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Martha Haynie: Adam Putnam, Frank White should rescind endorsements from anti-LGBT hate group

Florida gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam’s campaign has come under fire over his support from the National Rifle Association, with Putnam infamously referring to himself as a “proud NRA sellout.” Now that he has accepted the endorsement of the anti-LGBT Florida Family Policy Council (FFPC), Putnam can add “proud hate group sellout” to his resume.

Rep. Frank White, a Republican candidate for Florida Attorney General and anti-abortion hard-liner, was also endorsed by the FFPC after receiving an A+ on their legislative scorecard. If elected, White would wield considerable influence over issues related to LGBT and civil rights, as well as women’s health and abortion rights. His acceptance of FFPC’s endorsement is tantamount to declaring legal war on LGBT Floridians and a woman’s right to seek an abortion.

The FFPC and its leader John Stemberger have a long history of attacking the LGBT community with false claims and junk science. According to Stemberger, “gay is an artificial sociopolitical agenda that is dangerous.” By accepting Stemberger’s endorsement, Adam Putnam and Frank White are legitimizing this hateful, bogus rhetoric.

Stemberger’s group supports so-called gay conversion therapy, a dangerous and thoroughly discredited program aimed at turning lesbians and gays into heterosexuals. Conversion therapy programs for minors have been banned in numerous states and municipalities, including 20 cities and counties in Florida.

While fighting against a basic LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance in Jacksonville, Stemberger had the gall to label the LGBT community “a radical group of political operatives who want to force their aberrant views on human sexuality upon the rest of society.” This from a man who wants to push his ultraconservative views on every Floridian and who once claimed on a radical anti-LGBT radio show that simply recognizing or affirming a young boy’s burgeoning homosexuality constitutes “abuse.”

Stemberger and the FFPC have also been key players in opposing marriage equality in Florida. Under Stemberger’s narrow view, legalizing homosexual marriage is “affirmatively harmful” to children and society. Stemberger’s attacks on the LGBT community don’t stop with same-sex marriage or hate crime laws. His group has also actively opposed anti-bullying programs and LGBT individuals serving openly in the military.

The Florida Family Policy Council is an offshoot of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as a hate group whose “specialty is defaming gays and lesbians.” And with the acceptance of FFPC’s endorsement, Putnam and White aren’t just declaring themselves opponents of abortion — they’re making clear that as Governor, Florida’s entire LGBT community would be treated as second-class citizens.

Stemberger and his organization don’t just target LGBT Floridians. Like Adam Putnam and Frank White, Stemberger and his group rabidly oppose a woman’s right to choose. As a member of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission, Stemberger tried to place an amendment on the ballot that would gut privacy protections for every Floridian. This alarming proposal would have not only eviscerated women’s privacy rights as it pertains to abortion, but potentially subjected all Floridians to greater government intrusion in their lives.

Stemberger has also repeatedly called for Planned Parenthood to be defunded, once calling them “dangerous for women and their own health care.” This is patently ridiculous. Safety net providers, such as Planned Parenthood, play a critical role in meeting women’s health needs. This is particularly true of low-income women. Without Planned Parenthood, it is estimated that the rates of unintended pregnancy, unplanned birth and abortion for women across Florida would all be considerably higher.

For 28 years, as an elected official and a Republican, I demonstrated my commitment to conservative principals. I am quite certain that these values did not include standing with hate groups, celebrating discrimination and demonizing entire classes of people. Adam Putnam and Frank White should immediately denounce the hateful anti-gay, anti-women’s health positions of John Stemberger and the FFPC and rescind their endorsement — or at least fess up and admit to being “proud hate group sellouts.”

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Martha Haynie served as elected comptroller in Orange County for seven terms before retiring in January 2017. Named the 1998 Outstanding CPA in Government by the Florida Association of Certified Public Accountants, she was the recipient of the UWF Distinguished Alumni Award in 2008.

Thomas Halfaker: Catholic school resurgence uplifting thousands of low-income families — and me

I was raised as a public school kid. After graduating college, I spent 22 years as a teacher and administrator in the Miami-Dade school district, the fourth-largest in the country. I was a high school principal of a small city, 3,000 students. I wasn’t surviving, I was thriving.

How did I end up here, principal of a preK-8 parochial school? Because God has a wicked sense of humor.

I loved public education, and I was good at it. But there comes a point when you realize a very important piece is missing. A key, if you will.

In the five years I was a high school principal, I attended seven funerals of students, none of whom died by natural causes. Yes, we had tragedies, but we also had wild successes: Kids going to Ivy League schools. Kids from families who spent their lives following the crops up and down the East Coast.

I was able to give these kids good advice. But there was a line I could not cross: I could not talk to them about their ultimate purpose and why they were here.

I could not explain to them that they were on the third rock from the sun for a specific reason. I could not tell them there was a God bigger and badder than any problem they might have.

That all changed in 2001, when my pastor asked me to sit on the search committee for a new principal for the Catholic school my children attended. That’s when the wicked sense of humor kicked in. Twelve years later, God and I are still laughing.

My immersion in Catholic education happens to coincide with a resurgence in Catholic education in Florida. All over America, Catholic schools are still disappearing, despite the high-quality education they’ve delivered for generations to students from all walks of life. But not in Florida.

Thanks to school choice scholarship programs, Catholic schools in Florida have rebounded, and even started growing again. This fall, 240 of them will serve 86,000 students – which would make them the 10th largest school district in Florida if they were under one administration.

Parents turn to us because they appreciate the academic rigor, character education and positive outcomes – from college enrollment and persistence to self-discipline and good citizenship – that solid research shows Catholic schools deliver. School choice makes schools like ours accessible to students of modest means. And we know our state is benefiting as much as our students from their success.

My awakening didn’t start with a burning bush, or a lightning bolt out of the blue. It started the way God usually starts, with that still small voice in the pit of your stomach or heart. I could exchange my profession for a vocation. I would have the freedom to help develop healthy minds, bodies, and spirits.

I still work with kids who live at or below the poverty level. Not all, but a good number of my 500 students participate in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, a program that last year served 107,000 low-income and working-class students, including 16,000 in Catholic schools. Their average family income last year was about $25,000.

The students in our school come from over 25 different countries. We don’t celebrate any specific heritage; rather, we have a Heritage Celebration every October where we celebrate our differences. It is our differences that make us stronger.

Part of the mission of the church is to educate ALL. For years the church has provided some of the best education in the United States, from primary grades to the Golden Dome of Notre Dame, regardless of the socioeconomic class the child comes from.

We are proud of that mission. We are also proud to live in a state that allows parents to choose from so many options.

I know school choice is sometimes the focus of heated debate. But as an educator, I know that not every learning environment is right for every child. And as a parent, I know nothing is more important than having a say in where and how your child is educated.

Tom Halfaker is principal at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish School in Miami.

Jack Levine: With integrity and compassion, Mike Carroll will be hard to replace

Serving as Secretary of the Department of Children and Families is the second most challenging job in Florida government.

Day or night, you never know what agonizing tragedy will confront your staff and community partners.

Public servants of Mike Carroll’s high integrity, breadth of knowledge and deep compassion are difficult to replace.

We are about to experience the most sweeping government transition in Florida’s history.

Even over the four-month period before the inauguration of a new Governor, no matter who she or he may be, Mike Carroll will be missed.

I hope the leaders of the new administration will identify someone who matches Mike’s smarts and sensitivity, talents and tenacity, honesty and humility.

The children and families of our diverse state desperately need and definitely deserve no less.

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Jack Levine is the founder of the 4Generations Institute in Tallahassee.

Jeremy Ring: Setting the record straight on business background

Jeremy Ring

Appointed Chief Financial Officer and seafood restaurateur Jimmy Patronis lied about using taxpayer resources for his campaign — POLITICO even caught him red-handed — and now he’s lying about my business background. Let’s set the record straight.

I’m an entrepreneur. My opponent isn’t. I’ve started businesses. He hasn’t.

I’ve helped to pioneer industry. I’ve started organizations, grown organizations, and led organizations.

I’ve dealt with personnel challenges, written business plans, worked in mergers and acquisitions, raised capital, invested my own capital, and had shareholder responsibility.

I’ve been held to strong corporate governance standards, negotiated countless deals with countless clients.

I’ve held significant roles in publicly traded companies and private companies; large companies and small companies.

Jimmy Patronis, if he ever started a business, would know what all of that truly means. He doesn’t and hasn’t.

Jimmy Patronis inherited a seafood restaurant. He dropped out of a race for state Senate in favor of a plum position with the Public Service Commission, for which he was hand-selected by Rick Scott for his unique ability to do the Governor’s bidding.

After CFO Jeff Atwater resigned, Scott quickly appointed Jimmy to the role of Chief Financial Officer for the remainder of his term — for the very same reason he was selected for the Public Service Commission. In short, Jimmy is the CFO because he is friends with the Governor, not because he is qualified.

At 25, I opened the first East Coast office of internet company Yahoo! out of my apartment in New York City and over the next five years I helped to turn it into a multibillion-dollar tech leader.

I served in the Florida Senate, where I crafted major bipartisan legislation establishing an innovation economy to help Florida’s entrepreneurs build their ideas and grow jobs right here in Florida.

I created the largest technology incubator in the state, the Gainesville based “Florida Institute of Commercialization,” which in turn has helped start and grow over 75 technology businesses in Florida with over $1 billion in economic impact and an average salary of over $75,000.

I created the Florida Opportunity Fund, a $100 million institutional venture capital fund for Florida companies; last, I was the creator of the Florida Growth Fund, a $1 billion late-stage venture capital fund for technology company’s across the Florida that has returned over 10 percent capital to the beneficiaries of the Florida Retirement System.

In addition to those successes, I also started or invested in a number of businesses here in Florida, companies that Jimmy falsely paints as flops.

Jimmy points to my company Convizion as a prime example of my business failures, and as a reason as to why I cannot be trusted with the State’s finances.

He says that I readily admit to it being a “failure,” even citing an article. The only problem is that the next sentence after the one he cites completely contradicts his argument. It reads, “It was only by being open to new opportunities that he (Ring) and his partners were able to create a success out of their apparent loss.”

And, success there was.

In fact, Convizion shareholders made between two and four times their initial investment. Only someone with zero real business experience would consider that a failure.

Jimmy also points to Strategic Baseball Ventures and Ring Entertainment as “flops” and further proof of me losing money for shareholders. But here again, he is either lying or doesn’t understand basic business — neither is a good quality for the person in charge of Florida’s finances.

Strategic Baseball Ventures was set up in the early 2000s when a partner of mine wanted to investigate buying minor league baseball franchises. We looked at a few deals, didn’t find one we liked and moved on. No one lost any money.

Ring Entertainment was a small endeavor between my brother and I that was a fun family project. It had zero outside capital invested and minimal family capital.

Not everyone is handed a business and not everyone is handed a position to oversee the state treasury. Qualifications matter, as does honesty.

Right now, I am questioning both for the current appointed CFO.

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Jeremy Ring is a former state Senator and tech startup executive. He is a Democrat running for Florida Chief Financial Officer.

Jean Gonzalez Wingo, Lisa Murano: Everyone wants to help greyhounds

At a time when we can’t seem to agree on anything, there is still an issue that unites Democrats and Republicans: protecting dogs. We are proud to join the many community leaders across the state who support Amendment 13, a humane proposal to phase out greyhound racing.

As a state, we have a proud tradition of leading on animal welfare issues. Our first anti-cruelty law was adopted more than a century ago in 1889, but today we are lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to cruelty inflicted on greyhounds. Commercial dog racing is illegal in 40 states but continues at 11 racetracks across Florida.

At these racetracks, thousands of greyhounds endure lives of confinement, kept in rows of stacked metal cages. They are caged for 20 to 23 hours a day, with only carpet remnants or shredded paper for bedding. When let out of their cages to race, the dogs run the risk of serious injury and death. According to state records, 483 greyhounds have died at Florida tracks since officials began maintaining death data in 2013. These are young dogs that die unnecessarily for a money-losing industry that only exists because of a state mandate that other types of gambling must be coupled with dog racing.

Floridians have already voted with their pocketbooks, and clearly want greyhound racing to end. Gambling on dog races has fallen dramatically in recent years, and racetracks are collectively losing more than $30 million annually on this Depression-era relic. Taxpayers are also getting the short end of the stick. According to a report done for the legislature by Spectrum Gaming, the state is losing as much as $3.3 million annually on dog racing because regulatory costs exceed revenues.

Yet thousands of dogs continue to live in cages in this moribund industry. They die on the track and test positive for serious drugs, including cocaine, all so a handful of greyhound breeders can benefit from a state mandate that puts profits ahead of animal welfare.

This isn’t a complicated issue. Dogs are members of our families, and the racing industry treats greyhounds in a way we should never treat our best friends. Tolerating this cruelty not only causes harm to gentle greyhounds, it also reflects on us. We’re better than that, and it’s time for dog racing to be relegated to the history books.

One ray of hope is the diverse coalition fighting to help greyhounds. Amendment 13 has been endorsed by a vast cross-section of our state’s civic life, including animal welfare groups, animal shelters, animal rescue and adoption groups, veterinarians, dog clubs, current and former elected officials, candidates for office, editorial boards and news organizations, civic organizations, local businesses, environmental groups and churches. Every day, new community leaders join this chorus of support.

No other active issue is supported by the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, the Florida Federation of Republican Women, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Democratic State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Let’s celebrate this common ground by coming together to vote yes for the dogs on Amendment 13. With our vote, we can help thousands of greyhounds, and once again take the lead on animal welfare.

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Jean Gonzalez Wingo is first vice president of the Florida Federation of Republican Women. Lisa Murano is secretary of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida.

Ashley-Britt Hanson: Avoid unnecessary risks on health care — keep fixing the ACA

While the idea of a “Medicare for All” health care system may sound appealing to Floridians in theory, I fully recognize that the only legitimate path to improving our broken health care system in the immediate future is to amend the already existing legislation known as the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats and Republicans should be focusing on practical, patient-centered solutions, not tearing down our health care system and starting from scratch.

As an attorney in Florida, one of the biggest complaints I hear from my clients regarding health care is a lack of stability.

Millions of Americans may have access to health care as a result of the Affordable Care Act, but inaction by politicians in Washington have led to higher premiums and instability in the marketplace. With so many Americans depending on the protections provided by the ACA, inaction is political malpractice.

Floridians want to be able to predict and plan for their health care costs. The continued instability in Washington makes it practically impossible for families to prepare a realistic budget. Without the ability to project health care costs, families are left to guess, which is an unnecessary risk.

It’s well past time for our elected leaders to put partisanship aside and get to work on improving the Affordable Care Act. Floridians can’t afford to sit by and listen to theoretical debates about health care, while Washington ignores the real-world consequences of their inaction.

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Ashley-Britt Hanson is an appeals attorney in Jacksonville.

Will Weatherford: $1 trillion economy means opportunity for Florida, but challenges remain

Florida’s economy continues breaking records.

Just a few days ago Florida’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) topped $1 trillion, the chief economist with the Florida Chamber Foundation announced. This means that if Florida was an independent country, our $1 trillion economy would rank us as the 17th largest economy in the world and ahead of countries like Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Argentina.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

Florida, the third largest state in the nation by population, now has one of the largest economies in the world.

I had the unique opportunity as former speaker of the Florida House to see just how far Florida has come. During the Great Recession, Florida was impacted the hardest and our recession lasted longer than any other state. I distinctly remember The Wall Street Journal asking the question, “is Florida over?” Of course, just a few years later and after an incredible economic turnaround, the WSJ published an article commenting that Florida had found the secret to economic success. Florida has certainly come a long way in the last 10 years.

Over the past five years, Florida’s GDP grew by 27.2 percent — that puts Florida’s GDP growth rate in the top five states in the country. And, over the past five years, Florida has produced more than 1 out of 11 jobs in the U.S.

In fact, you would be hard pressed to find another economy with such robust growth. Florida has seen year-over-year GDP growth, jobs continue to be created and our unemployment rate continues to drop and has remained below the national average for the past several years.

Becoming a $1 trillion economy also means Florida’s reputation as a global leader in trade and logistics is once again cemented. The Florida Chamber Foundation’s work on their series of Trade & Logistics reports outlined very clearly how Florida can take advantage of its business-friendly economy and unique geographic location. A growing GDP will only help us remain a global hub for international activity.

While this growth is positive news, challenges and opportunities for Florida still remain.

The Florida Chamber Foundation’s Florida 2030 research initiative — which will soon be released statewide — shows the gaps Florida must close in order to continue to be globally competitive and grow smarter by 2030 and beyond. Consider that while achievement gaps are closing, 43 percent of third-graders still aren’t reading at or above grade level. And while 1 in 11 jobs in the nation in the last five years was created in Florida, our state’s 14.8 percent poverty rate includes 21.3 percent of children under age 18. While Florida is better suited than most states in these areas, the Florida Chamber will continue to lead reforms that create economic opportunity.

A $1 trillion economy is proof that when we stay focused on Florida’s long-term future and remain stalwart in our commitment to quality education, free enterprise and an unmatched quality of life, it suggests that we can continue to be one of the most exciting economic stories in the world.

Taking time to celebrate these successes is appropriate, but now is not the time to rest. I encourage business leaders to work toward a common goal of securing Florida’s future. If we remember that Florida’s challenges are truly opportunities, Florida will continue to enjoy the blessings of economic prosperity.

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Will Weatherford is a former speaker of the Florida House.

Brenda Mattson: No reason to scrap the ACA. Improve it.

As a nurse in Florida, I had a front-row seat to the positives and negatives of the Affordable Care Act (or ACA).

Prior to the ACA, I saw young people kicked off their parent’s insurance, rendering them unable to afford health insurance.

Prior to the ACA, I witnessed far too many Floridians unable to get health insurance as a result of a pre-existing condition. Floridians deserved better than that, which is what they got under the ACA. The ACA increased access to health care for Floridians and undoubtedly saved lives.

Is it a perfect piece of legislation? Of course not!

Should we rip it up and start over merely because there are ways we could improve it? Not a chance.

The answer to solving our health care woes isn’t to swing drastically toward a single-payer system or throw the baby out with the bathwater and start over.

The answer to solving our health care issues is for members of Congress (on both sides of the aisle) to come together and put country over party. We need health care solutions and we need them now.

Millions of Floridians who depend on the marketplace to buy their health insurance can’t afford for politics to outweigh their health. As a nurse, I can personally attest to the improvements the ACA has made to our health care system.

Now it’s time to build on those improvements and create a health care system that all Floridians can be proud of.

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Brenda Mattson is a registered nurse.

Joseph F. Rutherford: Refocusing efforts to improve Florida’s mental health system

In a health crisis, individuals turn to hospital emergency rooms across Florida to stabilize an escalating medical condition. Individuals impacted by mental illness require the same access to emergency care. People in crisis, their families, and law enforcement need a trusted resource to provide immediate care designed to assess and treat.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. In Florida, it’s projected that over 2 million of our residents will be affected. Yet, despite the number of Floridians impacted by mental illness: Florida ranks 50th in terms of per capita spending among the U.S. for mental-health programs, with over 1 million dollars annually being eliminated in Hillsborough County for baker act services the past two legislative sessions alone.

When someone is in crisis and may be in danger of hurting themselves or others as a result of mental illness, Florida’s Baker Act allows them to be held involuntarily for an evaluation up to 72 hours. This provides an opportunity to stabilize the immediate crisis and develop a long-term treatment strategy with a licensed clinician. It is very important to understand that when a patient no longer meets Baker Act criteria, the law requires that person be released.

Community-based wellness facilities, like Gracepoint, work in collaboration with the patient, their families, law enforcement, the courts, and other providers and stakeholders not only during the 72-hours required by law, but always offering voluntary outpatient aftercare well beyond that window to optimize recovery.

For many, a continuum of care beyond the crisis window is essential for recovery. Every Florida community with a Baker Act unit should also have access to “step down” or transitional services for patients who are discharged, but need assistance in their transition to successful, independent functioning. Short-term residential care, as an example, provides individuals who may need additional care with continued support to move through the rehabilitation process and into the community more seamlessly.

These short-term residential beds were defunded by the state less than 10 years ago, resulting in a missing critical element necessary for patient success.

While there has been a positive shift away from state psychiatric hospitals to community-based health centers over the decades, monetary support has not followed to keep up with demand. In a day and age where we have greater access and understanding to medicine, care coordination, therapeutic treatments and technology, it’s challenging and frustrating for providers not to be able to provide needed services due to a lack of resources.

We all have a vested interest in providing adequate mental health treatment options. Without proper support, Florida faces a draining cycle of social, emotional and economic implications as a result of its continuing reduction of investment in mental health. I believe the dialogue should be focused on what is missing, rather than what is wrong with our mental health system. As the upcoming Legislative Session approaches, we will continue to advocate for Florida residents who are in need of programs, such as short-term or “step-down” beds.

The mental health needs of this community impact us all and the upcoming legislative session serves as a turning point for refocusing attention on providing services to better treat those potentially in peril without a safety net. Community health centers, like Gracepoint, will continue to advocate for expanded mental health services for our state as a whole and work to educate lawmakers of the critical services so many of our residents need to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

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Joseph F. Rutherford is the chief executive officer for Gracepoint, a community health center focused on providing integrated mental health, substance abuse, and medical care to promote health and wellness.

Islara Souto: Patient protections and health care access must be defended

As an advocate for health coverage, I value the progress America has made in recent years. We’ve opened up health insurance to more Floridians, and health plans are welcoming all types of patients and ensuring they obtain great care.

These are trends we must entrench and enhance.

Leading the ACA enrollment program for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, I’ve seen how health coverage can change lives. We serve more than 400,000 Floridians with epilepsy, a serious health condition that can develop at any time.

A patient’s initial epileptic seizure will frequently happen in the first year of life, but others don’t experience them until middle or old age. One in 26 people will suffer from epilepsy in their lifetime — and for too long, the condition used to bar too many from obtaining health insurance.

In this, epilepsy had a lot in common with other chronic conditions. From cancer survivors to people born with a congenital heart defect or suffering from depression, patients with pre-existing conditions often could not get health coverage. The experience wasn’t restricted to those with the most serious ailments, either. Asthma and allergies could be enough to put insurance out of reach.

Passage of the Affordable Care Act changed all that. It guaranteed patients, regardless of pre-existing condition, access to insurance at the same price as anyone else their age. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job has been making people aware of these new patient protections, and helping them enroll in a health plan.

The difference was incredible for so many of my clients. With health insurance, many patients were finally able to see a specialist, find a medication without as many side effects, or otherwise experience better disease management.

Before the ACA, being shut out of health insurance meant being excluded from most medical care, including preventive services — while paying too much to get any treatment at all. Today, wellness programs — which include checkups, cholesterol screenings, nutritional advice and stop-smoking assistance — are included free with a health plan. Millions of beneficiaries can now get help they never could before.

The positive impacts of the ACA have been especially significant for vulnerable populations, including non-English speakers and immigrants. Health plans are offering care coordination in multiple languages. They’re conducting outreach to high-risk groups and those unfamiliar with health insurance, helping them understand what services are available and how to navigate the network. Patients are being encouraged to get care proactively, and their health outcomes are improving.

Illness, injury, and aging are part of the human condition. We can all benefit from good medical care. Fortunately, the ACA made health insurance more accessible and improved quality across Florida — that’s why must keep protecting and expanding these landmark reforms.

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Islara Souto is Statewide Navigation Program Director for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida. She is based in Miami.

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