Guest Author – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Guest Author

Brewster Bevis: Affordable housing good for Florida business, economy

Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) was created to foster an economic climate in Florida conducive to the growth, development and welfare of industry, business and the people of the state, which is why we are proud to be one of the 30 statewide organizations that make up the Sadowski Coalition.

Fully funding our affordable housing programs is good for all Florida businesses and our economy. Affordable housing generates jobs in home construction, which is a major economic driver in the state. This industry also fosters growth in local businesses when they draw upon and use local resources.

Florida’s housing market and available affordable housing stock are key factors in attracting new businesses to the state. Fully funding affordable housing goes a long way toward enhancing our workforce and business climate.

If we can ensure Florida’s employees at all income levels can find a safe, reliable and affordable home near their job, our state can continue to be one of the best places to do business in the nation.

Recently, the state Senate and House released their respective budget proposals. We truly appreciate the Senate and Senate leadership, including Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley of Fleming Island and President Joe Negron of Stuart, for their commitment to affordable housing.

The Senate continues to be a strong advocate for affordable housing in Florida, and we ask they remain resolute in their recommendation of fully allocating these funds as they move through budget negotiations.

On the other hand, the House’s funding proposal only appropriates affordable housing money for areas impacted by the hurricane, which means the bulk of the state will not receive any affordable housing funding with this proposal.

We hope they will move to the Senate’s funding position. We ask they remember just how important affordable housing is to our economy, Floridians and our entire State of Florida.

If lawmakers fully fund affordable housing programs during Fiscal Year 2018-19, we can generate more than 30,000 Florida jobs and have a positive economic impact of $4 billion in the State of Florida.

We ask lawmakers to keep this in mind as their focus shifts to finalizing the FY 2018-19 budget.

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Brewster Bevis is the senior vice president of state and federal affairs for AIF, which is a member of the Sadowski Coalition.

Sal Nuzzo: Companies in Florida are expanding with new tax law

FedEx recently announced that employees will be issued wage raises and bonuses due to its predicted increase in revenue from the President’s new tax law.

FedEx joins companies like BancorpSouth Bank, Spellex Corporation and RGF Environmental Group in Florida who have also made similar announcements.

The new tax law, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, reduces the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent; providing companies billions they can allocate toward employee salaries, job creation and research and development among other areas.

For more than 30 years, The James Madison Institute has advocated for limited government and economic prosperity. It’s fitting that the last time we had comprehensive tax reform, JMI was just being founded.

Over the course of the past 30 years, we have seen our tax code evolve into a monstrosity that only the most steeped tax attorney is able to navigate. One thing is certain, the code had become an obstacle to sustained economic growth for far too long.

FedEx’s announcement means that 12,815 number of employees right here in Florida will get raises. FedEx operates 234 facilities all across the Sunshine State and its growth continues with the opening of a new 237,000 sq. ft. FedEx Ground facility in Kendall that will produce approximately 170 FedEx Ground employees and around 140 contract service provider employees.

This is an economic boon to the Miami-Dade community and the entire state.

We are thankful FedEx invests in Florida and will continue to have a presence here.

We hope that other companies will follow suit by contributing their revenues from the tax law to the economic growth of the state and welfare of its employees.

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Sal Nuzzo is Vice President of Policy at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee.

Edmund Pezalla: PBMs – patient advocates for high quality, affordable prescription drugs

There is so much rancor and finger-pointing these days over prescription drug prices that consumers are often left to wonder: who is fighting on their behalf?

The answer: Pharmacy Benefit Managers, or PBMs.

Companies and public programs providing prescription drug coverage hire PBMs for their expertise, and ability to reduce drug costs by negotiating for 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 drug makers 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.

Specialty pharmacies dispense complex medicines, many of which are infused intravenously, or injected. They also manage patient care to optimize outcomes, reduce medication errors, manage and prevent side effects, and promote more affordable alternatives. Most drugstores simply don’t have the expertise to dispense specialty medications to patients.

It is easy to see that PBMs reduce drug costs, but often overlooked is the clinical value that they provide payers and patients. PBMs and PBM-affiliated specialty pharmacies work in coordination with their clients to carefully evaluate 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, assist in managing drug-related side effects and provide support to create formularies 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 often 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.

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 outcomes-based 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 and lawmakers are even hungrier to hear from better-informed voters, PBMs are part of the solution that lowers drug costs and improves quality.

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Edmund Pezalla, M.D., MPH is a leading innovator and consultant on payer strategy for pharmaceutical and device manufacturers. He works with a variety of policy and industry groups on cutting-edge coverage policy, innovations in value-based payments, and adaptive regulatory and market entry pathways. Pezalla is currently a Scholar-in-Residence at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy in Washington.

Jackie Toledo: Texting-while-driving bill will make Florida streets safer

If you are reading this and driving, stop. It can wait.

More than 5 crashes occur every hour because of someone texting behind the wheel. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were more than 500,000 distracted driving crashes in Florida, resulting in more than 200 fatalities in 2016.

As a mother of five children, these numbers are as frightening as they are compelling. As an engineer, the data is crystal clear. And as a legislator, my goal is safer streets and the rule of law.

That is why I am sponsoring House Bill 33, along with Representative Emily Slosberg, and the more than 50 House members from around the state who have signed on as co-sponsors of this bipartisan bill to end texting and driving once and for all.

HB 33 would make texting while driving a primary offense. As we’ve heard from Floridians who have traveled to Tallahassee to tell their inspiring stories of how this irresponsible act has devastated their lives and how they do not want others to feel the same pain they are enduring, I too want to make a life-changing difference today and for our future generations.

I couldn’t be more proud of how far we’ve come in the Florida House with this good bill, especially with the support and encouragement from Speaker Richard Corcoran. HB 33 is now ready for a floor vote by the full House, and I remain hopeful it will swiftly pass. I look forward to the day Gov. Rick Scott signs this important policy into law and texting while driving becomes a thing of the past.

Until then, remember: It can wait.

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Tampa Republican Jackie Toledo represents Florida House District 60.

Victor Freytas: Charter schools deserve fair treatment

Two years ago, my daughter, Mia, struggled in school. She was getting C’s, D’s and F’s.

But last year, she started seventh grade at Renaissance Charter at Hunter’s Creek. Since we found the right school for her, she has improved quite a lot. She brings home A’s and B’s. She actually enjoys going to class.

That’s how I know charter schools can make a difference for kids. As public schools, these institutions deserve to be treated fairly. And that’s why I can’t understand why districts like Orange County Public Schools are suing to block charter schools from receiving fair funding.

Much credit for my daughter’s success belongs to her school’s arts programs. She landed a starring role in a school production of William Shakespeare‘s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

If she wanted to keep her role as Quince and have a chance to perform onstage at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, she would have to earn good grades.

Much credit also belongs to the school’s principal, Robert Acosta. He understands how to connect with students psychologically. He encourages parents to be patient and give their kids time to improve.

He understands how young people respond to incentives. If they need to get better grades before they can appear in a play, or take part in cheerleading, which has become my daughter’s latest interest, they’ll study harder.

Mr. Acosta knew it would take time to light a fire in my daughter. But when she first landed her role in the Shakespeare play, I noticed a change. She started staying late after school. She worked hard to memorize her lines. Soon, she was working hard in class, too.

I have seen firsthand how a great school culture can change everything for a child.

When I visit my daughter’s school, I see happy kids. Other parents at the school tell me their kids have started behaving better at home since they started attending.

Mr. Acosta understands the power of arts to connect with students and help them focus in the classroom. He wants to expand the programs at our school. It would be great if, one day, our school could offer a music program.

Unfortunately, a study last year found charter schools in Florida received 71 cents on the dollar compared to district-run public schools. Arts programs cost money. My daughter attends a charter school that made arts a priority. If the school were funded fairly, it might be able to offer even more opportunities to its students.

That’s why it’s unfortunate that a district like Orange County Public Schools would sue the state to stop a law (HB 7069) that creates fairer funding for charter schools.

The Legislature recently decided all public-school students should be treated equally. I agree. That’s why I think Orange County and 13 other districts should end their misguided lawsuit.

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Victor Freytas is a parent from Orange County.

Jennifer Frankenstein-Harris: Vacation rentals support tourism

I recently traveled to Tallahassee to represent the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association (FL VRMA), and an industry which has become a vital part of Florida’s tourism economy, at Tourism Day at the Capitol.

There, I had the opportunity to listen to an encouraging speech given by Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) President and CEO Carol Dover. One that we would like to hold her to.

Having seen her previous comments deriding vacation rentals in our state, I sat back prepared to hear more of the same.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when she began with a question I too have been asking … why would the FRLA not embrace vacation rentals?

Vacation rentals create extra capacity for the ever-increasing number of travelers coming to our beautiful state. These same visitors help support local businesses and restaurants, some of which are members of the FRLA.

As vacation rentals, fueled by easy to use online platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway, have increased in popularity, some have suggested that the Florida hotel industry must be suffering. The data show the opposite — the Florida hotel industry is growing as well.

Many middle-class individuals rely on their ability to use their homes as vacation rentals for extra cash to pay the bills, buy new school clothes for their kids, or save for a new car. This extra income pumps millions of dollars into local economies and benefits all businesses.

As the saying goes: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Reputable vacation rental owners and managers, like myself, want to do what is right and pay our fair share of taxes back to our local and state government. We are not looking for a “free ride.”

As Dover continued her remarks, I found myself nodding along. FRLA, she stated, is trying to accomplish just three main things when it comes to vacation rentals:

First, make sure all vacation rentals are registered and licensed through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. We agree.

Second, require that a license number be included on all advertisements. We agree.

Third, ensure vacation rental owners are paying the same taxes that everyone else pays. Again, we agree.

I was only disappointed when she stopped short of expressing support for Senator [Greg] Steube’s and Representative [Mike] La Rosa’s bills. As they are currently drafted, the bills protect the private property rights of all homeowners and ensure that regulations are applied uniformly. I remain hopeful that one day soon our organizations will be standing side by side in support of this legislation.

It should not matter whether a homeowner chooses to rent their home on a short-term or long-term basis, or not at all—local ordinances should be applied equally. Noise is noise and trash is trash, regardless of who is inhabiting the home.

And that is why statewide standards are so important and must be a part of the conversation.

Dover acknowledged that uniform regulations at the state level were essential to Florida’s restaurant and lodging industry that, prior to the late-1980s, struggled with how to deal with regulations that varied vastly across 67 counties and 457 municipalities.

Property owners should be afforded the same advantage.

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Jennifer Frankenstein-Harris is President of the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association.

FRLA’s Carol Dover talks short-term rentals

Tomorrow, members of the Senate Community Affairs Committee have an important decision to make regarding the future of short-term rentals in the State of Florida.

There are two introduced bills on the agenda that would impact the short-term rental industry, but only one that adequately addresses the need to establish a clear, sensible line between traditional and commercially operated short-term rentals.

That is Senate Bill 1640 by Sen. David Simmons.

But before I tell you why this piece of legislation is in the best interest of Florida residents, visitors and the lodging industry, I would like to make one thing clear: the fabricated wedge that seems to have been driven between vacation rentals and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) is simply not there.

Our past chair of the FRLA is one of the largest vacation rental operators, so why wouldn’t the FRLA embrace vacation rentals?  Contrary to the bad rumor circulating that we are opposed to property rights, I used to represent the billboard industry and understand how critical property rights are to Floridians.

I tell you all this because as it stands today, we are only trying to define reasonable boundaries between traditional home sharing, that we’ve long welcomed in Florida, and commercial rentals, which consist of a growing trend of real estate speculators acquiring and listing multiple units in the same residential neighborhood and/or listing these units in a revolving door fashion.

These “commercial operators” are running what amount to “illegal hotels” at an intensifying pace through their exploitation of online short-term rental platforms, like Airbnb and HomeAway.

For this very reason, we believe state law should be amended this session to address the commercial operators circumventing Florida’s public accommodations laws.

Accordingly, the Legislature should: get everyone licensed through the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR); compel commercial operators — not traditional vacation rentals — to adhere to heightened, common-sense regulations that ensure the well-being of guests and Floridians alike; and make sure the DBPR license number is on all advertisements, so regulatory and tax compliance is adequately enforceable.

That is why the FRLA supports SB 1640.  It is the only legislation that soundly addresses commercial operators and offers smart solutions to curtail illegal hotels and keep Florida’s neighborhoods safe.  We encourage the Senate Community Affairs Committee to support SB 1640 and its core tenants as they debate a path forward on this critical issue.

There’s nothing wrong with home sharing, but commercially operated short-term rental properties — which resemble inns or hotels far more than their current classification under State law — need to be addressed properly under Florida law.

Brewster Bevis: Reject public policy that threatens the property rights of Florida businesses

Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) has been a staunch supporter of keeping public notices in newspapers and online to ensure the numerous Florida businesses that AIF represents — 90 percent of which are small businesses — can easily locate and access critical information.

A recent Mason Dixon Polling & Research survey showed that Floridians have identified newspapers as the place they want to get this critical information.

Yet, each year, there are threats to move these notices to an online-only format that are often obscure or yet to be created.

If passed, these measures will diminish public notice, making it extremely difficult for businesses and individuals to find the critical information that notices communicate.

The 2018 Legislative Session won’t be any different. Currently proposed Senate Bill 898 and House Bill 691 will allow public notices to be published in a newspaper OR posted ONLY on “a public website that customarily conducts personal property auctions.”

If this legislation passes, the current notice requirement that leverages both the internet AND print media to cast the widest net before personal property is seized and sold at auction will, in actuality, be eliminated. Meaning the citizens and businesses across the state who regularly use self-storage facilities to store their inventory or equipment and who may fall behind on rent, for even a single month, could see their property seized and sold after only a single advertisement on an ambiguous auction website.

Florida’s businesses and individuals have the right to expect that before their property is indiscriminately sold at auction, either they, a relative, a friend, a neighbor or a customer, have an opportunity to discover that public notice in a trusted source, their local newspaper, as well as on that newspaper’s website and at FloridaPublicNotices.com.

AIF feels strongly that property rights must be central to the discussion on any potential changes to Florida’s system of public notice; because, the way the language in SB 898 and HB 691 is currently drafted, there is a real threat of greatly diminishing the due process protections the legislature put in place when allowing for the nonjudicial takings of property.

It is paramount public notice remains protected, and individuals and businesses’ personal property rights are preserved.

And, while we are hopeful the Florida Legislature, who have historically protected and even bolstered public notice by ensuring its broadest possible dissemination in print and online, will once again reject this bad public policy, AIF asks all lawmakers to VOTE NO on SB 898 and HB 691.

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Brewster Bevis is senior vice president of State and Federal Affairs for the Associated Industries of Florida.

Demetrius Minor: The only free speech zone in Florida ought to be Florida

Welcome to the United States of America, otherwise known as the world’s largest free speech zone.

Unfortunately, too many college administrators don’t see it that way.

On campuses across Florida and the rest of the nation, people in charge of higher education have established euphemistically named “free speech zones” that limit the places where students can hold peaceful demonstrations, distribute literature or give speeches to passers-by. The clear implication: The rest of the campus is not open to free speech.

They rationalize these restrictions by claiming they are for the safety and security of students.

In reality, they are an abasement of everything that a university education is supposed to be about.

College students do not need to be protected from ideas with which they disagree. A primary function of the university is to expose students to such ideas, whether they come from professors, fellow students or guest speakers. From this exposure, students learn to implement critical thinking skills to properly assist them in decision-making.

State Rep. Bob Rommel of Naples has introduced legislation to help make sure the state’s public universities live up to that standard. A companion bill in the Senate was introduced by state Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala.

The Campus Free Expression Act would bar state schools from setting aside areas that restrict students from exercising their constitutionally protected First Amendment rights.

“To me, it’s just shocking that in the United States of America, we actually need a bill to protect freedom of speech,” Rommel told the Tallahassee Democrat.

It may be shocking, but it’s true.

A survey by the Brookings Institution found a majority of college students believe it is acceptable for a group of students to “loudly and repeatedly shout” to prevent a speaker from being heard. Nearly 20 percent of students said it was acceptable to use “violence to prevent the speaker from speaking.”

In the face of such shout-downs and violence, there has been a backlash against the suppression of speech on college campuses, and that is reflected in the numbers. Fewer schools have free speech zones today than did just a few years ago. That’s a positive trend.

But eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. We need to guarantee that in case the pendulum swings back in the direction of those who would shout down their political opponents, the law will be there to deal with them.

While most of the recent cases have involved left-wing students (and sometimes administrators and faculty) attempting to silence conservative speakers, over the last decade or so this has been a problem that knows no ideological boundary.

In 2006, the assembly rights of University of Central Florida students were restricted when the radical left-wing Students for a Democratic Society was barred from holding a protest under the school’s “Free Assembly Areas” policy. In a more recent case that received national attention, white supremacist Richard Spencer was shouted down by hecklers at the University of Florida.

Neither the reincarnated SDS nor the risible Spencer are going to win many hearts and minds. But even if they were, the First Amendment is content neutral. Hate speech, whether from left or right, is protected speech. It should be combatted not with truncheons or a heckler’s veto, but with more speech. With better ideas. With well-articulated argument.

Students who resort to violence and shout-downs are simply demonstrating that they do not have much confidence in their ideas.

Administrators who impose free speech zones are demonstrating that they do not have much confidence in their students.

We must show that we are willing to defend the speech of all citizens, including students. Free speech zones have no place on college campuses.

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Demetrius Minor is Florida coalitions director for Generation Opportunity.

Claudia Rodriguez: Motorola Solutions thanks Florida first responders

First Responder Appreciation Week is a special time when we Floridians recognize law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel who help keep us safe. This past year, first responders went above and beyond not only day-to-day but also during Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful hurricanes we have seen in years.

They worked tirelessly to prepare residents for the approaching storm and provide assistance when it hit and in its aftermath.

They helped evacuate high-risk areas, conducted search and rescue efforts, provided security and cleared routes to allow people to return to their homes.

They also supported communities with food, water and other aid for those in need.

Motorola Solutions’ Florida employees thank the many men and women across the state who provided their selfless support. Hurricane Irma is only one of the many examples of their tireless dedication to protecting lives and helping communities.

We are grateful for everything they do.

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Claudia Rodriguez is Motorola Solutions corporate vice president. She is based in Plantation.

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