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Guest Author

Emmett Reed: Constitution is no place for special favors for clients or friends

Emmett Reed

There is no place for special favors in our state’s basic charter, the Florida Constitution. Every provision in that document should benefit all of us equally, and officials working to revise the Constitution should be above any action designed to profit one group over another.

In today’s charged political environment, the public has a right to expect the highest ethical standards from its public officials. Unfortunately, one appointed member of the Constitution Revision Commission seems to still be serving the master who pays him to be a lobbyist. This commissioner has ignored his solemn duty to address the needs of all the people of Florida. Worse still, he would have us believe that he is actually doing it to protect some of Florida’s most vulnerable residents. Now he has been hit with a conflict of interest claim, and deservedly so.

Brecht Heuchan is a member of the Constitution Revision Commission, but for many years he has been a paid lobbyist for Wilkes & McHugh, a law firm that makes its living suing nursing homes. Mr. Heuchan has stood before the Legislature and testified for his client in an attempt to advance his client’s desire to make it easier to sue. Note that these lawsuits would do nothing to help nursing home residents – just the lawyers hoping to cash in on large volumes of claims.

The Legislature flatly rejected his idea to sue passive investors in 2017. So now Mr. Heuchan is trying to use (some would say abuse) his appointed public position to slip those same changes into the Constitution. If he can’t win by going through the front door, he’ll try through the back door. The big problem is, that “back door” is the most fundamental document of state government, something that is supposed to be limited to the broad structure of government and its compact with the public.

This is simply wrong, and it must be stopped. The American Senior Alliance filed the ethics complaint against Mr. Heuchan for this obvious conflict of interest. The Florida Health Care Association, which represents the majority of our state’s outstanding long-term care facilities, agrees with the Alliance’s reasoning and supports its complaint.

Not only does Mr. Heuchan’s proposal not belong in the Constitution, but it’s entirely unnecessary. It would add zero new protections to residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and would only bypass decisions of the Legislature and expand ways that trial attorneys can sue. Mr. Heuchan says it’s a response to the terrible tragedy in which more than a dozen residents lost their lives in a South Florida nursing home during Hurricane Irma, but it wouldn’t do anything to fix or prevent what happened there. It would only give attorneys – his clients – more opportunity to sue.

Here is why the proposal is unnecessary: Nursing home residents have been guaranteed a bill of rights since 1976 thanks to Florida’s Legislature. In 1987 Congress further codified those rights when it passed the Nursing Home Reform Act. That Act lists specific rights for residents, and requires each nursing home to care for its residents in a manner that promotes and enhances the quality of life of each resident, ensuring dignity, choice, and self-determination.

Mr. Heuchan is offering his proposal under the guise that nursing home residents don’t have the same rights as you or me – which is completely misleading. What he is really doing is helping a law firm from whom he benefits financially.

And that’s just wrong. Wrong for the people of Florida, and wrong for the Florida Constitution.

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Emmett Reed is Executive Director of Florida Health Care Association, the state’s first and largest advocacy organization for long-term care providers and the residents under their care. He can be reached at ereed@fhca.org.

Jack Cory: The truth and facts about live greyhound racing in Florida

Mark Twain is credited by some as saying: A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

Live greyhound racing is good for Florida and good for the greyhounds!

Over $80 million was bet on live greyhound racing at the tracks last year, with no reported compulsive gambling. Over $2 billion was bet at out-of-state Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW) facilities, untaxed and unregulated, a portion on live greyhound racing in Florida.

Eleven million dollars was generated in state revenue, over 3,000 Florida jobs, and over 8,000 beautiful greyhounds with over 95 percent adopted to loving families or returned to the farms to live out their lives.

These are the standards for the “no kill” animal movement.

The “false” information is being put forth by very radical out-of-state animal rights (AR) groups and their misinformed supporters, that take care of NO animals in Florida. They are the same groups that put on the sad puppy commercials over the holidays. They use this “false” information for fundraising, not to take care of any animals in Florida!

These groups support the high-kill animal shelters in Florida that will kill 250,000 pets this year, that is over 700 TODAY.

Greyhounds are well trained and well treated. Greyhound owners do not get paid unless the greyhound comes in first, second, third or fourth in a race. Therefore, greyhound owners take immense pride in ensuring that greyhound athletes receive the very best treatment.

Everything from the size of the crate, the quantity and quality of food, veterinary care to the amount of walking, exercises and play time is closely monitored for optimum athletic performance. The greyhound’s performance puts food on the tables for the trainers, owners and breeders and their families. Some of the greyhound men and women have been in the industry for generations. They love their animals and love their jobs.

The State of Florida inspects all greyhound kennels at all tracks. The Florida Greyhound Association and the National Greyhound Association have “0” tolerance for any animal abuse.

One animal dying prematurely is too many, but all athletes, human or animal can get injuries and even die. In order to avoid this, the greyhound owners have proposed a 3-point safety bill that would have eliminated the vast majority of deaths and injuries at the track, but the hypocritical AR people oppose it.

John Adams, the second president of the U.S. said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

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Jack Cory is with Public Affairs Consultants Inc. in Tallahassee. He represents members of the Florida Greyhound Association.

Michelle Dennard: Growing apprenticeships will strengthen economy

Michelle Dennard

The talent gap we face in Florida is not a new problem nor is it unique to our state.

According to the Florida Chamber, while more than 400,000 are looking for jobs, we still have 232,000 jobs looking for people.

Florida’s employers and workforce development, economic development and education entities are collaborating to bridge that gap with a new focus on apprenticeships.

The National Office of Apprenticeship, within the U.S. Department of Labor, has set a goal of doubling and diversifying the number of apprenticeships by 2019. Florida is among 36 states and Guam recently selected to help make that big goal a reality through the ApprenticeshipUSA initiative. The responsibility tied to these grants is clear: build partnerships across key industries and organizations to create a strong talent pipeline for businesses in vital industries like advanced manufacturing and information technology.

Last month, I had the opportunity to talk with U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta about the importance of expanding apprenticeship opportunities during his visit with Gov. Rick Scott in Tallahassee. Florida is the third largest state in the nation, with low unemployment – just 3.8 percent in September – and record job growth.

Yet we know we still have construction companies in need of skilled workers, hospitals in need of healthcare technicians and manufacturers in need of production technicians.

The Conference Board Help Wanted OnLine® data series found more than 46,000 healthcare openings in Florida in September. In the same month, we had more than 64,000 construction jobs open, 42,000 IT positions available, and more than 9,000 manufacturing jobs open.

Apprenticeships are a great way to get tomorrow’s talent ready for the demand we know is here, and constantly growing.

CareerSource Florida is integrating apprenticeships into our statewide sector strategies initiative. Sector strategies are a nationally recognized approach that brings together partners and stakeholders in industry, education and workforce development to align public resources that address the skills needs of critical industries.

Sector strategies, including apprenticeships, enable us to meet the talent demands of tomorrow and support state and local economic growth in a significant way. Research shows sector strategies strengthen the participating businesses, the industries involved and the workforce as a whole by shifting workforce development from a supply-driven to a demand-driven approach.

Our work on the State Apprenticeship Expansion grant has already resulted in system-wide partnerships, and the engagement of nearly 100 industry and expert volunteers who are identifying ways to expand apprenticeships. Each of Florida’s lead organizations – CareerSource Florida, the Department of Economic Opportunity and the Department of Education – has designated a project director to focus on this important work.

We believe this renewed focus and the fresh insights of industry, education and workforce experts will further strengthen and diversify Florida’s already robust economy. The collaboration and commitment to build and grow strong apprenticeship programs throughout our state is a testament to Florida’s leadership on a critical national issue.

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Michelle Dennard is president and CEO of CareerSource Florida.

Kate MacFall: CRC should pass amendment on greyhound racing

Right now, Floridians have a chance to finally put a stop to one of the cruelest “sports” left in America – greyhound racing.

Two past Florida Senate Presidents, Tom Lee and Don Gaetz, have introduced an amendment that would phase out greyhound racing in the Sunshine State to the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission, the 37-member body that meets every 20 years to recommend changes to our state Constitution. The proposal would go into full effect on July 1, 2021, and would phase out greyhound racing operations over a three-year period.

With 12 of the 18 dog tracks nationwide in our state, Florida has the most dog racing operations in the U.S., thanks to our state government’s actions to prop up the industry. Greyhound racing is illegal in 40 states and now is the time to add Florida to the list.

On average, a racing greyhound dies in Florida every three days. Many more are injured. Even if dogs don’t end up injured or dead, their lives are ones of abject misery. They are fed meat that comes from diseased and dying cows (a substandard beef grade known as 4-D) and confined 20-23 hours a day in cages too small for them to stand up normally. Since 2008, state investigators have documented at least eight cases of cruelty and severe neglect at Florida dog tracks and associated track kennels, including a 2010 case where state investigators found 37 dead greyhounds at a kennel compound and another five severely emaciated live dogs.

Just this year, two more cases of dog “doping” have been added to the long list of violations. In one case, two trainers at a Jacksonville area track were cited when dozens of greyhound blood tests came up positive for cocaine, with one greyhound testing positive six different times.

The total amount gambled on live racing at Florida dog tracks declined by 56 percent between 2006 and 2016. State tax revenue from dog racing also continues to drop, with revenue declining by 81 percent from 2006 to 2016.

The Constitutional Revision Commission must first approve Lee and Gaetz’s proposal to place it on the November 2018 election ballot – and it’s time for Floridians to let the CRC commissioners know they support phasing out greyhound racing and ending this cruelty once and for all.

The dogs racing in Florida pay the price for a long-ago political deal that makes no sense in today’s economy. The government forces businesses to conduct one activity so they can offer another. Because of this antiquated mandate, tracks keep money-losing greyhound racing around so they can offer more popular and lucrative games, like slots and poker. While patrons crowd inside playing slots or cards, the dogs run around a track in front of largely empty stands. Legislative attempts to separate dog racing from other forms of gambling have been unsuccessful.

This proposal before the Constitutional Revision Commission is a chance to do the right thing and make history. Take a few minutes to let the commissioners know you support the proposal to end greyhound racing in Florida by going to humanesociety.org/greyhoundracing.

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Kate MacFall is Florida State Director of The Humane Society of the United States.

Adam Putnam: Your Thanksgiving meal began on a farm

Picking up ingredients for your family’s favorite Thanksgiving dishes locally can be so easy that we sometimes take for granted our ranchers’ and farmers’ hard work to provide the food we all rely on.

Agriculture has been and will continue to be the cornerstone of society — it is the industry that provides for one of our most basic needs.

Some elements of agriculture have remained unchanged over centuries while others have changed radically with scientific and technological advancements.

Agriculture is not for the faint of heart. It has always drawn people who are stubborn, resilient, courageous and love the land that gives the bounty. Ranchers and farmers must embody these traits to weather whatever Mother Nature throws their way, whether it’s too much rain, too little rain, or an invasive pest or disease.

Agriculture is both robust and fragile, and it requires commitment and adaptability. Farmers have faced these challenges for hundreds of years, and they face them today.

While the heat, hard work and vagaries of nature haven’t been automated, agriculture today is high tech. Innovative ranchers, farmers and researchers are finding ways to do more with less. As our population soars and the demands for land and water increase, our ranchers and farmers are turning to science to decrease inputs and increase yields.

It’s not Old McDonald’s Farm anymore. Florida’s 47,000 farms are sophisticated operations that implement cutting-edge technology and constantly evaluate the results.

With a recent report projecting that by 2070 Florida will have 15 million new residents, the stress on our resources will only grow. As always Florida’s farmers and ranchers will continue to be leaders in conservation and innovation ensuring that they are able to produce the abundant food and fiber we depend on as a state and nation while being good stewards of the resources entrusted to them.

As you gather with your family and loved ones this Thanksgiving, let’s all be grateful for our dedicated ranchers and farmers who work day in and day out to produce our safe, affordable and abundant food.

And when you sit down to enjoy your “Fresh From Florida” meal, remember that it all began on a farm.

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Adam Putnam is Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.

 

Aaron Bean: Small business tax cuts should be Congress’ top job

Following the recent House of Representatives passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Americans in Florida and across the country agree: Now is the time to give hardworking small businesses the tax relief they need to power our economic growth into next year and beyond. With one more legislative session to go before Thanksgiving, Congress must rise to the occasion.

Poll after poll now shows that voters see tax cuts for small businesses as the sweet spot for tax policy and economic performance. Over 80 percent agree Congress needs to pass a tax bill, according to a new America First Policies survey. Specifically, 80 percent favor rate cuts that grow family paychecks, grow local businesses and grow the national economy.

Regardless of party identification, over three in five voters disapprove of the status quo.

As it stands now, small-business owners suffer from their tax status as pass-through entities, which means they often have to pay individual rates of nearly 50 percent in federal, state and local taxes. That’s more than large corporations — so much so that, in order to cope, job creators have to spend precious time and money on filing and outside help. One in three told the National Small Business Administration in its latest tax survey that the annual process chews up two weeks’ worth of work. It’s no wonder that four out of every five small-business owners went on to say their top tax goal was rate cuts and higher deductions.

Fortunately, the White House has recognized the importance of leading on taxes. The Trump administration’s plan would cut the income tax rate for small businesses to 25 percent, encouraging growth. Small businesses have plenty of room to grow, as I’ve learned providing capital access to expanding businesses and startups. In Florida, 97 percent of all small businesses employ no more than 20 people. But they create three out of every four jobs in the state.

As I’ve experienced, investors can park their money during uncertain times. Not so with small businesses, who see opportunity around every corner and invest accordingly. Tax cuts would go to raising wages, adding employees and expanding facilities, a majority of owners agreed in a recent survey by the Job Creators Network. Half concurred that those cuts were the most helpful policy legislators can pursue right now.

And the American people are right there with small-business owners. Most Americans want a major overhaul of our onerous tax burdens, and view new tax cuts as the key to strengthening our finances, increasing our jobs and powering our growth.

Floridians have a lot riding on Congress’ ability to pass extensive tax cuts. Our state is host to more than 2 million small businesses, which employ over 3 million employees. That’s over 40 percent of the entire private-sector workforce. Florida is the kind of place where legislation has been put forward to create a “Small Business Saturday” to kick off the holidays, when shopping season puts many small businesses over the top for the year.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Congress has an all-important chance to come through for small businesses — and the millions and millions of Americans who win big when they do.

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Aaron Bean is a State Senator from Florida’s 4th District.

 

Assessing why the Tampa Bay Rowdies aren’t moving to MLS in this round of expansion

Multiple reports have surfaced showing the Tampa Bay Rowdies will be shut out in this round of MLS expansion.

Several factors are contributing to the Rowdies miss this time, when two new teams will be added. However, the Rowdies remain in contention for the next two teams, which will be announced in 2018.

According to the reports, this year’s two selections will come from Sacramento, Cincinnati and Nashville. The announcement of two new MLS franchises should take place next month.

Sacramento an established front runner

The Sacramento Republic, a Rowdies’ USL rival, has long been an established frontrunner in terms of MLS viability. Sitting in a top 20 TV market both in overall and Hispanic households, the club has been one of the few at the lower division level of North American soccer to consistently draw over 10,000 fans per game.

The ownership squabbles that threatened to derail the city’s chances earlier this year have been resolved and now the California city sits as a clear option for MLS expansion.

Nashville has surged and is a “hot” city that MLS has logical interest in

Sometimes timing and fortune play a bigger role in this process than anything else.

Nashville is currently enjoying its day in the sun as an emerging center of culture and of soccer fandom. Supporter-owned Nashville FC was successful in the amateur ranks of American soccer, prompting USL, the co-second division in North America, to award the city a franchise.

But before that team has even kicked a ball in USL, the city could be awarded an MLS team.

This summer’s US Men’s National Team match against Panama in the CONCACAF Gold Cup drew over 40,000 fans and an International Champions Cup match between English giants Manchester City FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC drew over 60,000 fans.

Unfortunately for the Tampa Bay area, comparable attendances aren’t on display. The US Men’s team played a Gold Cup match days later in Tampa which drew only 25,000 fans and the International Champions Cup opted to hold games in Orlando and Miami instead of Tampa. (It should be noted the International Champions Cup is run by a marketing company owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross — therefore all but guaranteeing Miami gets high-profile matches.)

The success of FC Cincinnati in attracting fans

The biggest success story in domestic soccer in recent years has been the interest generated by recent start-up FC Cincinnati (FCC).

The Rowdies got the best of FCC on the field this year, eliminating the Ohio-based second year club from the USL Cup Playoffs. However, FCC is averaging close to 20,000 fans a game, a remarkable number for a lower division team.

The Cincinnati market is not one MLS was particularly interested in prior to the team’s marketing success. It would be one of the smallest in MLS and prior to the on-field start of this team in 2016, the market had very little history of success in the sport.

But FCC has surged to the front of the expansion line drawing crowds far bigger than anyone else in the lower divisions.

Questions about stadium plan

One former MLS general manager who had a new stadium built during his tenure told me earlier this past week that he felt the Rowdies stadium plan was “naive” and a “non-starter.”

This former GM who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity praised Rowdies owner Bill Edwards for doing what he could with Al Lang Stadium but felt the ground would simply be too small (a capacity under 19,000) and that the configuration was not “soccer-specific” enough to thwart Tampa Bay’s hopes.

The Rowdies are limited in what they can do in a congested downtown. But it is worth noting the vista provided of Tampa Bay from the stadium would perhaps represent the best TV images of a facility from the league.

St. Pete instead of Tampa

While MLS constantly talks about the need to find its teams playing in or close to downtown, some speculation has begun to surface that playing in a secondary city, which the Rowdies do and would continue to do in MLS, hurts the club’s bid.

While on the surface this might be true, much of the Tampa Bay Area’s media is housed in Pinellas. While St Petersburg is a longer drive than Tampa for many of the fans who’d flock to an MLS team, it is still in market.

Proximity to Orlando and Miami

Orlando has one of the most successful MLS clubs in terms of local interest. Miami remains a market that is being essentially gifted a team outside of the normal expansion process.

But geography didn’t help the Rowdies bid. MLS’ thinking probably should change on this as local rivalries and traveling fans are what make professional soccer around the globe much more like US college sports than North American pro sports.

A Tampa Bay-Orlando rivalry which is a holdover from the lower division days of Orlando City SC would instantly be one of the biggest MLS rivalries and a triangular “derby” including Miami also would be an instant hit.

Tampa Bay has missed out on this round of expansion but Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards remains committed to moving the team up to MLS. Considering the three solid bids described above likely represent three of the four new MLS expansion teams, the Rowdies will need to beat the rest of the competition.

Working in the Rowdies favor is a larger TV market, larger established fan base and deeper historical legacy than any of the other serious bids that could take the fourth spot.

So, not all is lost yet for Rowdies fans.

Brecht Heuchan: FHCA ‘wrong on all’ counts

The Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), a nursing home industry trade association, recently attacked my proposed “Resident’s Bill of Rights” amendment to the state constitution saying that it does not belong there, that it “weakens protections for residents,” and that it is “glaringly bad.”

Unfortunately, they offered nothing in the way of evidence to support these claims and are wrong on all. Here is my take:

Heuchan

I cannot count the number of times I have been told one issue or another does not belong in the constitution. When it comes from the mouths of special interest groups it is code for something else.

What they really mean is: 1. they think they have other forums wired in their favor, and 2. they know if voters have a chance to consider the proposal, it would pass.

Make no mistake—rights for residents belong in the Florida Constitution. Our constitution is a place where rights of the individual are protected, especially when it comes to the rights of the vulnerable. As we so sadly saw in the recent, preventable deaths of 14 residents of a South Florida nursing home, the elderly in our society are far too often the most susceptible targets for neglect, abuse, and exploitation.

According to a news account just this week, a hidden camera in a nursing home-room showed a 94-year-old man with dementia being thrown, hit and doused with mouthwash by a facility worker. The man later developed stage three ulcers and bed sores and died.

Is it any wonder the industry opposes cameras in resident’s rooms? We as a society can do better and should demand it.

People that live in these facilities are there necessarily, because they cannot care for themselves. Consequently, they need and deserve the highest levels of protections, and these protections should be free from the cyclical nature of politics and instead guaranteed to residents by the permanency and consistency of the Florida Constitution.

The suggestion by FHCA that the proposed amendment weakens protections for nursing home residents is an ignorant one. It is as if they did not read the proposal, or they have a distorted view of what is in the best interest of residents.

You do not have to be a constitutional lawyer to get this. The plain reading of the amendment is simple and sensible. If adopted by the Constitution Revision Commission and then passed by Florida voters next November, much needed basic rights would be afforded to our frailest and most vulnerable citizens.

The proposal merely says this: Residents of long-term care facilities would have the right to be treated courteously, fairly, and with dignity. They would have the right to adequate and appropriate health care that puts their needs and best interest first.

Residents would have the right to safe, clean, and comfortable living conditions and the right to insist the government does its part to safeguard their welfare. They would have the right to require facilities get meaningful insurance in case something goes wrong. And in the terrible event of abuse, neglect, or death, residents or their heirs would have the right to identify who is ultimately responsible for their harm and hold them accountable.

My proposal clearly strengthens protections for residents of long-term care facilities in Florida; it is obvious to any reasonable person who reads it, and to say otherwise is flatly false. This brings me to my last point.

The FHCA said the proposal is “glaringly bad,” but bad for whom? The FHCA represents facility owners, so we can assume they mean bad for the owners. I do not share that view.

The welfare of residents and the viability of the long-term care industry in Florida do not have to be zero sum games of mutual exclusivity. A healthy industry is in the best interest of residents but not when it comes at their expense.

Thankfully, there are many very good facilities in this state, and the caregivers that work there perform miracles each and every day. But here is the reality, the nursing home industry in Florida is largely a for-profit one.

Undoubtedly, a profit motive encourages efficiencies and innovations and many other desired outcomes. But sometimes the motive for profit in nursing homes is at odds with the objective to prioritize the welfare of residents first. In these circumstances, a Bill of Rights for residents is needed to ensure their safety to the highest degree possible.

Nearly 20 percent of Florida’s 21 million people are over the age of 65, making it the oldest state in the U.S. Approximately 150,000 Floridians live in long-term care facilities in this state, and as the baby boomer bubble hits the hardest, these numbers will exponentially rise along with the cost to care for them.

The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years to evaluate the Constitution in an effort to prepare our state for the future. In my view, and it is one I believe to be shared by industry and resident advocates alike, is that there are few issues more important or more relevant to the future well-being of our state and its people than how we treat and care for the elderly.

So let’s work to be better.

Brecht Heuchan is a member of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission.

Keyna Cory: What have you recycled today?

There are many actions each of us can take to reduce our environmental impact and support a clean community. One of the easiest actions to take every day is to recycle.

That’s why the Florida Recycling Partnership invites all Floridians to join us when we host Florida Recycles Day Wednesday, Nov. 15 beginning at 9 a.m. at the Florida Capitol – Plaza Level in celebration of America Recycles Day, a Keep America Beautiful national initiative.

This will be the 5th Annual Florida Recycles Day at the Capitol hosted by the Florida Recycling Partnership and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Florida has a recycling rate of 56 percent, which is ahead of the national average of 34 percent. Together, we can certainly recycle more and recycle right.

DEP will launch a new statewide recycling education program RETHINK … RESET … RECYCLE during the Nov. 15 event. We need to RETHINK what we recycle and RESET our behavior to focus on what we RECYCLE. The new FloridaRecycles.org campaign is in partnership with the Florida Recycling Partnership, Recycle Florida Today, Waste Management, Waste Connections, Marpan, and Single-Stream Recyclers LLC and is designed to boost awareness of the top items in a successful recycling program including paper and cardboard, plastic bottles and jugs, and aluminum and steel cans.

Through the simple act of recycling (and buying products made with recycled content), we can continue to “give our garbage another life.” That plastic bottle can become a pair of jeans and that aluminum can become a new aluminum can in less than 60 days.

But it all starts with putting more of the right clean and dry recyclable items into your curbside recycle container – and keeping non-recyclable materials OUT especially plastic bags (take them back to your retailer to recycle), cords and hoses, food and clothing. Remember, when in doubt, it’s better to “throw it out” than ruin your good recyclables.

With this in mind, and as America Recycles Day approaches Nov. 15, the Florida Recycling Partnership wants to thank you for your efforts to recycle – at home, at work or school, and on the go. Join us in our effort to make our state environmentally and economically healthier by recycling more and recycling right.

For more information regarding Florida Recycles Day at the Capitol, go to www.flrecycling.org.

#whathaveyourecycledtoday

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Keyna Cory is executive director of the Florida Recycling Partnership, she can be reached at keyna@flrecycling.org. The Florida Recycling Partnership is a coalition of top Florida businesses and associations with the mission to educate policymakers, other businesses and the general public on the benefits of recycling.

 

Joseph Thornton: Former Florida Death Row doctor with a Veterans’ Day message

Did you know that 18-percent of Florida’s death row is made up of veterans of our military services?

It is an important fact as we prepare to honor those who have served our country this Veterans Day. I have learned from firsthand experience that veterans sentenced to death can help us all to understand some of the failures of Florida’s death penalty, as well as how to improve our justice system overall.

I am a psychiatrist trained at Stanford University with more than 30-years of clinical experience, including 3-years overseeing medical and psychiatric care on Florida’s Death Row.

In our system, for a conviction and execution, a defendant must meet a legal standard of competency at the time of at the time of the crime, during the trial, through the appeals, and right up to the execution. However, even cases where guilt is certain, we cannot be 100-percent certain of mental capacity, yet an execution is a 100-percent final.

There is a better way.

We can learn from veterans and their experience in the criminal justice system.

Take the case of Michael Lambrix, who was executed by the state of Florida last month. Lambrix served in the Army and was honorably discharged after becoming disabled in a training accident. He became involved with drugs, was arrested for murder in 1983, sentenced to death and executed 33-years later.

Patrick Hannon, who was executed by Florida this week, had extensive drug use while in the military. However, neither of these men had the benefit of current intervention tactics deployed by the Veteran’s Administration to care for veterans with a history of trauma and drug abuse.

In response to the growing needs of veterans suffering from trauma and drug use, in 2008 the Veterans Health System established the Veterans Justice Initiative.

Florida now has 2 dozen Veteran Treatment Courts. While under the supervision of these courts the veterans must attend treatment for indicated conditions such a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse. For those with substance use disorders there is periodic mandatory urine drug testing. The objective is rehabilitation and successful adjustment to the community rather than incarceration.

If we truly want to honor those who have served in our military this Veterans’ Day, then we should expand the number of veterans’ courts and the services they provide.

We should also urge the governor to place a moratorium on executions, and not just those of veterans, but everyone on Florida’s death row.

The fact is, almost all of them experienced childhood trauma, drug use and more. The time and money Florida spends on the death penalty can be much better spent on more mental health treatment services, especially for military veterans, who deserve better treatment after sacrificing so much for our country.

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Dr. Joseph Thornton is a psychiatrist with the North Florida-South Georgia Veterans Health System. From 2003 to 2010 Dr. Thornton served as the medical executive director of the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center a maximum security forensic mental health treatment facility in Gainesville. Before that he was the Medical Executive Director at Union Correctional Institution.

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