Guest Author, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 162

Guest Author

Heather Fitzenhagen: Level the playing field for Florida franchise operators

It’s safe to say that a large part of Florida’s thriving economy is fueled by franchised businesses, which provide some of our most common services — fast food, auto repairs, haircuts, and so on. Without committed business owners, who take on the responsibility of growing small local businesses associated with big national chains, we would miss out on countless staples of everyday life.

Even though their business signs carry the names of global brands, they are actually local operations owned by friends and neighbors who have invested their time and money in pursuit of their dreams. They operate in good faith in cooperation with the national brands, yet they’re not always treated with the same kind of good faith in return.

To operate a franchise business, owners devote hundreds of thousands of dollars on the franchise agreement, equipment and supplies, employees, advertising, and so much more. Right now, Florida provides few legal safeguards for the small-business men and businesswomen who choose to invest their hard-earned personal resources in a franchise business opportunity. I hope to change that.

Through my position as a member of the Florida Legislature, I have filed legislation promoting fair business relations between franchisors and franchisees, which will ultimately result in new business development and job creation for our state. The Small Business Parity Act is designed to help achieve a more level playing field for those who invest their personal time, money, and energy to build local businesses. It will bring important new reforms to the 40,000 small franchise operations in Florida who provide more than 400,000 jobs for our state’s residents.

Currently, a corporation can terminate its franchise agreement — and effectively drive the operator out of business — with the snap of a finger. They don’t even need to have a valid cause. They can do it simply because it’s better for them, regardless of the consequences on the hometown business owner. That is grossly unfair and imposes a tremendous burden on a well-intended entrepreneur. My legislation would help these franchise owners protect their growing businesses, providing a more even balance in the franchise relationship.

Along with providing this balance, the legislation has numerous provisions to ensure that local Florida businesses are treated fairly. It would stop a corporation from refusing to renew a franchise agreement unless the operator fails to substantially comply with the franchise agreement; it allows operators to sell or transfer their franchise to a qualified person; and it permits Florida franchise operators the right to pursue legal disputes with their franchisor in a Florida court and under Florida law.

My proposed legislation defends small-business owners and their dreams, without burdening the large corporations when they act in good faith. These are common-sense approaches that embody reasonable business practices. Florida business owners should be able to safeguard their investment and their livelihood. We may not notice the work put into these businesses behind the scenes, but we should step to the front now to shield them and their ability to continue providing jobs and fueling Florida’s economy.

Almost half of all states in the country have enacted similar measures to balance the partnership between small-business owners and their corporate brands. Florida should join the growing list of states doing the right thing by passing the Small Business Parity Act.

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Florida state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen is a Republican representing the Fort Myers area. She is sponsoring HB 1219, the Small Business Parity Act.

Tim Canova: Let the voters decide

Floridians have never been closer to putting an open primaries referendum on the 2018 ballot than we are today.

A proposal to amend our primary system was submitted by Commissioner Bill Schifino of the Florida Constitutional Commission (CRC). Schifino’s open primary proposal is now one of six being considered by the full Commission, out of more than 2000 original proposals.

Florida needs this political reform. In 2016, independent voters who wanted to vote in the presidential primaries were presented with two bad options: register with a political party they refused to join or stay home. The Schifino proposal will allow 3.4 million independent voters — 26 percent of all voters in Florida — to cast their ballots in either the Democratic or Republican primary elections without being forced to join a party.

All the CRC has to do is put the measure before the voters for approval. I hope they listen to the people and do just that.

I’m a passionate advocate on many policy issues, and sometimes people ask me why I devote time and energy advocating for opening our primary system. For me, being a progressive means advocating for a system that is fair to all voters, including people who disagree with me. That’s the kind of leadership that is so lacking in Congress today. Closed primaries are part of a political culture that allows party insiders to thrive at the expense of the people.

In a poll co-conducted by my organization Progress for All, Florida Fair and Open Primaries and Open Primaries, 73 percent of Floridians-including majorities of Republicans and Democrats as well as independents- supported putting an open primaries measure before the voters in November 2018.

Demographics in our state and in our country are changing rapidly. Independents are the fastest growing segment of voters in Florida, and some surveys suggest more than 70 percent of millennials are independents. We risk losing an entire generation of voters if we don’t embrace them. Democrats can’t win elections without independent voters. Right now we’re saying to them, “You’re not wanted in the primary process, but join us in the general election.” We simply can’t have it both ways.

I was disappointed in the recent decision of the Unity Reform Commission, a body created by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at the 2016 National Convention, to not recommend that the Democratic Party enact a 50-state open primaries rule for the 2020 presidential contest. Regardless of state election law, both political parties could, if they wanted, write rules to give every voter in every state the right to cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential primaries. It was a missed opportunity for Democrats to open our doors to independents.

Effective political change requires more than replacing individual politicians. Our political system itself is reinforcing partisanship at ever-increasing rates. If we want to transform politics, we have to elect better leaders and change how they get elected.

Which brings me back to the Constitution Revision Commission and their opportunity to now do right by the people of Florida.

The Commission held nine public hearings in early 2017, from Miami to the Florida Panhandle, to hear firsthand what issues are most important to citizens. Thousands of Floridians spoke out at the hearings, signed petitions, sent emails and made calls to CRC members to support an open primaries referendum. Inspired by this demand, Commissioner Bill Schifino introduced his proposal.

Now as the Commission moves proposals forward — including a vote on the open primaries proposal — we need to make our voices heard as we did so strongly last year. The CRC will be holding a second set of public hearings starting Feb. 12. I hope everyone will join me in attending one or more of these hearing and urge the CRC to adopt Commissioner Schifino’s recommendation and put an open primaries referendum on the 2018 ballot for the voters to approve.

The message is simple: Let the voters decide. That’s a progressive value that all Floridians can get behind.

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Tim Canova is the Chair of Progress for All, a grassroots political and community action group based in Hollywood, Florida that supports progressive candidates and causes. He is challenging Debbie Wasserman Schultz for the Democratic Party nomination in South Florida’s 23rd Congressional District.

Melba Pearson, Shalini Goel Agarwal: Keep Florida from falling further behind; adopt meaningful criminal justice reform

Florida is falling behind on criminal justice reform.

While a majority of states – including Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas – have adopted comprehensive criminal justice reforms over the last several years with bipartisan support, Florida has done little to evaluate its existing policies and create a more effective system. Other states are reducing incarceration levels while simultaneously lowering crime rates and saving millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, Florida spends more than $2.3 billion a year to incarcerate nearly 100,000 people in prison. From 1970 to 2014, our population has roughly tripled; but the number of people in prison increased by more than 1,000 percent. Between 1990 and 2009, the length of sentences increased by 166 percent – more than any other state.

It’s clear that Florida is sending too many people to prison for too long, and in doing so, wasting our tax dollars. It’s time that our legislators do something to stop as well as reverse Florida’s ineffective reliance on mass incarceration.

Florida’s failure to overhaul its system has nothing to do with lack of opportunity or popular support. Year after year, our lawmakers fail to move forward proposals that would undoubtedly improve the criminal justice system. They cannot shift their complacency onto the backs of constituents, claiming voters want “tough-on-crime” politicians. Floridians are ready for change. A poll recently released by Right on Crime – a conservative advocacy group – found that registered Florida voters, including Republicans, back criminal justice reforms that are being proposed in the 2018 legislative session.

For starters, lawmakers should allow judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences when they find that level of punishment is not justified. Right now, judges’ hands are tied by laws meant to target drug kingpins. Instead, people facing nonviolent, and often first-time, drug offenses are now captured in a system with long sentences and no rehabilitation. Imprisonment is not appropriate for people who suffer from addiction or mental health issues. Treatment is the more effective path in the short and long-term, and the less expensive option. Two-thirds of Florida voters believe judges should have the discretion to depart from these sentences when appropriate. Legislators should support two bills in this legislative session, SB 694 and HB 481, as these bills will allow a judge the discretion to impose an appropriate sentence that fits the crime.

Further, we should also raise the monetary value threshold at which theft becomes a felony. The amount hasn’t been updated – even for inflation – since 1986. At $300, we have one of the lowest thresholds in the country; in Georgia, it’s $1,500 and in Texas, it’s $2,500. This outdated law burdens people charged with theft of items like bicycles, an article of clothing, or small electronics with lifelong consequences that don’t fit the crime. Each conviction could end up costing Florida taxpayers up to $100,000 – the average amount it costs to house someone in a state prison for five years. SB 928 and HB 713 would raise the monetary threshold to $1,500, which a majority of Floridians support. While that amount is still lower than some other southern states, passing this legislation would be a much-needed step in the right direction.

Lastly, we should encourage pre-arrest diversion programs that keep people from cycling into the criminal justice system in the first place and save money. A majority of arrests in Florida are for misdemeanor offenses. We shouldn’t be sending so many people to jail for low-level crimes and burdening taxpayers with the cost of housing, meals, health care and supervision. Nearly three in four Florida voters believe counties should be encouraged to create civil citation programs that would provide law enforcement officers an alternative to arrest.

Fortunately, several leading legislators have proposed these reforms and are taking to heart that Floridians say the primary purpose of the criminal justice system should be to rehabilitate, not punish. Now is the time for the entire legislature to support their effort. It is time for our leaders to adopt smart policies that will prevent crime and reduce recidivism, while saving taxpayer dollars and keeping us safe.

No more excuses. It is time we had better justice in Florida.

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Shalini Goel Agarwal is managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. Melba Pearson is deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and immediate past president of The National Black Prosecutors Association.

Marleny Olivo: Palm Beach School Board should stop attacking charter school students

This week I asked to join litigation against the Palm Beach County School Board. As a working mother of two young sons, this is not a battle I wanted to fight.

But I have little choice. The school board is mistreating charter school students, including my younger son.

Board members have filed a lawsuit against House Bill 7069, which the Florida Legislature adopted last Session. This bill requires all education dollars to be spent on public school students equally, including charter students. But the board doesn’t want to comply.

It is ridiculous for the board to think district school students deserve more money than those in charter schools.

Charter schools, after all, are public schools. They are funded by public dollars, though managed privately. They must meet strict standards, and they’re closed if they receive failing grades or don’t meet parents’ expectations.

Yet the school board wants to disregard its obligation to the county’s charter students.

This is why I have joined the Academy for Positive Learning, which my 10-year-old son attends, in filing a motion to intervene in the school board’s lawsuit.

The board’s opposition to equalizing education funding is only the latest of its efforts to undermine charter schools. It consistently has rejected charter school applications, denying all the applications it received in 2014-2015.

When its rejection of one charter was overturned on appeal by the Florida Department of Education, the school board litigated all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, where it lost in September.

This animosity toward charter schools hurts children. Tens of thousands of charter school parents in Palm Beach County, like me, know first-hand what the charter option can mean to a child.

My 13-year-old attends a district school and has always done well. But my younger son had trouble at a district school, particularly with bullying. The state’s charter school option allowed me to enroll him in the Academy for Positive Learning, where he is safe and knows any bullying will be addressed immediately.

At the district school, he was distracted and his grades were inconsistent. With fewer students per class at the Academy, he now makes mostly A’s.

Opponents sometimes characterize charter schools as “cherry-picking” the “best” students. But more than 85 percent of Academy students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and a quarter of its students are English-language learners. Yet the Academy is an “A” school.

Like school board members, I want strong district schools, which do a fine job for most students, such as my older son. But not all students learn in the same manner or at the same pace. Charter schools can offer programs designed for students who struggle in the typical classroom setting.

A study released by the state Department of Education this year found charter students, particularly minority students, are making significant academic gains and frequently outperform their peers in district schools.

So why would the school board oppose these alternatives?

The school board has argued the state’s charter policies take education decisions “out of the hands of local voters.” But in fighting charter schools, the board is taking education decisions out of the hands of parents.

As a parent, I love school choice, but fair funding for charters is necessary to make that choice meaningful.

The Palm Beach County School Board should stop pitting district students against charter students and focus on giving all our children the best education possible.

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Marleny Olivo lives in West Palm Beach.

Marion Hammer: An open letter to Senator Jack Latvala

Dear Senator Latvala,

In view of the massive amount of campaign funds in your possession, which can be disbursed for qualified charitable purposes at your discretion, I ask for your consideration on behalf of children with learning disabilities.

Financial contributions to improve educational opportunities for children with learning disabilities, specifically dyslexia, is critically important to families of these children.

The community of families of children with learning disabilities has a triple load. Raising a child in today’s society is difficult. Raising a child with learning disabilities is even more difficult because of their special needs and the special individualized attention required. Even more challenging is the difficulty in funding the educational needs of these children.

The financial burden of trying to meet the needs of these children can be suffocating. Scholarships are the lifeline for parents in this community of special children.

Through my volunteer work with Dyslexia Research Institute, Inc. and its laboratory school, Woodland Hall Academy, I have found that one of the greatest disabilities children with dyslexia suffer is being stuck in a public-school system that cannot serve the needs of these children.

Children with dyslexia need and deserve a chance to achieve success. That’s why I am asking you to donate $1,000,000 to Dyslexia Research Institute’s scholarship fund dedicated to helping pay tuition for children with dyslexia and associated learning disabilities.

I am not asking for money for bicycles, Nintendo Switch or PS4 game consoles. Nor am I asking for iPhones, dolls, clothes or gift cards.

I’m asking for money to buy the gift of reading, the gift of writing, and the gift of math — those lasting and enduring gifts that can only be given through the generosity of those who care.

You can make a profound difference in the lives of many children by making a substantial contribution to Dyslexia Research Institute, Inc., a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

Dyslexia is not a disease or disorder, it is an alternate configuration of the nervous system. In simple terms, the brains of dyslexic children are wired differently.  And, although the overwhelming majority of these children are exceptionally bright, they cannot be taught to read, write and learn through traditional methods. They need different methods of instruction. Instruction that helps create paths to knowledge through what effectively amounts to rerouting the wiring of the brain, much like the way the body adapts to compensate for a physical injury.

Dyslexia only minimally discriminates. It appears in both sexes, in all religions, all ethnic groups and nationalities and all professions. In short, dyslexia, occurs in all walks of life. However, the most common thread generally found in children with dyslexia is the high level of intelligence that is locked inside the brains of these children. The struggle for dyslexic children to learn and decode information is frustrating and laborious and takes an extraordinary amount of work and attention.

It has been my experience that in Florida’s public schools, children with dyslexia are treated like square pegs that must be pounded into round holes. They are shuffled in and out of classes and into remedial reading, remedial math and special programs that do nothing effective in teaching these children.

In order for these children to realize their full potential, the only real hope is through private schools that focus on the educational requirements of these children. Unfortunately, most parents cannot afford the costs of these private schools and rely on scholarship assistance.

At Dyslexia Research’s Woodland Hall Academy, scholarships are based on financial need. Parents pay based on their ability to pay and then scholarship funding provides the balance.

Think for a moment of looking into the precious face of a child who is eager to learn and go to a school where everybody (teachers, administrators, other kids and other parents) all understand what he or she is going through. A school where there is no bullying, no taunting, no laughing or teasing because everybody knows how hard it is to learn. A school where other kids don’t call you “stupid” or “dummy” because you have difficulty learning to read. Think of all of this, and know that you can make this happen. All it takes is a selfless act of generosity.

You can make a difference. You can have a positive impact on the lives of many of these children. A gift of $1,000,000 will change lives. You can give a bright future and a whole new world to children who only need for you to open the door.

The difference you make is not just for today, it will last tomorrow and forever.

A check should be payable to “Dyslexia Research Institute, Inc.” and mailed to 5246 Centerville Road, Tallahassee, Florida 32309. You may call them at 850-893-2216 and they will provide you with the tax-exempt documents you may need.

Most sincerely,

Marion P. Hammer

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Marion Hammer is the National Rifle Association’s first female president, and has been Florida’s NRA lobbyist since the late 1970s.

Chris Hudson: This Legislative Session, Floridians have much to be enthusiastic about

As we kick off 2018, a message to Florida lawmakers: Don’t quit while you’re ahead.

Last year, our legislators kept many New Year’s resolutions: trimming the fat from the state budget, making sure taxpayers kept more of their hard-earned money and expanding educational opportunity for children across the state. This Session, there are several legislative proposals that would maintain the steady momentum toward a more efficient and effective state government.

At the top of the list are measures, introduced by Republican state Rep. Bryan Avila and Sens. Rene Garcia and Tom Lee to continue ridding our state of corporate welfare handouts for a few favored industries at the expense of hardworking taxpayers. These bills seek to end giveaways to professional sports franchises and make sure ordinary Floridians no longer bear the cost when wealthy teams want to build new stadiums or renovate their arenas. Lawmakers should pass them right away.

Next up, slashing red tape that restricts our state’s economic growth.

Common-sense regulatory reform bills introduced by Republican Rep. Manny Diaz and Sen. Keith Perry would require the state to review regulations annually and get rid of any that are redundant, overly burdensome or that disproportionately harm small businesses. This is a practical way to make it easier for businesses and entrepreneurs to do what they do best: grow our economy and create jobs.

And, while they have their scissors out, lawmakers should also slice through our state’s convoluted certificate of need laws that force health care providers to get a government permission slip before expanding or building new facilities, offering additional services or buying equipment. These restrictive mandates decrease the number of health care facilities and the variety of services available, ultimately making health care more expensive and limiting options for patients. Getting rid of the certificate of need and pursuing additional reforms to laws governing ambulatory surgical centers and other facilities will empower patients and improve our health care choices.

Alongside reforms such as these, lawmakers can also give a leg up to workers and students in our state.

A union recertification bill would increase transparency and ensure that public employee unions remain accountable to the Florida workers they are supposed to represent.

Rep. Rob Rommel and Sen. Dennis Baxley’s campus free speech bills would do away with so-called “free speech zones” that restrict students’ First Amendment rights to small, designated spaces, instead re-establishing the right to free expression everywhere on the campuses of the state’s public universities. The measure would stimulate our institutions of higher learning to become a marketplace of ideas where students are exposed to diverse viewpoints and learn the value of civil discourse — skills critical to success in our complex world.

There’s something for everyone in these proposals and Floridians from the Panhandle to the Keys have much to be enthusiastic about.

By building on past success, our lawmakers can make the Sunshine State an even better place to live, work and raise a family.

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Chris Hudson is Americans for Prosperity’s Florida state director.

Ashton Hayward: Residents, tourists alike can benefit from sharing economy

Travel and tourism have long served as the backbone of Florida’s economy, which is now the 18th largest in the world. Here in Pensacola, we’re proud that our city has emerged as a driving force of this growth industry.

In just the past year, the Pensacola region welcomed 2.7 million visitors who have invested $787 million in our community, according to Visit Pensacola.

For both our community, and our state, a major priority is to not only maintain the current levels of tourism we enjoy, but to attract even more visitors. One key step we can take is to embrace the sharing economy: empowering middle-class residents in Pensacola and elsewhere to provide transportation options through Uber or Lyft or alternative lodging through Airbnb, HomeAway or Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO).

By leveraging these exciting new opportunities, which travelers and Florida residents alike clearly love and want, we can make our state an even more appealing destination for both tourism and investment.

In Pensacola, I’ve focused on making our city as welcoming as possible to residents who wish to share their homes as short-term rentals. With Airbnb alone, over 300 people in our community share their homes with travelers. In the past year, these local residents welcomed over 25,000 guests and earned $3 million in the process. In turn, these guests spend money at our local restaurants, shops and attractions.

I’ve personally met with many of these short-term rental hosts and am delighted at how they serve as ambassadors for their neighborhoods and city. They make a point to guide guests toward the attractions that make our community so unique — whether it’s our downtown that was just named the “greatest place in Florida“, the Naval Air Museum, our 93 local parks, or simply the hole-in-the-wall cafe that you wouldn’t find in the tourist brochures. The Pensacola News Journal recently featured an Airbnb host named Channell who took a previously vacant downtown building and turned it into a flourishing short-term rental, which is now economically recharging the neighborhood instead of dragging down housing values.

These vacation rentals appear to be complementing our wonderful hotels by widening the reach of our city to new visitors. That could mean expanding lodging capacity during popular events that fill hotels to capacity, such as the Blue Angels shows. But it also means our city is appealing to millennials looking for authentic experiences, families who want to cook together and stay under one roof when traveling, and visitors on modest budgets.

I believe the benefits Pensacola is enjoying by embracing the sharing economy can be reaped by other cities and counties. I want to encourage more residents — and more communities around the state — to follow the lead set by Channell. By thinking creatively, we can turn vacant and dilapidated properties into economic engines for our neighborhoods.

I also urge my fellow mayors across the state to consider looking for ways to work with the short-term rental industry, because it ultimately helps bring visitors to our diverse and beautiful communities, infusing cash into the economy and creating jobs for Floridians.

There are a handful of Florida cities that have chosen to crack down on short-term rentals and penalize taxpaying homeowners. I fear this will have a chilling effect on tourism, and I know it has already alarmed many residents in my community. I am committed to working with all of Pensacola’s residents — those who choose to share their homes and those who don’t — to spur innovation and grow our local economy while avoiding overregulation.

By embracing technological advances and the evolving preferences of travelers, we can boost our local and state economies and ensure that the world knows both Pensacola and Florida are open for business and are terrific places to visit.

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Ashton Hayward is mayor of Pensacola.

Chikara Parks: Finding a safe school is better than waiting for one

I considered myself Campbell Park Elementary family. Not only did four of my children attend this school, but I was so actively involved in mentoring students, volunteering and attending PTA meetings that I was often mistaken for staff. So, it was a surprise to me that my daughter Tanijah was bullied as long as she was.

The bullying started early in first grade and continued to get worse until fourth. Bullying happened at PE, during recess, and in the hallway, as she transitioned between classes. It started out as name calling and teasing, but by fourth grade the bullying became physical.

The bullying peaked in fourth grade where Tanijah and her class spent considerable time with substitute teachers. Without the firm control of a full-time teacher, the classroom descended into chaos. One day while transitioning to class from recess, Tanijah was kicked by another student.

All this time I had been telling my daughter to not fight back, but to tell an adult. The adults, I promised her, would keep her safe. But they hadn’t.

Now my daughter was hurting, and I felt like less of a mom. My daughter’s grades were suffering, and she was losing self-confidence daily. How long can a child be bullied and still be OK?

My kids have each had great teachers at Campbell Park, so I’m not sure why they or the principals weren’t able to put a stop to the bullying after several years. I recognize that students in this community come with their own set of baggage, but good teachers and a zero-tolerance policy couldn’t end the bullying.

I couldn’t wait any longer. My daughter needed a safe school now. Even the school leaders agreed that it might be best if Tanijah started fifth grade at a new school.

Thankfully, I qualified for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and enrolled Tanijah at Academy Prep of St. Petersburg. Academy Prep handles bullying issues immediately. The girls have one-on-one meetings with the head of the school and the counselor, and group meetings where the girls are required to say something nice to each other. The principal and teachers even call to discuss problems big and small. Not only do I feel like I’m finally being heard, but I also know I’ve found a place where Tanijah will be safe.

I think the Hope Scholarship is an awesome idea and I hope that parents take advantage of it.

The Tampa Bay Times once called Campbell Park a failure factory. My two boys still attend, and I hope the school continues to improve. I’m even working toward a degree in elementary education with the dream of becoming a public-school teacher. But I believe that if a parent feels their child isn’t safe, they should have a right to enroll their child somewhere else.

Sometimes leaving is the best option, even if you feel like they are family.

Deborah Franklin: Protect Florida elders by keeping nursing home certificate-of-need process

Deborah Franklin

Throughout my professional career, I have been dedicated to the continued growth and enhancement of quality long-term care in Florida. A key element of quality care is maintaining a sense of independence among the elders we serve, a priority that is fostered by Florida’s long-standing commitment to helping them remain in the least restrictive setting possible.

However, I believe a proposal now before the Constitution Revision Commission would undermine that goal and threaten the continued independence of countless older Floridians.

The proposed amendment to our State Constitution would eliminate the Certificate of Need (CON) process for nursing homes, among others, and change that would disrupt the mission of continuing quality care in skilled nursing care centers. The CON process requires Florida’s Health Planning Councils to identify areas which have a need for additional beds.

Facilities must document how they will meet those needs, either through new development or adding on to an existing center. Beds are awarded based on several factors, including a center’s quality outcomes and financial stability.

The intent is to prevent an oversaturation of care facilities, so the taxpayers don’t end up subsidizing unused beds.

Florida has the nation’s highest share of seniors, and elimination of the nursing home CON requirement would fly in the face of the state’s ongoing support of home and community-based care — a policy that allows elders to remain in their own homes as long as possible.

If additional nursing center beds are allowed without the careful scrutiny of the CON process, the new facilities will need residents to fill their beds — and the first place they will look is the ranks of those currently enjoying the benefits of home and community-based care.

It’s no secret that Florida is experiencing a nursing shortage, with more than 12,000 vacant nursing positions around our state. The problem is particularly challenging for skilled nursing centers.

Elimination of CON would lead to additional facilities competing for the same limited pool of Registered Nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants, thus spreading already limited resources even thinner.

If the CON repeal is enacted, it seems unavoidable that more seniors will be moved from home settings and into skilled nursing centers — a setting that is necessary for our most frail elders, but certainly not for everyone currently living in the less restrictive environment offered by home and community-based care. If it was your mother or grandmother, would you want her living in even the best nursing home before it was really necessary?

The Legislature has seen the value in allowing the nursing home CON process to remain in place, so why does the Constitution Revision Commission want to circumvent their authority by using our State Constitution to repeal CON?  Because of today’s CON laws, nursing care centers are able to continue to provide quality care at a level that is among the best in the nation.

Existing centers are able to focus on recruiting dedicated more health care professionals to the field, to serve residents who truly need the care they offer.

Every Florida resident should take a significant interest in this issue, for the sake of their elderly relatives — and, someday, for themselves.

I hope every member of the Constitution Revision Commission recognizes the need to protect our senior citizens by leaving the nursing home CON process in place.

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Deborah Franklin is Senior Director of Quality Affairs for Florida Health Care Association. She has more than 20 years’ experience working as a nursing home administrator, most recently overseeing renovations and expansions for the not-for-profit Florida Living Options, which operates the Hawthorne Village continuing care retirement communities in Florida. She can be reached at dfranklin@fhca.org.

Chelsea Murphy: Right on Crime; conservative on justice

During the upcoming 2018 Florida Legislative Session, Right on Crime will serve as a resource to lawmakers on the importance of criminal justice reform, breaking down long-held, but unsupported, policy prescriptions. For example, the assumption that to decrease crime, all drug offenders should be subjected to the same mandatory minimum sentences has led to burdensome prison costs with little return for public safety.

As an alternative, Right on Crime will introduce and promote public safety reform measures that have seen results in other states that most Floridians want to see enacted.

Housing 102,000 inmates in 63 prisons across Florida costs taxpayers nearly $2.4 billion and the recidivism rate is a dismal 33 percent – meaning one out of every three inmates released from a Florida prison will return to a Florida prison within three years. Just as conservatives hold other government functions accountable for spending, the same cost-effectiveness requirement should apply to our criminal justice system.

There are steps Florida can take to cut crime and spending within the criminal justice landscape that have proven to save taxpayer dollars, reduce recidivism and protect public safety.

For instance, reforming mandatory minimum sentencing by instituting a judicial safety valve. Under current Florida law, judges are required to sentence all individuals convicted of certain drug crimes to the same mandatory prison term – without taking any mitigating factors into account. Meaning a first-time, low-level drug offender is subject to the same minimum prison term as a drug kingpin.

If a judicial safety valve were instituted, the court system would be given the flexibility needed to divert low-level drug offenders with substance abuse issues into drug treatment.

While some argue this puts dealers back on the streets and endangers the public, there is simply no evidence to suggest mandatory minimums have any effect on public safety. Texas, for example, has virtually no mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines in place and has a nearly identical crime rate to that of Florida.

The bottom line is a judicial safety valve is more effective and less expensive than mandatory minimum sentencing, and does not put public safety at risk.

In addition to judicial safety valve, Florida is well behind other states in reforming its laws governing the property theft threshold, which has not been changed since 1986. The state is once again using an outdated, one-size-fits-all model to criminal justice.

In this instance, someone who steals a $300 Xbox is punished in the same manner as someone who steals a $20,000 car.

Moreover, raising the property theft threshold, which 37 other states have already done, including neighboring states that have felony theft thresholds more than three times higher than Florida’s, does not result in an increase in felony theft.

Simply put, there are more effective, less expensive ways to deal with petty theft than habitual incarceration which costs taxpayers and has not proven to promote public safety.

Finally, in Florida, there is strong Republican and Democratic support for commonsense criminal justice reform and a recently released poll, funded by Right on Crime, demonstrably indicates registered voters overwhelmingly believe the primary purpose of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate and not punish criminals.

The poll found that, despite the range of opinions voters have on the criminal justice system, both voter groups readily embrace the four proposed reforms tested:

– Roughly 3 in 4 registered voters and GOP voters support ending the practice of suspending drivers’ licenses for failure to pay court fees or fines when the person can prove an inability to pay and agrees to do community service.

– Nearly three-quarters or more of Republican and Democratic voters support encouraging counties to create civil citation programs that would allow police officers to give citations that include fines and/or community service instead of making arrests for various misdemeanors.

– Two-thirds or more of both voter groups support allowing Florida judges to cut three- and five-year mandatory minimum sentences by up to two-thirds for first-time drug offenders when they believe the mandatory sentence is inappropriate based on the crime committed.

– A solid majority of voters from both parties support raising the minimum monetary threshold that qualifies as a felony from $300 to $1,500.

The case for smart criminal justice reform is clearer today than at any time in our past, and with smart solutions already being widely discussed by Florida lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Right on Crime is hopeful that the 2018 session will usher in laws that truly work to reduce crime, deliver justice to victims and safeguard taxpayers money.

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Chelsea Murphy serves as Florida State Director for Right on Crime.

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