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Guest Author

Ed Pezalla: Pharmacy benefit manager are meeting challenge in reducing Rx costs, improving clinical quality

In the current debate over health care, employers, unions, and government programs all agree on the need to provide prescription drug coverage at lower costs while increasing the quality and clinical value of pharmacy benefits.

That’s why the companies and public programs providing prescription drug coverage hire pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs. Through their expertise and market scale, PBMs are able to reduce drug costs by negotiating rebates and discounts from big drug companies and drugstores. It would be too expensive and complicated for employers, or other payers, to match PBMs’ ability to reduce drug costs, while providing access.

Though drugmakers continue to raise prices out of proportion to increases in value, PBMs are doing their job by keeping drug costs down. A recent report by QuintilesIMS Institute showed that discounts, rebates, and other price concessions on brand-name drugs reduced overall drug spending by an estimated 28 percent in 2016. The report also shows that net price growth – the price payers actually pay – for prescription drugs is likely to remain in the 0-3 percent range, largely because of the work of payers and PBMs.

Having been involved as a clinician representing insurers and PBMs for more than 25 years, I know firsthand the importance of leveraging savings while ensuring that patients have the medications they need.

One patient-friendly cost savings option that PBMs provide to consumers is home delivery of chronic medications.  As more and more people move to a “home-delivery economy” for many of their needs, mail-service pharmacies are a natural extension that adds convenience and lowers costs. By using home delivery, consumers can avoid multiple (and unnecessary) trips to the drugstore while receiving private counseling from trained pharmacists seven days a week, 24-hours a day.

Mail-service pharmacies feature cutting-edge technology that can track and improve patients’ adherence to prescribed medications. Research shows that better adherence to prescribed drug regimens means that patients won’t need as many trips to the doctor or hospital, lowering overall health care costs for everyone.

It’s easy to see that PBMs reduce drug costs, but often overlooked is the clinical value that they provide payers and patients. PBMs work in coordination with their clients in carefully evaluating new drugs, review existing drugs, and apply sophisticated drug assessments that promote the best use of complex medications, and the appropriate use of mainstay drugs.

Pharmacists, doctors and other professionals employed by PBMs review the medical evidence for every drug approved by the FDA and assist in managing drug-related side effects and provide support so that patients stay on their drug regimens and out of the hospital. That, in turn, lowers costs for patients and the entire health care system.

These formularies organize medications according to their therapeutic effects and create logical sequences for their use based on clinical effectiveness, place in therapy according to national guidelines, and safety.  Generic and lower cost brand medications can be incentivized before more expensive medicines because they work well for the majority of patients and have lower copays.

Lastly, as the health care sector moves toward payment for value rather than volume, PBMs are providing expertise in developing and executing on these types of contracts that are intended to ensure that our pharmaceutical dollars are spent on drugs that provide the best outcomes.

These agreements require a high level of sophistication about drug use patterns and patient outcomes, as well as the ability to monitor and improve patient compliance and measure relevant outcomes.

As the public debate continues to unfold on health care, PBMs are part of the solution that lowers drug costs and improve quality.

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Ed Pezalla, M.D., MPH, is a leading innovator and consultant on payer strategy for pharmaceutical and device manufacturers, and is currently a Scholar-in-Residence at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy in Washington.

 

Janet Cruz: Hillsborough school AC issues part of much bigger problem

With a new school year kicking off this month, parents across Florida logically expected that the state is providing the proper environment necessary for children to achieve their greatest potential.

That’s why I was outraged to read last week about students in Hillsborough County who are languishing in sweltering classrooms because the school district simply does not have the resources to fund the proper maintenance of air conditioners in schools.

Make no mistake about it: this is a moral failure by Republican leaders in Tallahassee who are more interested in helping the for-profit charter school industry than in ensuring the more than 2.5 million children in traditional public schools have the resources they need to succeed. For the last 20 years, there has been a relentless assault on traditional public schools in order to siphon your tax dollars into the pockets of corporations and eventually privatize Florida’s entire public education system.

This past legislative session we heard a lot about not picking winners and losers, but a look at the numbers show where Republicans’ priorities lay.

Right now, there are around 4,270 traditional public schools in our state and there are about 650 charter schools.

Last year, both traditional public schools and charter schools received $75 million in Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, funding. This is the funding pool schools draw from to pay for the construction of new schools or buildings and for maintenance and upkeep of existing facilities, such as repairing air conditioners.

It’s obvious that charter schools will be receiving far more money per-facility than our traditional public schools. What makes this equal split even more alarming is that as recently as the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 budgets, public schools received no funding at all, but charters received over $140 million. While public schools struggle to dig out of a hole they were left in by Tallahassee Leadership, charters continue to rake in your tax dollars.

What’s even more egregious is that you, the public, don’t even own the facilities that charter school operators are using your tax dollars to fix up. In fact, investors from Oregon spent over $100 million this month buying charter school real estate in Florida and while many so-called “charter management organizations” purport to care about education, in many cases they are nothing more than glorified real estate holding companies.

Making matters worse, the Legislature continues to make it more difficult for districts to make up the loss of funding from Tallahassee with local tax dollars.

Originally, districts could collect $2 for every $1,000 in taxable property value to help fund capital projects. That was rolled back to $1.50 during the height of the Recession, resulting in millions of lost dollars for districts statewide.

Also, as part of the monstrous education bill, HB 7069, rammed through the Legislature this year despite bipartisan opposition, districts will now be forced to share a portion of those already scant local tax dollars with charter schools. Again, your tax dollars being used for the maintenance and upkeep of facilities the public does not own.

Why is it so important that your tax dollars are going to schools the state doesn’t own? According to a report by The Associated Press, over $70 million in PECO funding went to charter schools that have closed since the year 2000. Your money went to fund improvements at facilities that were then potentially sold off at a profit. That’s blatantly wrong.

I want to commend the incredible jobs that our Hillsborough County school district employees are doing with limited resources. This is not just a Hillsborough County issue though. In Polk County alone, funding for current and future capital construction projects are facing a shortfall of $447.7 million when accounting for projected student growth over the next 10 years.

In response to these shortfalls, local districts are being forced to run campaigns to raise sales taxes or property taxes to make up the difference because Republicans in Tallahassee have abdicated their responsibility to properly care for our public education system.

It is past time for a reordering of priorities in Tallahassee. As House Democratic Leader, I am proud to lead a caucus that will always fight for the children in our public schools and to ensure that your tax dollars are enhancing education for all of Florida’s students. We will continue that fight in the upcoming session to work to repeal HB 7069 and to increase the amount of PECO funding for our traditional public schools.

Our children, parents and hardworking public-school employees deserve it.

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Janet Cruz is Minority Leader of the Florida House of Representatives.

Sal Nuzzo: Long-term policy needed to guarantee a free internet

When the issue of net neutrality first emerged more than 10 years ago, some wondered whether it would result in overreaching, heavy-handed government intervention.

We saw this intervention come to life in 2015, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under President Obama took the unprecedented and rather extreme step of classifying the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Under this classification, we are observing the aggressive federal overreach of technology that neglects the democratic process.

Almost everyone agrees that the free market should regulate innovative technology, including technologies presented in broadband traffic, and that the rules and regulations governing utilities under Title II are old and outdated.

These antiquated utility-style Title II rules were never intended to be used for something like the internet. They may have also opened a Pandora’s box of government power grabs. Instead of taking the simple steps to protect net neutrality, regulators and policy makers can now feel emboldened to control other aspects of the internet. Will the next step be federal agencies censoring content or applying taxes and fees — or controlling the internet in some other way?

Even if we can restrain government’s constant meddling in cyberspace, there are other consequences we are already seeing. For example, in the two years since the FCC enacted utility regulations, we have seen lawsuits, innovation has been stalled, and investment in broadband infrastructure has declined, costing the domestic economy tens of billions of dollars a year.

In a state like Florida, which still has many rural areas that need networks updated, lost investment is lost opportunity. And we can always use more jobs — broadband expansion creates shovel-ready jobs and helps others look for employment or conduct business online.

In order to put the brakes on further intrusion on the internet, we need to codify the role of government while also establishing clear net neutrality provisions. That can only be done through legislation enacted by citizen-elected members of Congress that specifically addresses those issues. In 2014, The James Madison Institute released an issue commentary that outlines the importance of congressional authority to enact what is needed to govern net neutrality, if any legislation is necessary at all.

Florida’s congressional delegation should lead the way. There should be strong support for legislation that takes a reasonable approach to limiting the government’s role in the marketplace and driving competition and investment. Our congressional delegation could end the uncertainty that leaves the private industry hesitant to keep investing in and building out broadband infrastructure.

In particular, we call on U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Representatives Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Brian Mast, who are all leading conservatives, to stand up and make a difference on this issue. The future of the internet is in their hands.

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Sal Nuzzo serves as the vice president of Policy and Director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the James Madison Institute, Florida’s premier free-market think tank and one of the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational organizations.

Gil Ziffer: Protect home rule and let cities work

Sometimes Florida’s cities find themselves at odds with the state Legislature over the principle of home rule. That cherished concept, supported by an overwhelming majority of Florida’s citizens, reflects the view that the closer government is to the people, the more effective, fair and responsive it will be.

Over this past year, we have seen a very different approach taking hold in the Legislature. Lawmakers repeatedly considered the role of local authority, trying to shift many hometown responsibilities to the state. Florida’s outstanding quality of life is reflected in our public parks, our beaches, our museums and other cultural institutions, and our neighborhoods, and it is local government that create and maintain that within our communities.

As president of the Florida League of Cities for the next year, I say let Florida’s cities work. Let cities work to develop innovative responses to problems affecting our communities. Let them work to deliver the services their residents depend on, to create an environment for economic development and prosperity, to serve and protect every resident and valued visitor. Let them work to preserve the unique qualities that make each of our communities special.

We must follow the example of Florida’s Home Rule Heroes, elected officials who went above and beyond to advocate for cities this past legislative session. These officials were recognized by the League of Cities for their extraordinary efforts making phone calls and repeated trips to the state Capitol to be heard on matters of importance to their communities. Some municipal officials wrote guest commentaries for local newspapers speaking out in support of our cities.

In truth, it is the members of our local communities who hold the power — their opinions, ideas, and concerns are what elected officials work to address. So, all Floridians should be prepared to take action now, rather than waiting until the next legislative session convenes in January. Become familiar with your senators and representatives, and their staff members. Take part in town hall meetings, so your lawmakers will know what their constituents want and need. Participate in the League’s policymaking committees.

In order to make a difference, we need to be heard. That will only be possible if every one of us gets engaged in the process in some way.

One-size-fits-all solutions proposed by the Legislature will not fix or help our neighborhoods meet their challenges and opportunities. Let cities work together, through the Florida League of Cities, to stand up for the right of our communities to determine their own destinies.

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Gil Ziffer is president of the Florida League of Cities and Mayor Pro Tem of Tallahassee.

Christian Cámara: No, white supremacists at Charlottesville were not ‘good people’

Christian Cámara

There is much emotion on both sides of the current debate over race relations, even among people of goodwill. There are contentious questions to address, such as: Should we remove Confederate statues? Should we allow racists to protest in public spaces? Are our elected leaders to blame for escalating tensions? Is one side more at fault for recent violence?

I think these are all fair questions that good people might disagree on without necessarily making them “Fake News-Loving Commies” or “Nazi-Sympathizing Racists.” Thankfully, those two groups represent a tiny fraction of the population, but they, unfortunately, generate most of the coverage.

Although I agree with much of the president’s response to Charlottesville, I fundamentally disagree with him on at least one statement: That there were good people on both sides.

I believe there are many decent, non-racists who oppose the removal of Confederate monuments, and some might have very well attended to protest the removal of the Lee statue. However, it is hard to believe that any good person would have stuck around more than five minutes after noticing that an innocent event to protest the removal of a statue was actually a grotesque gathering of Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists and other malcontents. Therefore, I would take issue with the president’s assertion that there were “good people on both sides” that day. Good people on both sides of the issue? Yes. Present that day? No.

I do, however, agree with him that elements inside the counter protest indeed included bad people looking to cause trouble: Antifa and other communist groups that likely instigated violence. Of course, the diabolical terrorist act of plowing a car into a crowd falls squarely on the driver, and whoever else might have helped him.

So as we look to address this escalating racial tension, decent Americans on all sides of this issue should agree to uphold certain principles.

First, we must reject any assault on free speech. As detestable as these racist groups are, they have a constitutionally protected right to express their views — and yes, even their hate — so long as their actions don’t trample on other people’s rights through violence or other means. If they choose to live life hating others and expressing their hate, their right to do so trumps our sensibilities and our justified reaction to be offended by them. Indeed, I may not agree with one iota of what they’re saying, but I’ll defend their right to say and think it.

However, with rights come responsibilities, and with responsibilities come consequences. They must also understand that, although we support their right to think and speak what they think, we regular Americans can and will exercise our right to condemn them for their vile views. That may include exposing and ostracizing them, though I do caution that we should be careful not to misidentify the innocent. But those who are accurately identified may be subject to public ridicule and contempt, and the repercussions thereof.

Secondly, our elected officials, including President Donald Trump, need to exercise some moral clarity. There is no moral equivalence between a bunch of racist, Nazi-sympathizing white nationalists and those who protest them. Indeed, there were violent troublemakers within the counter protesters’ ranks. But to equate the entire diverse group of counter protesters to the overwhelmingly racist other side is just plain wrong.

Likewise, Democrats and others on the left need to come down as hard on the violent communists as they do on the violent racists. In short, all sides need to come down hard on violence. No more sugarcoating or excusing why one side can be violent and the other side shouldn’t be.

Finally, we all must adhere to the rule of law. Emotions cannot compel us to break the law. As much as some detest the existence of Confederate monuments and what they represent, we law-abiding Americans cannot and should not endorse or tolerate an angry mob destroying or vandalizing any property, much less physically assaulting people. Neither a constitutional republic nor its civil society can survive if the rule of law is replaced with mob rule.

Debates can be had about what to do with Confederate memorials, and legislative bodies may elect to keep, remove or relocate them through normal deliberative processes. But to support or encourage angry mobs to enter and destroy property undermines the most basic tenets of a representative democracy governed by laws — not to mention that it would likely instigate the opposing side to retaliate unlawfully, thus escalating violence on all sides.

As much as I utterly loathe racism, racists have a right to be racist, albeit peacefully and in such a way as it does not trample on other people’s rights. If we use the power of government — or worse, mob rule — to silence or crush undesirable thoughts, then we ourselves risk becoming just a different brand of fascists, but fascists nonetheless.

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Christian Cámara is Southeast Regional Director of the R Street Institute.

Richard Corcoran: Why community redevelopment agencies have to go

A mayor who received $84,529 from a side job paid for by taxpayers. A grand jury report stating that government officials were “spending large amounts of taxpayer dollars on what appeared to be pet projects of elected officials.” An inspector general’s report finding over $2 million in questionable expenditures and political cronyism involving a city commissioner. And finally, millions of taxpayer dollars spent and a new FBI investigation under way.

If all of this sounds like a John Grisham novel waiting to happen, you’d be right. But unfortunately all of the above is not fiction. It’s all true and sadly, I believe, just the tip of the iceberg.

Have you ever heard of Community Redevelopment Agencies, or CRAs?

Wait! Before you stop reading, hear me out.

I’ll bet you didn’t know — and why would you — that there are more than 1,600 local agencies, boards and special districts that have the power to incur debt and operate under very little scrutiny whatsoever. Of the 1,682 such groups, 224 of those are CRAs.

So first — and quickly — what exactly is a CRA?

The Community Redevelopment Act authorized counties and municipalities to create community redevelopment agencies as a means of redeveloping “slums” and “blighted areas.” By definition, these areas must have at least two factors to qualify. Some of these factors include unsanitary conditions; defective street layout, roadways or bridges; higher fire and emergency calls; and a host of other problems.

Attempting to remove blight and rescue slums are admirable goals, for sure. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And if that road to hell is within the boundaries of the CRA, chances are it wouldn’t get paved unless you happen to be friends with a board member.

Seem far-fetched? Unfortunately, it isn’t.

A Miami-Dade grand jury report in 2016 said that the CRA appears to be a fund for pet projects for elected officials and is flirting with “slush fund” status.

Head north to Brevard County where Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, and former Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne Beach, exposed a scandal so brazen it put to rest any lingering doubts about the wisdom of eliminating CRAs. Records indicate the mayor of Palm Shores hired herself to administer a local CRA for over 5 years — collecting $84,529. Of course, paid for by the taxpayer.

And what political scandal would be complete without a capital city connection. In Tallahassee, the CRA and local developers have come under investigation by the FBI.

What makes it all the more ridiculous is that the CRAs are usually miniature versions of county or city commissions.

As a matter of fact, 76 percent of CRAs are governed by a board that mirrors or is very similar to the local government that oversees the CRA. Shockingly, in a recent survey, 72 percent of CRAs indicated they are exclusively staffed by local elected officials and only 27 percent of CRA’s have private citizens on their board.

Like “Mini Me” from the Austin Powers movies, the offspring magnifies any tendencies of the creator. But the composition of the boards represent just one of the problems.

Statewide, in 2015 CRAs reported almost $600 million in revenue, $605 million in expenditures and $715 million in debt. Also, between 2005 and 2016, CRAs issued $1.35 billion in bonds. We literally cannot afford CRAs.

Fortunately, the Florida House attacked the problem last session with HB 13 and will take it on again this session. We sincerely hope the Florida Senate will join us this time.

The legislation is pure common sense. It requires board members to undergo ethics training, CRAs to use the same procurement and purchasing processes as the county or municipality, expansion of the annual reporting requirement to include audit information and performance data, introduction of oversight into the budget process, and finally that CRA data be included in the county and municipality annual financial report — just to name a few.

It also would have prohibited the creation of any new CRAs after October and phased out nearly all CRAs by 2037.

Many will undoubtedly say that this is just part and parcel of an attack on local government.

That’s just government blame shifting. What it is instead is part and parcel of an attack on corruption and on those who would pass the buck with one hand and pass the plate with the other.

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Richard Corcoran is Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Duane Henderson: Joe McClash’s quest to squash Aqua by the Bay

Duane Henderson

In Bradenton, Florida, the Aqua by the Bay neighborhood is up for approval, with the potential to transform the forgotten Western part of Manatee County.

The neighborhood — a Medallion Home project by Carlos Beruff — incorporates the concepts smart-growth Floridians like to see: environmental preservation, a mixed-use design and revitalization in the form of new jobs and tax dollars for an area that has continued to struggle since the recession.

But a read of the Joe McClash-owned Bradenton Times would have you falsely thinking this project is out to slash and burn what’s left of Sarasota Bay’s natural resources.

So why is former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash on this misinformation mission? Sour grapes, retaliation, frustration, compensation, embarrassment …? You tell me. He’s a spoilsport after losing his seat and looking to harm anyone who did not support him. Joe all but names Beruff as the reason for his loss on his campaign website, AKA “displaced aggression.”

Joe, it’s time to give it up, man up and stop your “crusade.” You lost, pal. Go write a book or something — but just “let it go.” Don’t you think this country has had enough sore losers that can’t accept election results?

Joe’s loss could have been about his consistently being out of touch with the business community and its impact on our local economy. He stopped representing us. My whole family voted for Joe McClash at one time, but those days are over. We didn’t change. He did, transitioning from a public servant to yet another self-serving politician.

Joe moved here from New York and made a lot of money from our community in very low-income housing rentals as a “slumlord,” excellent at getting code violations (accruing violations from Code Enforcement and calls for service from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office). I worked the zone where most of his rentals are located during my law enforcement days and can tell you his properties/tenants give the SWAT and Narcotics teams lots of practice. What is really interesting are the records from eviction filings that show handwritten letters to the court describing the bad living conditions and accusing Joe of not doing anything about them.

If Joe really cared about our environment, he would address the issues with his own properties and give the code enforcement folks and his tenants a break. What he is doing is substituting the “environmental cause” with a vendetta against Medallion Home, masking improvement as “overdevelopment.”

Joe has fed his readers a boatload of bunk and false news. Now it’s time he be called out for his motives and his history of poor judgment, bad ethics and bad policy. The truth is Joe has been wading through conflicts of interest at least as far back as 1999.

Somewhere around 1998 or 1999, he took a $10,500 taxpayer financed grant from Palmetto’s Community Redevelopment Agency. Joe apparently had no conflict in a taxpayer paid county official taking taxpayer money from a city agency within our County.

In the summer of 2002, Joe apparently couldn’t see the conflict of interest in using his position as a County Commissioner to revise a federal block grant to redirect taxpayer dollars into installing streetlights in “Duplex City” where he owned rental units. The value of his properties would be enhanced.

A 2006 Sarasota Herald-Tribune article reported that Joe was able to vote on spending taxpayer funds in a redevelopment zone that included more than 50 of his properties. He was able to vote on that spending because his holdings were just barely under the legal threshold.

In 2008, Joe started a prefabricated building company with visions of making millions on the backs of us county taxpayers, and he had the gall to claim it was not yet another conflict of interest.

In 2011, Joe wanted to sell advertising space in his internet newspaper to the county. Joe asked the County Attorney’s office if it would be OK. After citing a lot of legal and other precedents, the common-sense answer thankfully came back: “No.”

In front of us, we have an opportunity for a carefully and thoughtfully planned neighborhood with the potential to help West Bradenton thrive — the plan and the numbers make sense. Maybe Joe would be happier if Aqua by the Bay included some abandoned automobiles throughout as some sort of “public art” like those around his properties.

Readers should be wary of Joe’s motives to squash this improvement and look past the misinformation being spread, so a project with the potential to revitalize West Bradenton and benefit Manatee County doesn’t get sunk by his bad blood and personal agenda.

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Duane Henderson is a Manatee County business owner, Realtor and former deputy sheriff of Manatee County.

 

Dominic Calabro, Bob Ward: Without state workers, there is no Florida

Ask the average Floridian on the street, “Who does the business of state government?” and you’ll likely hear responses such as the governor or the name of a local senator or representative.

Though these are figures the media covers on a daily basis, in reality, it is the thousands of government employees that make up our public workforce, many of whom are unsung heroes of service and dedication, working each and every day for all of us.

Many Floridians only hear about a government employee when something has gone wrong at an agency. What is often missed are the thousands of hardworking individuals that make sacrifices daily to better the lives of some of the most vulnerable of our citizens. This includes teachers, law enforcement officers, corrections officers, the state park service, health care workers, and firefighters just to name a few. While a “state job” may seem like an easy task from the outside, without state workers, there is no Florida. From processing applications for permits, to ensuring that necessary benefits get to the right people, to rooting out cases of fraud, the best state employees make our lives a little bit better and a little bit easier. It is often an unrecognized contribution despite the impact that it has on our lives and sometimes directly on theirs.

Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Council of 100 recognize this, and for the last 29 years, have thanked innovative state employees who are truly embodying their role as workers of the taxpayers through the Prudential Productivity Awards program. Winners of the Prudential Productivity Awards are excellent role models for their colleagues and are true fiscal stewards of the hard-earned tax dollars of Floridians.

Prudential Productivity Award winners are encouraged to work with other agencies to implement their cost savings ideas across state government. Since 1989, thousands of individuals, teams, work units and partnerships have produced nearly $10 billion worth of added value as a direct result of award winners’ achievements and the replication of those achievements.

Collectively, we are thankful for the efforts of all our Prudential Productivity Award winners. Over the course of five ceremonies all over the state, the program has bestowed 203 awards to hundreds of innovative individuals and teams for their hard work and dedication to their jobs, colleagues and the Sunshine State.

Even better, these extraordinary public servants were being recognized in Tallahassee on the same day that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a raise for state employees. State workers should feel proud of the work they do and it is pleasing to see lawmakers take notice and give them a much-needed and deserved raise. Florida TaxWatch has been proud to have undertaken a leadership role in this effort for nearly three decades.

The efforts of state employees often go unnoticed, but it is safe to say that they are the glue that holds the state together. Think about it — without them, normal everyday functions of government that we don’t pay attention to would fail, leading to significant problems across the state. So, if you see or know a state employee, shake their hand and thank them. They will appreciate the well-deserved recognition.

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

Adam Putnam: Time to honor our Purple Heart recipients 

The Purple Heart, created by General George Washington on August 7, 1782, and first known as the Badge of Military Merit, is one of the most respected and well-recognized medals one can receive. On Purple Heart Day, we’re called to remember and celebrate America’s wartime heroes who have been injured or killed while serving our country.

For the first time, I’m holding a Purple Heart Day event through our Operation Outdoor Freedom program in Lake Wales, Florida.

Purple Heart recipients and their families will enjoy barbecue and airboat and swamp buggy rides at no cost, thanks to the generosity of our private donors who make Operation Outdoor Freedom possible. The event will be held at Camp Prairie, a first-of-its-kind camp that has bunkhouses and every other feature anyone could possibly need to enjoy an overnight stay in the wilderness.

Since 2011, Operation Outdoor Freedom has provided more than 3,000 wounded veterans with healing and uplifting events that could only happen in Florida’s great outdoors alongside others with similar experiences. Some of the best therapy comes from kayaking down the Chipola River, gator hunting in Ocklawaha or reeling in a redfish along the coast. Having joined some of these trips, the stories that unfold among veterans around a crackling campfire under Spanish moss-draped Live Oaks are once-in-a-lifetime moments that will forever be cherished.

This Purple Heart Day, let’s all be grateful for those who have sacrificed their safety and lives for our freedom. While Operation Outdoor Freedom is only one small way we can give back to those who have given so much for us, these experiences can last a lifetime.

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Adam Putnam is the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.

Rick Scott: We will not give up until Venezuela is free

Just one day following the conclusion of the shameful Constituent Assembly aimed to empower Nicolas Maduro’s regime, the dictator and his gang of thugs have struck again. This time, during a cowardly overnight raid to seize two members of the opposition party, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma.

The world saw the devastating images from Venezuela over the weekend. Maduro’s continued brutalization of the Venezuelan people with violence and a total lack of democracy is atrocious.

His brazen efforts to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution under the guise of democracy is an insult to freedom, and taking power away from his citizens against their will is completely reprehensible.

Now, with his latest move— to remove two prominent freedom fighters from their homes just hours after further U.S. sanctions—  Maduro has sent a clear message to the world: the freedom and lives of the people of Venezuela are disposable in favor of empowering his totalitarian regime.

Over the last several weeks, I have continued to applaud the Trump administration’s swift actions against the Maduro regime which has endangered the lives of millions of Venezuelans.  Just this week, Nicolas Maduro himself was added to the U.S. Treasury’s list of Specially Designated Nationals, thereby formally defining Maduro as the dictator he has proven himself to be. This important distinction follows the “election” of the Constituent Assembly on July 30 that was designed to favor pro-Maduro candidates on the ballot.  Despite the efforts to thwart this brutal regime, over 100 innocent lives have been lost. Nicolas Maduro must step down now, and we must not stop until this dictatorship is no more.

The Venezuelan people have shown their strength and resilience in the face of oppression. It is incumbent upon the United States and the rest of the free world to stand with them. We must continue to make it clear to the people of Venezuela fighting for freedom that we will not give up. We owe that to the brave men and women who stand for democracy at the ultimate cost.

We will not tolerate Maduro’s assault on freedom and democracy and must continue to find ways to advocate for human rights in Venezuela. That is at the very core of why I am proposing to officially prohibit the Florida State Board of Administration from making investments that support the Maduro regime. This is a step in the right direction, and I look forward to working with our state legislature and federal partners to take further action against the dictatorship. True freedom and democracy is the only acceptable outcome for the people of Venezuela.

We cannot accept anything short of the complete release of all political prisoners and for Maduro and his gang of thugs to step down. The time is now to make room for real democratic leadership that respects the will and rights of everyone in Venezuela.

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 Rick Scott is the 45th Governor of Florida.

 

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