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Dave Chauncey: Teach for America Jacksonville, not billboards, is better way to recruit teachers

Dave Chauncey

Today, there are approximately 200 teacher openings in Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) for the 2016—2017 school year, which ends next month. That means students in 200 classrooms are being managed by a substitute.

The teacher shortage is not surprising, but the Duval County School Board’s consideration to cut Teach for America (TFA) is. If the school board gets its way when it meets Monday, there will be 325 openings soon.

In lieu of funding TFA in Jacksonville, this board is considering using the $400,000 originally earmarked for those 125 teachers to instead pay for marketing — yes, marketing.

More specifically, Chairwoman Paula Wright proposed using the money for DCPS billboards, which to be frank, is a bad idea. While Ms. Wright likes billboards, readers should know what TFA actually does.

TFA is a program that trains, supports, and places many of the nation’s top college students in the country’s lowest-performing Title I schools, where there is the greatest need for teachers.

It infuses racially and economically diverse educators into neighborhood schools and provides successful role models that look or came from households like the students they teach. In 2015, 64 percent of TFA Jacksonville corps members identified as people of color or from a low-income background.

Since TFA opened in Duval County in 2008, more than 30 TFA corps members have won Teacher of the Year in their school, including two finalists for Duval County’s Teacher of the Year.

Not only does TFA help fill critical teaching positions, but it also seeks out schools with the greatest shortages in the most vital subject areas: math, science and language arts. TFA corps members were a considerable share — 14 percent — of new math hires in Duval this year.

In a climate of teacher shortage crises, the decision to cut TFA makes no sense, especially with only three months until teachers report for the 2017-2018 school year. This consideration reeks of politics from an ineffectual school board that recently drove out its superintendent with pettiness.

This is not about students or stewardship of taxpayer dollars. This is about attempting to take out a program that many of the entrenched status quo interests have resented since the day it began in Duval County.

TFA has its shortcomings like any organization and it is not a silver bullet for education reform, but it has a proven track record of creating tangible impacts on student achievement in classrooms across Florida and the nation.

In a state where the average public school teacher comes and goes in 3.5 years, 70 percent of 2014 TFA Jacksonville corps members continue teaching beyond their two-year commitment and remain in the classroom today.

Many former corps members also become school administrators or choose to make Jacksonville their permanent home, no matter their profession, which is a boon for attracting well-educated, high skilled workers and their families to Jacksonville.

Without TFA in Jacksonville, the teacher shortage problems in Duval will just worsen. The number of vacancies could more than double to 400 vacancies or more.

That’s why it’s extremely misguided to think $400,000 worth of billboards and advertising will be the key to filling those 200 vacant teaching positions. Other strategies are needed to fill these roles.

Moving forward, TFA and its impact in Jacksonville should be regularly evaluated with renewed public attention and debate. For right now, the 125 TFA corps members and 95 TFA alumni teaching in Duval County, along with the many other talented administrators and education-focused professionals who are borne from TFA, are sorely and desperately needed in this city.

Anyone who cares for our most vulnerable students should implore their board member to make the right decision. Pettiness and politics from our school board should not get in the way of children’s best interests.


Dave Chauncey is an education, labor and employment attorney in Jacksonville. He was a 2010 TFA Corps Member in Jacksonville. You can tweet him @DaveChauncey.

Jamey Richardson: Proposed nursing home reimbursement plan will make Florida senior care even better

As the president of a multifacility company with arguably the highest quality rating in the State of Florida, I feel compelled to respond to the misguided comments about the proposed Prospective Payment System (PPS).

The current proposal, for the first time in Florida Medicaid history, will create a true incentive for long-term care centers to provide higher quality care to our residents.

The current system of reimbursement for nursing homes provides no incentive for operators to deliver higher quality care, no incentive to be efficient and no incentive to invest capital to upgrade centers. In addition, at a time when our country is trying to simplify government programs, the current system is overly complicated and overly burdensome on state agencies.

The PPS proposal for nursing home reimbursement is both complicated and challenging, and critics certainly don’t help the public understand it when they introduce false information to scare the Legislature away. Many of the opponents of PPS are content with the current system because they benefit from the inefficiencies of the system and have learned how to “game” the program. The bottom line is that this PPS plan will, for the first time ever, link the payment system to quality outcomes. How could anyone oppose paying for quality?

While some skilled nursing centers will receive less in reimbursements under the proposal, the proposed plan includes a three-year transition period to soften the impact and allow everyone to adapt to the modern approach. Some of the highest-quality facilities that will lose money, including many of ours, support the PPS approach because it is in the best interest of the residents in our care and the future of long-term care. Instead of being surprised by wild swings in reimbursement, PPS will provide stability, which results in our ability to budget properly and provide consistent care to our residents and fair wages to our employees.

New funds will be directed to quality of care, while 6 percent of rates that had previously gone to fund other costs would now be used for quality improvements. The critics scoff that using the money to enlarge resident rooms or improve therapy equipment isn’t the same as putting it into quality care. This ignores the reality that quality of life and quality of care go hand in hand, especially for the elderly residents spending their later years with us. Are there any family members who wouldn’t want a nicer room for their loved one or better treatment rooms with modern equipment?

A handful of critics have publicly decried the PPS plan as being designed to benefit one large nursing home chain. Perhaps one chain would receive significant additional funds, but that may be because its 83 centers and 10,000+ employees care for more than 9,000 residents, all of whom would presumably benefit from the increased funding. This program is bigger than one building or one chain — this program creates a system that will benefit the elderly population of Florida for generations to come.

This proposal has not been rushed. It has been vetted by outside consultants, industry experts, local and national experts, and AHCA. It is the result of years of work and collaboration, and is supported by the overwhelming majority of nursing home operators (both not-for-profit and for-profit) as well as tens of thousands of employees throughout Florida. The PPS system under consideration will improve the quality of care throughout the system and improve the lives of thousands of Florida residents.

Florida is a national model in elder care, and the PPS plan would make us even better.


Jamey Richardson is president at Gulf Coast Health Care.

Jason Pye, Sal Nuzzo: Mandatory minimum reform needed in overdose epidemic

Facing yet another drug overdose epidemic, the Florida Legislature has an opportunity to move the needle in the right policy direction — finally.

As members of the Florida House and Senate are poised to pass new criminal violations, this time for trafficking in fentanyl and synthetic drugs, the heat is on to include policies that have failed Florida – every single time they’ve been tried.

Once again, the usual suspects play Lucy to the legislature’s Charlie Brown, assuring members that this time is different, that this time mandatory minimums will work.

But we know how this ends, and the legislature will have no excuse when it lands flat on its back.

At 50 times stronger than heroin, fentanyl is terrifying. Some say the danger alone justifies mandatory minimums, claiming such sentences will deter drug trafficking. What they don’t do is offer a shred of evidence for that claim. Indeed, all available evidence shows the opposite: not only will mandatory minimums fail, they could make the problem worse.

Current law already provides harsh mandatory sentences for trafficking in heroin laced with fentanyl. According to the DEA, most fentanyl is added to heroin in Mexico before it enters the U.S. If so, trafficking in this form of heroin would already be subject to mandatory minimums in Florida.

This should trouble anyone who believes mandatory minimums will deter fentanyl trafficking. If that’s true, what are they waiting on?

The truth is mandatory minimums don’t reduce drug trafficking. After Florida adopted mandatory minimums for opioid trafficking in 1999, arrests for trafficking in those drugs increased sharply. So did prison admissions: between FY 2000-01 and FY 2010-11, prison admissions for low-level opioid trafficking increased fourteenfold, a fact consistent with a Florida Senate report that found no evidence of a general deterrent effect from Florida’s mandatory minimum drug laws.

Mandatory minimums have also failed to reduce drug abuse.

In the decade after Florida adopted mandatory minimums for trafficking in cocaine and heroin, Florida’s cocaine-related death rate increased 68 percent. It remained higher in 2015 than in 1999. Heroin-related deaths are at record levels; the 2015 heroin-related death rate was nearly twice the 1999 rate. Oxycodone deaths increased, too, including a 264 percent increase between 2003 and 2009.

In fact, since adopting mandatory minimums to reduce overdose deaths, Florida’s overall drug-induced death rate has increased nearly 150 percent.

If this is success, what would failure look like?

Florida is also not using mandatory minimums to lock up only major drug traffickers, as some suggest. A 2012 report by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) studied inmates serving mandatory sentences for opioid trafficking.

OPPAGA found 74 percent of these inmates had never been to prison previously. Half had either never been on probation or had been on probation solely for drug possession, and 84 percent had no current or past violent offenses. The report concluded the majority of such inmates “had minimal prior criminal involvement and substance abuse problems” and were at “low risk for recidivism.”

Incarcerating thousands of low-level addicts who don’t pose a risk to public safety is expensive.

Florida spends more than $100 million annually incarcerating drug offenders serving mandatory minimums. That money could go to expanding drug courts, increasing access to drug treatment, or giving first responders naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses.

Continuing to waste tax dollars on ineffective, tough-sounding “solutions” instead of investing in what works will make Florida’s opioid problem worse.

Because mandatory minimums have failed to achieve their intended purposes, and because they created massive negative unintended consequences, more than a dozen conservative groups – including Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks, the American Conservative Union Foundation, Justice Fellowship, Right on Crime, The James Madison Institute, and Florida TaxWatch – recently encouraged the legislature to reform mandatory minimum drug laws. Yet some in the legislature want more of the same – perhaps failure is addictive, too.

One such reform – a practical, reasonable and moderate one – would give judges, under compelling circumstances, a degree of flexibility to sentence drug offenders appropriately.

For instance, under legislation currently being considered, a person who buys a bottle of counterfeit fentanyl pills would face a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. A “safety valve” would allow judges to determine whether that person is indeed a trafficker for whom prison is appropriate, or an addict who needs treatment, drug court, or another sanction to break the cycle of drug use and incarceration. Several states, including Georgia and Mississippi, already have safety valves for drug trafficking, and they’ve worked to reduce crime and unnecessary incarceration.

The opioid epidemic is too important to allow politically motivated misinformation to guide Florida’s policy response. Public policy should be guided by evidence, experience and advice from actual experts.

A robust commitment to those principles, and not political convenience, might actually help fix Florida’s drug problem.


Jason Pye is director of Public Policy and Legislative Affairs for FreedomWorks; Sal Nuzzo is vice president of policy for the James Madison Institute.

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

Lucas Lindsey

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

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

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

Luckily, the grassroots momentum is real.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Michael J. Bowen

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

That was me.

I am a die-hard conservative activist.

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

And I’m a patient.

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

Needless to say, it was a life changing event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a disaster for patients.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry up! Session ends this Friday.


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

Brian Robare: Proposed nursing home payment system raises serious concern

Brian L. Robare

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

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

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

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

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

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

This plan is the epitome of fast, and wrong.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Paul Davidson (Photo courtesy Plam Beach Post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened to me isn’t an isolated incident.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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