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Lucas Lindsey: Private, public partnership necessary to make ‘smart cities’ possible

Lucas Lindsey

Florida must invest in smart cities that support entrepreneurs. We are the third largest state in the United States, yet rank 34th in innovation according to a 2016 Bloomberg study. Simply put, that is not what leadership looks like. It is not enough to just prepare for the next wave of technology. We need to be the ones building it, funding it and distributing it.

Our state has the capacity, but now we must decide if we have the vision, leadership, and willpower to do what needs to be done.

We can future-proof our economy by making smart city investments in innovation infrastructure, just as we already do with traditional infrastructure. We’ve created systems and mechanisms to finance capital expenditures. We’ve built streets and sewers based on the realities of population increase and urban growth. And we’ve efficient public-private partnerships to make creative things happen. The methods and frameworks exist. It is time we expanded their mission to include the development of an innovation economy.

Luckily, the grassroots momentum is real.

Our state is home to hundreds of information technology companies and thousands of technology-related jobs. More and more, we see tech incubators and co-working spaces designed to give entrepreneurs a place to find resources and test inventions. It is encouraging to see the landscape grow. But, without doubling down on sustainable economic development efforts to support this emerging sector, many of the big ideas and even bigger benefits we could experience may never have happened, or may leave and happen somewhere else.

Florida’s cities have an opportunity to be leaders in entrepreneurship, technology, and smart city development, but capitalizing on that opportunity will take several things. First, local governments and the private sector need to talk to each other. They must build reciprocal, collaborative relationships based on trust and shared goals, and out of that will emerge smart city technologies with a viable path forward.

Second, we must break down barriers preventing the deployment of new technologies. In the case of smart cities, this means allowing mobile and internet providers to build more robust network connectivity. Innovation infrastructure depends on reliable, lightning-fast networks, especially when it comes to critical services like public safety, transportation, and health care or data heavy technology powering the next great startup. By investing in next-generation networks, communities throughout Florida can take hold of their future and set themselves up for success.

Contrary to popular belief, innovation is not simply about new ideas. It is about developing ecosystems that take risks on new ideas. It is about investing in infrastructure, both physical and programmatic, that empowers cutting-edge entrepreneurs — not at the margins, with a lucky win here and there, but at scale.

Technology will not slow down. It will not favor incumbents. And it will not move to Florida for the sunshine. We must invest in systems of training, funding, and procurement that allow, for example, a startup in one of Tampa’s incubators to take their smart city technology, pilot it, prove it works and expand it citywide.

We must position Florida’s communities as places where innovation and entrepreneurship-driven economic development are welcome. It’s not about looking ahead to the 21st-century economy. The 21st-century economy is already here, roaring toward the future. Are we going to participate, or not?

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Lucas Lindsey is the co-chair of Launch Florida, a coalition representing tech organizations, co-working spaces, startup communities, educational institutions and entrepreneurs across the state. Launch Florida’s mission is to foster collaboration between entrepreneurs, policymakers, business leaders, venture capitalists, and other stakeholders in order to catalyze the innovation economy throughout the Sunshine State.

Michael J. Bowen: For epilepsy, Senate medical marijuana bill is ‘step in right direction’

Michael J. Bowen

You may have heard about a man having a grand mal seizure on the Florida Senate floor two weeks ago.

That was me.

I am a die-hard conservative activist.

I support Floridians’ now-constitutional right to access medical marijuana.

And I’m a patient.

I was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 13 and like most went through the brutal process of trying numerous barbiturates until finding the right ‘cocktail’ that worked. Every epileptic case is unique and requires a custom treatment. In my case, it took 600 mg of downers per day to control my seizures; affecting my motor skills, thinking and lifestyle.

Needless to say, it was a life changing event.

Thirty-four years later, my epilepsy is intractable. That means big pharma drugs no longer work to prevent my seizures. After a year of research, my wife convinced me to try CBD oil, which has virtually no THC. It works.

After months of testing dosages, we have reduced the severity and quantity of my seizures dramatically. CBD oil also works as a “rescue” medication that can stop a seizure within seconds, and it is the only medicine that helps my epilepsy.

One in 26 people have epilepsy; more than Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Autism and Cerebral Palsy combined. Every year over 54,000 people will die as a result of epileptic seizures — the fourth leading killer in Florida alone. Epileptics like myself literally wake up and thank God for another day.

Medical marijuana is helping ensure that I get the chance to wake up every day.

It is hard to adequately explain what having a seizure is like.  For me, I get an “aura” seconds before going into full convulsions.  When I come out of it, I can’t tell you my name, my wife’s name, where I am, or even what year it is.  All of this comes back over the next hour or so.  I do, however, recognize people.

The pain is extraordinary. Imagine your hardest workout and multiply that by 10.

After a seizure, sheer exhaustion puts me to sleep for days. After the last time — at the Senate committee — I bit my tongue so hard I could barely talk for a week.

Three weeks ago, as a member of the board of directors for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, we held a “walk the talk” awareness event. There were dozens of kids walking who suffered from epilepsy.

Four families walked in-memoriam of children who had died.

It was truly emotional and steeled my resolve to fight for those kids.

I tell you this so you will understand the true medical need for cannabis.  It is incomprehensible to think we make opiate painkillers more accessible that a natural healthy alternative.

House Bill 1397 — even in its amended form — is an awful attempt to make medical marijuana legal in name only.

HB 1397 is the equivalent of Obamacare:  many have health insurance, but outrageous deductibles prevent most from getting actual health care.

It’s a disaster for patients.

I support Senate Bill 406, aka the Bradley bill. It’s not perfect, but a step in the right direction.

In the final legislation, I would like to see more competition and the decriminalization of public application by caregivers.  It should never be a crime to save a life. Period.

I was a senior adviser for Donald Trump’s campaign in Florida, and proud of the result. We won with 49 percent of the vote in November. In comparison, a whopping 71 percent of the voters told our legislature to legalize medical cannabis.

I am very disturbed that the will of the people is largely being ignored.

I can assure lawmakers that, regardless of party affiliation, if you vote against the will of the people, we will work get you out of office.

My wife and I, along with numerous other patients and caregivers will be back in Tallahassee this week to continue to fight for this lifesaving medicine.

I would urge anyone reading this to go to identify your representative and senator and remind them of their duty.

Hurry up! Session ends this Friday.

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Michael J. Bowen is CEO of Coalition For a Strong America  (www.coalitionforastrongamerica.com) and a board member of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida. He is a patient, not a criminal.

Brian Robare: Proposed nursing home payment system raises serious concern

Brian L. Robare

I wanted to take a moment to alert Floridians to The Estates’, a Lakeland-based nursing home, significant concerns with the Florida Health Care Association’s (FHCA) plan, which would change the way nursing homes are paid, under consideration in the Florida Legislature.

The FHCA is asserting that this prospective payment system (PPS) plan will incentivize nursing homes to make renovations and improvements that will improve and enhance the resident’s quality of life. As a longtime member of FHCA, we are disappointed that they would place a higher priority on the building than on resident care.

At the Estates, we have long prided ourselves on our high staffing ratios, and with the care provided to the residents and families, we are privileged to serve. A “modernized dining room” does not improve that quality of care, and I consider it shameful that they would propose the redistribution of money from communities that have continually invested the money needed to make renovations and improvements to communities that have shirked this responsibility.

If passed, this plan will financially hurt our nursing home and Florida Presbyterian Homes.

To illustrate, our nursing home stands to lose $166,000 under this proposed plan. Frankly, I am stunned that the Florida House or Senate would even consider a plan that provides an additional $26 million to a nursing home chain that just had a $374 million judgment for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Consulate Healthcare’s 79 nursing homes in the state have an average star rating of 2.3 out of 5, and yet the plan is to reward their efforts with an additional $26 million to modernize dining rooms and improve the look of their buildings.

It’s imperative that any changes to the payment model for nursing homes are accomplished when all of the stakeholders are offered a seat at the table to develop a plan that advances the goal of providing quality care. At The Estates, we believe in the adage of slow and right versus fast and wrong.

This plan is the epitome of fast, and wrong.

On behalf of residents, families and staff at The Estates, I am asking that lawmakers reject the plan proposed by the FHCA and remain resolute that any PPS plan for nursing homes must include an open discussion by all of the stakeholders and must require that any additional funds to go improving the quality of care for the residents.

Finally, we ask that lawmakers advocate for slow and right versus fast and wrong and insist that any additional money advances the quality of care and does not further inflate the bottom line of companies that seem to focus on what is best for them and not on what is best for the residents and families they serve.

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Brian L. Robare is CEO and Executive Director at the Estates at Carpenters, located in Lakeland.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: Why I’m retiring from Congress

I have been honored and humbled to serve our South Florida community for almost four decades. From helping everyday people with constituent cases to standing up to dictators around the world, I am proud of the work we have accomplished over the years. However, it is now time to take a new step. With the support of my husband,

With the support of my husband, Dexter, and my children, I have decided I will not seek re-election in 2018.

After more than three-quarters of my adult life in elected public service more than 38 years by the next election — I am confident that my constituents would extend my term of service further should I seek to do so. But, we must recall that to everything there is a season, and time to every purpose under the heaven. The most difficult challenge is not to simply keep winning elections; but rather the more difficult challenge is to not let the ability to win define my seasons. This is a personal decision based on personal considerations; I will not allow my season in elected office be extended beyond my personal view of its season, simply because I have a continuing ability to win.

We all know, or should know, that winning isn’t everything. My seasons are defined, instead, by seeking out new challenges, being there as our grandchildren grow up, interacting with and influencing public issues in new and exciting ways.

In my almost four decades in public office, I have worked every day to put South Florida first. From authoring legislation to create the Florida Prepaid College Program which has allowed thousands of students to attain a debt free college education to working day in and day out with thousands of constituents who have found a helping hand in my office, our community has known they have a voice for their concerns in our nation’s capital. As Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and now Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, I have stood with the oppressed around the world and fervently against the dictatorial regimes that abuse and attempt to silence the brave men and women who seek their God-given human rights. I am proud of my record as a staunch supporter of human rights and democracy in my native homeland of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and other corners of the world. I authored the strongest sanctions legislation on the Iranian regime to keep our nation safe from their rogue nuclear program.

As the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Senate, the first Cuban-American to serve in the United States House of Representatives, and, ultimately, the first woman of any background to serve as Chair of a regular Standing Committee of the House, I’ve been honored to help lead the way for young women who want to make a difference in their community while honoring some of our nation’s heroes, such as World War II-era WASP pilots. I am also proud that our office has hosted interns from all over the world, from all walks of life who continue to keep in contact with me and who make me proud every day of the work they are doing to help our community.

It is still astounding to me that in 1960, my beloved parents, my brother and I arrived to this amazing country that graciously offered refuge from the tyrannical regime that has ruled my native Cuba for almost six decades. The same country that let someone who arrived as an 8-year-old refugee who spoke no English to then became the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Florida House and Florida Senate, and then serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, in addition to being the first Cuban-American in Congress, and, ultimately, the first woman of any background to serve as Chair of a regular Standing Committee of the House,

My inspiration for years of public service comes from my parents, Enrique and Amanda Ros, who instilled in my brother and me a deep love for this country, respect and hard work along with my rock and loving husband, Dexter, as well as our children and grandchildren.

I will work diligently for South Florida for the next 20 months with the same fervor that I have always had and the constituents of the 27th Congressional District can be assured that I will continue to be their voice in Congress.

I look forward to continuing to work for the betterment of our community and I will always be a voice for issues that impact South Florida. I am grateful to the United States for embracing me and affording me the opportunity of attaining a blessed life: full of love, purpose, and achievement. I can never repay what this country has given me and I’m honored to have been South Florida’s voice in Congress for so many years.

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Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District.

 

Paul Davidson: Florida Senate needs to act on auto insurance reform

Paul Davidson (Photo courtesy Plam Beach Post)

One year ago, I was riding my bicycle down A1A. Out of nowhere, a woman driving a 1988 LTD hit me going 45 miles per hour.

The force of the collision sent me flying 60 feet. I landed face first.

The next thing I remember is being rolled into the hospital.

My lip was ripped up to my nose. Two of my teeth were knocked out. Even though I (thankfully) wore a bike helmet that day, I suffered a concussion. I broke just about every bone in my face. My doctor says I have a road-rash tattoo on my face because the scarring from the accident will not go away.

The driver who hit me carried the mandated minimum $10,000 in bare-bones PIP insurance. Unlike 48 other states, Florida has no requirement for drivers to carry bodily injury coverage.

What did that mean for me, the victim? It meant I had to figure out how to pay the $350,000 health care bill created by an accident I didn’t cause. Because I have appropriate insurance coverage, the bills are getting paid.

What upsets me is there were no consequences for the woman who hit me. It’s as if carrying bare-bones PIP insurance provides a free pass for irresponsible drivers who hurt other people.

What happened to me isn’t an isolated incident.

I recently saw a similar story from Tampa where a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran was on his bicycle and was hit by a driver who carried only minimum PIP insurance coverage. According to the story, his bicycle was the man’s only means of transportation, so he doesn’t have auto insurance. He suffered serious injuries in the accident but, did not have insurance coverage to pay for his $200,000 in medical bills. People are helping him through donations on a “GoFundMe” webpage.

It’s really a policy change that’s needed to help people like us who could become victims of Florida’s outdated PIP insurance system and have to pay dearly because of the irresponsibility of others.

Lawmakers have an opportunity to change this by passing legislation to repeal PIP and replace it with a requirement that drivers carry bodily injury insurance at $25,000 per person/$50,000 per incident. The Florida House has already passed a good proposal to make this happen. The ball is now in the Florida Senate’s court.

Forty-eight states require drivers to carry bodily injury insurance. Why not Florida?

I understand that we’re down to the last days of the scheduled legislative session. With a little creative leadership that we know exists in the Legislature, the Senate can get this bill on its last-week agenda and send it to the governor.

We urge our children to take personal responsibility. We should also promote it in our state policies.

Please join me in calling on the Florida Senate to join their colleagues in the House by passing this good bill to repeal PIP and replace it with coverage that increases responsibility on our roadways.

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Paul Davidson is an engineer living in Boynton Beach and was a triathlete before the accident.

Mike Williams: Meaningful workers’ comp reform must protect Florida’s workers

Mike Williams serves as president of the Florida AFL-CIO,

With the House version of workers’ compensation reform, our state legislators are dangerously close to repeating the mistakes of the past. We cannot have a lopsided system that creates a chasm between the army of lawyers and executives who represent workers’ comp insurance companies and the injured worker who needs a competent lawyer to fight for the benefits that their employer has purchased.

Thankfully, the Florida Senate has taken the lead in advocating for effective, meaningful reforms that we know to be constitutional.

We must always keep in mind that workers’ compensation laws are designed to ensure the quick and efficient delivery of medical benefits to injured workers so they can recover from their injuries and return to work. The laws are not designed to grant one side a competitive advantage in the court system. Families that depend on the livelihoods of injured workers are counting on a fair system that will give them an avenue for redress when they are wrongly denied benefits.

The Legislature has an opportunity to fix several problems that would benefit both small-business owners and injured workers. The system must allow for appropriate access to the courts when an injured worker’s benefits are wrongfully denied. Maintaining a reasonable standard for attorney fees is the only remedy that will ensure this access for injured workers.

While there is still work to be done, I applaud the Senate for placing a cap on attorney fees, which are paid only when benefits are wrongfully denied.

Although an injured worker must retain counsel to pursue these benefits, the cap is reasonable and will not invite a constitutional challenge. The legislation also establishes a mechanism for containing defense expenditures by insurance companies by requiring them to refund money to policyholders if defense costs exceed a certain percentage.

We also have an opportunity to streamline the process for authorizing medical treatment. Under the current system, workers are unable to have any say in their own physician, and there are significant consequences from not being able to utilize a trusted physician.

Inevitably, there is a trust gap between the worker and the designated doctor paid for by the insurance company. This isn’t fair to either party and this simple fix will go a long way to reducing unnecessary claims. The Senate bill streamlines the authorization of medical treatment and will expedite how and when care is provided – avoiding the need for unnecessary litigation

There has been a great deal of discussion about the unique rate filing system that workers’ compensation insurance companies enjoy here in Florida. The Senate version smartly creates a competitive ratemaking system that will allow employers to shop for affordable coverage and eliminates the longstanding single rate system, which has granted a monopoly to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).

Florida’s workers’ compensation system has favored the insurance industry over employers and employees for far too long. There is much to be done to bring fairness to the system, more than the current Legislature seems willing to tackle. However, the bill being offered in the Florida Senate is a fair start and represents a far more balanced approach than the unconstitutional measure in the House.

Whatever happens, this session has put a spotlight on the many inequities in the system and we will continue to work to correct these for all of Florida’s working families.

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Mike Williams is a construction electrician from Jacksonville and serves as president of the Florida AFL-CIO, representing almost a million workers, retirees and their families across the state.

 

Bob Martinez, Dominic Calabro: The time is now to address the Everglades crisis

Florida’s Everglades is an American iconic national park known and revered throughout the world for its biodiversity.

Floridians, regardless where they live, must join together to protect and restore this treasure before the Everglades reaches a point of no return. The Everglades is home to thousands of plant and animal species and draws millions of visitors to Florida. Unfortunately, decades of massive changes to the habitat’s water flow have resulted in unintended consequences that threaten Florida’s environment, residents and economy. The situation requires immediate action.

During the wet season, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discharges large volumes of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee west into the Caloosahatchee River and east into the St. Lucie River to prevent flooding in the urbanized areas south of the lake. These discharges of lake water cause a number of problems to the east, west and south.

To the east and west, the introduction of large quantities of fresh water to the fragile estuaries where the rivers meet the coast harm or destroy wildlife, which rely on a delicate balance of fresh and salt water. Similarly, the lack of fresh water flowing to the south results in too much salinity in Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay, and harms or destroys the ecosystem there. Furthermore, nutrients in these discharges have resulted in harmful algae blooms along the affected rivers and coasts, which you may remember from numerous news stories last summer.

But in addition to the environmental effects, this situation impacts many Florida industries and small businesses. Unhealthy and unsightly estuaries discourage tourists from visiting Florida. Unhealthy waterways negatively affect commercial fishers, which affects other businesses in their supply chain. All of these reduced economic actives result in less tax revenue. Yet, these are just a small glimpse of the people and industries affected; when viewed as whole, from an economic and fiscal standpoint, it truly affects all of us in Florida.

It is rare in public policy when any solution would be a significant improvement over the status quo, but this one such situation. We are at a tipping point where we don’t have the luxury of time to wait for the perfect solution. These effects will cascade into economic and fiscal costs borne by all Floridians. There is too much at risk for us, as a state, to do nothing.

Recent a proposals in the House and Senate have seen spirited debate. Governor Scott recently came out in support of Senate President Joe Negron’s reservoir plan to send Lake Okeechobee water south into the Everglades and the House agreed to fund the reservoir as part of a budget compromise deal to ensure session ends on time.

A recent Florida TaxWatch report examines these issues and explores the costs of inaction. The report finds that “each day Florida waits to solve the problem, the solution becomes more expensive. While the price tag to address the issues may be a shock to the system, the cost of inaction could be far more devastating to the state of Florida and its hardworking taxpayers.” The report is available at www.FloridaTaxWatch.org.

It is clear that our state’s leaders are aware of and understand the importance of this issue. The questions now being debated are how to solve it and can we afford to fix it, but the real issue is not what we can afford, but the true and widespread cost of failure to act.

Florida’s livelihood is dependent on the strength of the Everglades. The cost of the solution will never be less than what it is today and any action is better than no action. Failure to act will send Florida down a terrible path. Soon, the damage will be beyond the point of no return and taxpayers across the state, and the state itself, will suffer irreparable harm.

These effects will cascade into economic and fiscal costs borne by all Floridians. There is too much at risk for us, as a state, to do nothing. Luckily, it seems that the Legislature is paying attention.

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Bob Martinez, 40th Governor of Florida and former Mayor of the City of Tampa, is a senior policy adviser with Holland & Knight’s Public Policy & Regulation Practice Group and is co-chair of the firm’s Florida Government Advocacy Team.

Dominic M. Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute & government watchdog.

Pat Neal: Florida must commit to the future and invest in high-tech jobs

Pat Neal

The world around us is constantly changing as technology evolves. Investing in high-tech jobs can set Florida up to succeed far into the future while providing people with high-wage jobs that will keep the American dream alive and well in our great state.

Other states have already committed to investments in the future, with millions of dollars being poured into high-tech centers that boost the economy and create hundreds of jobs.

Luckily, our state leadership is committed to this goal, with Gov. Rick Scott recognizing the growing need for high-tech jobs in the state. He has consistently touted STEM programs in Florida’s education system, including his $10,000 STEM Degree Challenge to steer students into high-tech STEM jobs. He approved $15 million in funding last year for the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, now BRIDG, which partners with universities and companies to develop high-tech sensors.

Studies have shown that regions and states comprising of high-tech research and industrial centers achieve economic boons.

The Bluffs, an advanced manufacturing park in Pensacola, is a prime example: A Florida TaxWatch report found that about 6,000 new positions in Pensacola’s manufacturing sector would be created if The Bluffs reached its maximum potential. It goes on to state that new wages in the region as a result of increased job creation could grow by as much as $400 million and that Florida’s Gross State Product could rise by as much as $1.1 billion.

Research centers like BRIDG and The Bluffs are critical pieces to Florida’s high-tech puzzle and need both private and public support to attract companies to invest in them. We will need every available resource in the toolkit to do so, including Enterprise Florida (EFI), which has played a large role in the development of BRIDG and The Bluffs.

Unfortunately, EFI is at risk of being eliminated completely by the Florida Legislature, which would cut our investments on opportunities in high-tech fields. This would be an unwise move, especially as other states bolster their efforts to build up their high-tech industries and put Florida at a disadvantage to other states, halting the progress the state has made in high-tech principles. Instead, lawmakers in Tallahassee should consider the benefits of using EFI and other state resources to boost our high-tech footprint.

In this global economy, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Making an investment to ensure that Florida becomes a high-tech hub that attracts the top individuals and companies to the state is essential to the success.

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Pat Neal is a former state senator and the former chair of the Christian Coalition of Florida; he currently serves as chairman-elect for the board of directors of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog; and is the president of Neal Communities.

Kim Syfrett: Senate workers’ comp plan provides balance for businesses, workers

Kim Syfrett

Reforming Florida’s workers’ compensation system has been one of the most contentious issues discussed this legislative session. Numerous players have weighed in on this often-complex legislation, including representatives from big business, corporate insurers, and the legal community.

However, the “Grand Bargain” – and its implications for the workers this system was meant to protect – seems to be forgotten in the version of the bill advocated for by insurance lobbyists and recently passed by the Florida House. Thankfully, the Senate version of workers’ comp reform, championed by Sen. Rob Bradley, offers a significant step in the right direction.

The Senate version (SB 1582) strikes an appropriate balance by keeping costs down for businesses. It does this by creating a competitive ratemaking system that would allow employers to shop for affordable coverage, requiring insurance companies to refund money to policyholders if defense costs exceed a certain percentage, and capping claimants’ attorney fees at a constitutionally-valid amount, which are only paid when benefits are wrongfully denied.

Unlike the insurance industry’s bill in the House, the Senate bill rightfully provides the injured worker with greater access to the courts. It streamlines the authorization of medical care, which speeds up treatment and avoids the need for unnecessary litigation.  Finally, the Senate bill removes incentives for insurance companies to deny advancing necessary medical care for a worker.

These meaningful reforms have the ultimate result of creating a more predictable and stable market for workers’ comp insurance. What employers really need is more certainty over the course of the system rather than a new crisis every few years with rate peaks and valleys because of the lack of a constitutional law. It also benefits everyone when injured workers can get the care they need and get back to work quickly, rather than a system that doesn’t return skilled workers to their jobs.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. If the House version of this bill somehow made its way into Florida law, we would see the courts rule it unconstitutional once again. This happened with the workers’ comp laws passed by the Legislature in 2003 and 2009, and would continue the same rollercoaster ride of rates for businesses that stifles job growth and creates market uncertainty.

I’ve worked with hundreds of injured workers throughout my career and can speak firsthand about how, without a working law, we ALL end up paying the costs because so many end up on social programs funded by taxpayer dollars when they can’t get an insurance company to approve a course of care.

Florida finally has a chance to get this right by passing comprehensive reform found in Sen. Rob Bradley’s legislation.  These reforms are simply too costly to us all not to get it right.

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Kim Syfrett is a Panama City attorney who represents injured workers. She also serves as secretary of Florida’s Workers’ Advocates.

Adam Putnam: Florida is a tinderbox, Florida Forest Service works around the clock

In every corner of our state, severe drought conditions have made Florida a tinderbox. Roughly 100 wildfires are currently burning about 75,000 acres, and our Florida Forest Service wildland firefighters are working side-by-side with partnering agencies to battle these fires and protect life, property and wildlife.

On Friday, Collier County had to evacuate approximately 7,000 homes due to a massive wildfire. We’ve not seen fire conditions this bad since 2011, and we have wildfires burning from the state line to Miami.

Current conditions conjure memories of one of the worst years on record—1998, when at one time I-4, I-75, and I-10 were all closed at the same time, Disney World was closed, the Pepsi 400 was postponed, and an entire county, Flagler County, was evacuated. In 2017 so far, more than 130,000 acres have burned due to wildfires. Many homes have been saved, but some have been lost.

My grandfather used to say, “extremes beget extremes.” Some of the wettest El Nino cycles that we have are followed by the driest conditions that are ripe for wildfire. These tough drought conditions are worsened by the abundance of undergrowth—brush and weeds—that grows and thrives due to the heavy rainfall the prior year. With dry conditions, all of it turns into kindling that fuels large and swiftly moving wildfires, whether caused by people or nature.

Recently, I asked Governor Rick Scott to issue an executive order to enable us to use all available resources to combat these wildfires. National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters are assisting our other aircrafts fighting these wildfires. One of the most concerning aspects of these conditions is the last time an emergency order was issued in 2011, it was mid-June. June is typically the peak of wildfire season, so it’s a very serious situation that it’s even earlier in the year that we’re seeing such extreme conditions.

Unfortunately, the two most common causes of wildfire are people. The leading cause of wildfire is human carelessness, such as allowing a debris pile to grow out of control or a spark from an intentional fire to land on dry land and start a wildfire. The second leading cause is arson. We’ve seen a 70 percent increase in arson cases this year compared to last year with 240 cases so far.

Education and awareness are important components of preventing wildfires. Residents should obey county burn bans, which can be found on FreshFromFlorida.com. They can also track current fire conditions on the website and learn how to create defensible spaces around their homes. Most importantly, if evacuation orders are given, residents and visitors should heed those warnings and keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

Combatting wildfires is truly a partnership. When we recently had a fire on St. George Island, our Florida Forest Service firefighters were out there cutting fire lines, bringing down the intensity of the flames, while the local structural firefighters were up against the houses, making sure they were the last line of defense to protect those homes. As a result, no homes were lost in that fire.

We recently had a firefighter overtaken by flames in his dozer in Okeechobee, and Okeechobee County Fire and Rescue were already on the scene and assisted in getting him out safely. Thanks to their swift rescue efforts, our firefighter is safe and in good health. The comradery of the firefighting service is an extraordinary one, and we should all be proud of them.

The Florida Forest Service will continue to work around the clock to protect residents and visitors, property and wildlife from fire. And I encourage every Floridian to do their part to help prevent wildfires and report any suspected cases of arson by calling local authorities. May God bless our firefighters.

Adam Putnam is Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture.

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