheless, we remain committed to working with Gov. Scott and others to make sure our centers are as safe as possible, as soon as possible.

Here are some facts, so easily disregarded in the zeal to criticize the entire profession based on the actions (or inactions) of one facility – a center, by the way, that isn’t even a member of our professional association:

– Over the past year, nearly 1,500 long-term care professionals who are members of Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) have taken part in emergency preparedness training – from community-based discussions to disaster drills to educational seminars.

– During Hurricane Irma, FHCA centers performed more than 60 successful evacuations, while more than 500 other facilities successfully sheltered their residents in place.

– Upward of 400 nursing centers lost power during Hurricane Irma, yet our members continued successfully caring for 68,000 residents through the course of the storm.

– A recent Emory University survey showed that 94 percent of Florida nursing centers have regular communications with local emergency managed agencies to discuss emergency preparedness.

– Our association was supportive when the Legislature sought to require nursing home generators after Florida’s terrible 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. The plan fell apart over funding provisions, not because the nursing home professional was opposed to it.

Hiaasen’s column is another example of coverage that appears quick to tarnish the reputation of the long-term care industry without considering all the good things it has done – in general, and specifically in dealing with Hurricane Irma. All these articles really accomplish is paving the way for every greedy trial attorney to come out of the woodwork looking to capitalize on this terrible tragedy.

Florida’s nursing home profession consists of hundreds of excellent centers staffed by thousands of dedicated, caring professionals. I wholeheartedly believe that they deserve better than to have their reputations tarnished by the tragic – but isolated – events at a single nursing home.

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John C. Simmons is president 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 jcspops51@icloud.com.

 

Troy Flanagan: Florida lawmakers must protect tourism by addressing illegal rentals

On behalf of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), I am honored to go before the Senate Community Affairs Committee tomorrow to discuss short-term rentals — an important topic of concern in recent years given the emergence of online rental platforms. While these platforms provide people with a new method to access and advertise short-term rentals, there have also been many unintended side effects.

Alarmingly, these platforms are being exploited by commercial operators who run illegal hotels without adhering to Florida’s commercial rental laws — putting legal hotels at an unfair competitive disadvantage, and tourists and residential neighborhoods at risk from a health and safety perspective. Countless Floridians have even felt the effects of this platform manipulation on their basic peace of mind — ask anyone who has found themselves living next door to something akin to a year-round spring break party house.

Unfortunately, solutions were met with contention last legislative session, despite voices from around the State speaking up and bringing attention to these illegal hotel loopholes. Prominently among these voices was AirbnbWATCHFlorida, comprised of Florida residents and commercial lodging businesses of all sizes. The coalition that is AirbnbWATCHFlorida was — and remains — focused on the need for solutions that protect Florida’s careful balance as a tourism leader and ideal place to call home. Since the last session adjourned without a remedy, we must swiftly restart this important discussion.

Florida is a mecca for tourism, continually inviting new and innovative industry endeavors. But with any new business development — like online short-term rental platforms — there comes a time when that change must be reviewed to ensure operations are occurring fairly and soundly, in order to protect consumers who choose to utilize that new business offering, as well as those who may be unintentionally impacted by it.

As such, AHLA believes Florida lawmakers should give thoughtful attention to this issue this legislative session and consider the following commonsense solutions to better rein in illegal commercial operators:

1) Adherence to Florida statutes that address public accommodations — Section 509 — with basic business registration, standard data transparency, and improved local government input;

2) Compliance with State and local tax obligations, including standard audit compliance, similar to every other Florida business; and

3) Requirements for the removal of noncompliant short-term rental listings from online platforms, and requirements to ensure commercial insurance is in place for commercial businesses.

Just as important as protecting its place as a leader in tourism, Florida also needs reasonable regulations like these to safeguard its residents and families. One’s home is a sacred place — it’s where you rest your head at night and put food on the table for your family — and it should be enjoyed without concerns of a constant revolving door of strangers at a neighboring illegal hotel.

Floridians and tourists should not have to worry about bad actors in the lodging industry. By updating policy to protect from illegal commercial operators that are taking advantage of online short-term rental platforms, Florida can remain both an ideal place to live and a leader in the tourism industry now, and in the future; and we are hopeful that lawmakers will again give serious consideration to this issue this session.

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Troy Flanagan is the vice president for state and local affairs for the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

 

Ted Deutch: Time to break NRA stranglehold on Congress

Gathering on the House Floor to mark gun violence tragedies has become a common ritual. In the 477 days between the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando that left 49 dead and the Las Vegas shooting on Sunday that left 58 dead and over 500 injured, there were 521 mass shootings in America.

So when, again and again and again, I bow my head and choke back tears, I can’t help but feel growing anger knowing that moments of silence are the beginning and end of the Congressional response to thousands of Americans being gunned down in the streets.

Offering “thoughts and prayers” without any substantive policy debate about how to reduce gun violence is part of a plan designed and implemented by the N.R.A. and the gun makers that fund it. The gun industry controls the Republican agenda on guns. It’s true in Washington and it’s true in Tallahassee where some of the most dangerous laws are rammed through.

It wasn’t always this way. It has been nearly thirty years since moderate Republicans joined most Democrats to pass the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. Even President Ronald Reagan, an N.R.A. member, ultimately supported the bill after leaving the White House. Since that time the N.R.A. has tightened its grip on the Republican Party.

Today’s N.R.A. is dominated by gun corporations, not its members, and it animates only the most extreme voices and policies. Their devotion to wealthy gun company executives leaves them with no reservations about spreading lies and promoting fear that gun safety advocates want to take away their guns.

This week’s tragedy highlighted the Republican go-to playbook on gun violence. After thoughts and prayers for the victims, GOP lawmakers first claimed that it is too soon to discuss solutions and later claimed nothing can be done to save lives.

Two N.R.A. A+ rated senators executed their roles perfectly. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) blamed so-called sanctuary cities in an attempt to scapegoat immigrants for a crime committed by a native-born American citizen.

Another GOP Senator, John Thune of South Dakota lamented that it is “hard to prevent anything.” He suggested that it would be the responsibility of victims to protect themselves and “get small.”

Did these Senators watch the video of the shooting? Did they hear the nine rounds per second raining down from the sky? “Get small” is not a solution. It’s cruel. His remarks make clear that the moral courage of gun industry-backed Republicans in Congress couldn’t get any smaller.

GOP obstruction is often paired with N.R.A. lies about the effectiveness of stronger gun laws. In fact, we can do something to make our communities safer. Other countries have done it. In Australia, a country with its own proud gun culture, a 1996 mass shooting inspired its legislature to get to work. They brokered compromises, they strengthened their laws, and they have successfully reduced gun violence (1.4 homicides per million people compared to 29.7 in the U.S.).

Congress could pass common-sense gun safety laws that would save lives and make our streets safer: reinstate the assault weapons ban, prevent modifications that enable simulated automatic fire, ban high capacity magazines, prohibit sales to known terrorists, and require universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those with mental illness.

Unfortunately, our urgent priority must be to block the current dangerous Ryan/McConnell/N.R.A. gun agenda. Grim priorities in Washington like legalizing over-the-counter sales of silencers and armor-piercing bullets and forcing the recognition of out-of-state concealed carry permits must be stopped. In Tallahassee, bills allowing guns on our college campuses and open carry in our communities must also be stopped. Every one of these efforts, in Washington and Tallahassee, puts more people at risk.

Next, we must engage in a meaningful debate about any steps we can take to reduce gun violence. So far, Republicans have refused offers even to talk with Democrats. They continue their strategy of silence with the hope that people will stop caring about preventing gun deaths. We won’t.

We’ve already wasted too much time while innocent Americans have paid the price with their lives. It’s time to start a real conversation and break the stranglehold of the N.R.A. Someday soon, the tears and shouting of victims and their families will ring louder in the ears of Congressional and Tallahassee Republicans than the N.R.A.’s talking points.

[Editor’s note: This column first appeared in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.]

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Congressman Ted Deutch represents Florida’s 22nd district, home to communities in southern Palm Beach County and Broward County.

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