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Guest Author

Dr. Ed Moore: Improving Florida’s constitution: What belongs in it & what does not

Every two decades, a citizens-based commission, the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), comes together to examine potential amendments for inclusion in the Florida Constitution. Florida is currently undergoing this citizens’ initiative process, whereby Commission members review more than 100 potential amendments and decide which amendments should be put before Florida voters for consideration on the 2018 General Election ballot.

What many Florida voters may not realize is that the Commissioners are not elected members of a legislative body. Unlike the Florida Legislature, the Commission is not designed to resolve long-standing, heavily debated complex issues. I think we can all agree these types of issues are not best dealt with by placing narrow and often confusing verbiage directly on the ballot. According to former Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell who serves alongside me on the Foundation of Associated Industries of Florida CRC Working Group, the purpose of a state constitution should be “limited to the core or fundamental law of the state, with more detailed measures left to statutory law,” as outlined in his “A Guide to Amending Florida’s Constitution.”

Unfortunately, the current CRC, made up of outstanding men and women, are having to do that very thing right now. They are dealing with heavy, complex issues that have been before the Legislature many times in some cases, without resolution. Some may think if the Florida Legislature cannot reach a decision on an issue the next step is inclusion in our state’s core document. That is often an incorrect assumption. Many issues have been around for years without resolution, even after intense debate and thorough research. Some issues are resolved eventually, but that is generally accomplished by duly elected officials who spend time to fully understand the complexities of issues while trying to avoid expected and unintended consequences of their actions.

One of the classic examples of how NOT to amend a state constitution occurred in 2002 when a proposed constitutional amendment was added directly to the ballot via citizen initiative to prevent the caging of pregnant pigs. Yes, you read that correctly. Encased in our most precious document is language dealing with pregnant pigs. An issue perhaps worthy of a debate in the legislative circle, but not in the state constitution. Due to this approved constitutional amendment, there was nationwide discussion that Florida was “the next California” where government by referendum could make the state all but ungovernable.

I don’t see that it has reached that point, but there are clearly signs it could be heading in that direction.

Would a similar measure belong in the United States Constitution? The U.S. Constitution is a document that has lasted over two centuries, remains focused on ensuring government does not intrude upon the constitutional rights of citizens, and offers a clear and concise description of how national government should be structured. Shouldn’t the purpose of the state instrument be similar in nature and composition? The U.S. Constitution has just 8,770 words; whereas, the Florida Constitution has more than 44,000 words. What does that tell you? Let’s look closely at some of the past and current proposals and consider their validity for inclusion.

In addition to the aforementioned pregnant pig debacle, another prominent amendment was the high-speed rail mandate. Passed by voters in 2000, this amendment decreed a high-speed rail be built in Florida. Just two years later, that amendment had to be repealed by the same electorate that had originally passed it. Why? Because it was shortsighted and failed to address key questions, such as how it would be financed or the fluidity of the technology of current transportation.  There are several ideas currently being discussed by the CRC that fall in that category.

Current CRC Proposal 88, regarding a “Declaration of Rights” for nursing home patients would add substantial additional rights for a single class of citizens, over and beyond what all citizens should expect. Additionally, it would open a Pandora’s box of lawsuit claims. It could be argued, why not include “special” rights for children, the mentally handicapped, veterans, the homeless, etc.? Where does it end?

Another current CRC proposal is E-Verify – a federal citizenship verification technology not yet fully worked out or implemented.  hould our state constitution mandate Florida businesses provide what is essentially a federal government function in verifying the naturalization and immigration status of every employee and job applicant? Moreover, rapid advances in technology may soon make E-Verify technology archaic and obsolete. These problems are very similar to the high-speed rail amendment that was repealed.

Alternatively, there are several suitable amendments to the constitution that are being considered. One such amendment, CRC Proposal 97 establishes that the required 60% approval rate needed to pass an amendment would be based on actual turnout, not just those voters that voted on the amendment.

Another current issue that makes sense for inclusion in the constitution is this year’s proposal dealing with the Power to Tax. Submitted by the Florida Legislature, this joint resolution would require a two-thirds vote of the Florida Legislature to increase state taxes or fees. The Power to Tax and how to apply or impose those taxes is an essential element in any constitution, just like the power that is appropriate to address the general welfare of the citizenry.

While these are just some examples of past and present proposals, we encourage voters to evaluate whether each item on the ballot is an issue better suited for more thorough debate and study in the Legislature or whether it meets the restrictive criteria to be written into a constitution. If you support an idea but it’s not one that belongs in Florida’s constitution, but rather in statutes, we urge you to contact your local legislators and tell them you support the idea, but not the inclusion of it in our state constitution.

 Dr. Ed Moore is the president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida and is member of the Foundation of Associated Industries of Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission Working Group who recently released a brief on “What Belongs in a State Constitution.”

Major Harding: Keep our Florida Constitution clean

Like the United States Constitution, the Florida Constitution is a fundamental document that should stand the test of time.  In Florida, the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) convenes every 20 years, having the unique power to review proposals to be added to the ballot for Florida voters to consider as amendments to our state’s constitution.

The 2018 CRC recently held a public hearing, where I had the opportunity to speak to the members on behalf of Keep Our Constitution Clean, a group of concerned businesses and Floridians who are urging the Commission to exercise restraint and reject proposals that detract from the Florida Constitution’s purpose.

A state’s constitution should govern with broad, general concepts, avoiding specifics and micromanagement as to not ruin its special status as a fundamental document.  A constitution is like the foundation of a house and statutes are like the exterior and finishes built upon that foundation. The exterior and other finishes can be changed as situations or society changes.  However, the foundation, the Florida Constitution, should only be altered when fundamental change is required. Our state’s constitution is meant to withstand the test of time.  Yet, the Florida Constitution is becoming riddled with countless, ordinary laws and specifics of government policy and regulation, such as the confinement of pregnant pigs, that lessen its status.  The Florida Constitution is already nearly three times longer than the U.S. Constitution.

Further, once an item is placed in the Florida Constitution, it becomes quite difficult to undo it. In other words, the item is no longer something that can easily be revised or updated by any branch of state or local government should we, as a voting public, change our minds or issues become outdated. Laws in our constitution bind future generations.  A perfect example of this is from November 2000 when Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment calling for a high-speed ground transportation system to be built in Florida.  However, just four years later, Florida voters repealed, or undid, the high-speed ground transportation amendment. Had this law been enacted by the Florida Legislature, it could have simply been changed a year later.

As this process moves forward, we believe there are several questions the commissioners — and Florida voters, if a proposal is placed on the November ballot — should ask themselves before voting on a proposal. These questions are not if the proposal is ultimately a good or bad idea, rather does the proposal meet the criteria to belong in our state’s governing document?  Is the proposal a foundational principle necessary for Florida’s government to operate? Does the proposal address or protect one of our most fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or right to due process of law?  Is there any reason why the proposal cannot be enacted by the Legislature?

If the answer is no to the above questions, the CRC should vote against the proposal to avoid clutter within our state’s constitution.  We believe there are several proposals under consideration that serve no constitutional purpose and could easily be addressed by the Florida Legislature, including:

— Proposal 26, which creates the Office of Domestic Security and Counter-Terrorism within the Department of Law Enforcement;

— Proposal 29, which requires all Florida employers to electronically verify employment eligibility using the federal government’s E-Verify system “or any successor program,” which the federal government already requires;

— Proposal 37, which prohibits state or local governments from naming government buildings, or the like, after an elected state or local official until after that official has vacated office;

— Proposal 54, which eliminates the Certificate of Need program currently required for the authorization of new health care facilities or certain services;

— Proposal 65, which prohibits vapor-generating electronic devices in enclosed indoor workplaces;

— Proposal 67, which prohibits wagering on greyhound or other dog races; and

— Proposal 88, which amends Florida’s Declaration of Rights to include rights of residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Now, it is important to stress we do not necessarily disagree with the policy expressed by any of the above proposals. We simply believe such issues are best addressed through ordinary legislation and not enshrined in our state constitution. We should not allow our Florida Constitution to become even more cluttered.

We must keep our Florida Constitution clean.

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Major Harding is a former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

Annie Jae Filkowski: Fake women’s health centers deceive women

In March 2014, I was 16 years old and scared because there was a chance I was experiencing an unexpected pregnancy.

Due to a lack of sex education throughout my years in public school and fear of asking my mom about the birds and the bees, I was ignorant about sexual health and forms of contraception. I was anxious, confused and didn’t know where to go.

Every day on my way to school I would pass a Community Pregnancy Center, sometimes called a CPC. I did not know much about this facility, except it advertised on the side of its building: “FREE PREGNANCY TESTING.” I thought maybe this was a legitimate health facility that could help me.

So, after a few days of mustering up the courage, I entered the center with a friend.

I learned quickly this was not a legitimate health care provider — even though the Florida Legislature wants you to think it is. These fake women’s health centers advertise free pregnancy testing and pregnancy-options education, but they oppose abortion and contraception and therefore will not provide comprehensive counseling or referrals.

The Florida Legislature passed House Bill 41, legislation that would permanently send millions in tax dollars to these fake women’s health centers that oppose abortion and judge, shame and intentionally try to trick women.

Their advertising and outward appearances are frequently calculated to deceive women into believing they will be able to access a full range of reproductive health care services, which is exactly why I walked in. I assumed at first the women at the front desk were nurses.

They asked why I was there and responded in an almost sympathetic manner when I shared my story. They then took me to a room that looked more like a therapist’s office than an exam room and included two couches, a tissue box and a Bible.

A woman came in and asked me questions such as: “If you are pregnant, do you know who the father is?” “What’s his full name?” “What’s the extent of your relationship?”

She added, “You aren’t supposed to have sex until marriage, but if you do, you should be in love and in a committed relationship.”

These questions were shaming, and I struggled to understand how a legitimate health care provider could operate like this.

Then, before she would give me back my pregnancy-test results she asked me another question: “What is your religious affiliation?” I was shocked, answered the question, reminded her why I was there and asked her for the result of my pregnancy test.

It was negative.

After, she began a lesson on abstinence and shared how I still can be “saved” despite the “mistakes” I have made. She gave me brochures about abstinence, Christianity, adoption and medically inaccurate information about abortion.

At the end of it all, she reminded me that she had all of my private information and would be notifying my family of my visit. So much for patient confidentiality.

I oppose HB 41 because I care deeply about women and feel no person should be lied to or feel judged or shamed when accessing health care. When faced with the possibility of an unintended pregnancy, women deserve unbiased, medically accurate information about all of their options.

We should not be judged, shamed and threatened. Our elected officials should not be legitimizing these fake clinics, nor should they be sending them millions in tax dollars, a scheme HB 41 makes permanent in law.

The best way to prevent unintended pregnancies is with contraception and medically accurate information around sexual health. However, this legislation denies women the full range of reproductive health care, is politically motivated and hurtful to women and families.

If Gov. Rick Scott cares about being a good steward of our tax dollars and supports deception-free, comprehensive, medically accurate women’s health care, he will veto HB 41.

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Annie Jae Filkowski is a student at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, where she majors in political science and law studies.

Demetrius Minor: Sports teams are holding communities hostage over our tax dollars

The Tampa Bay Rays want a new stadium to replace 28-year-old Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. But like many professional sports teams these days, they aren’t going to a group of investors or running to the bank to finance the multimillion-dollar project. Instead, they are going to the government to see how much money they can wring out of taxpayers first.

If the thought of billionaire sports owners getting a helping hand from the government sounds ridiculous — well, it is. But over the last 17 years, 36 pro teams have made improvements to existing stadiums or built new ones at a cost of $3.2 billion to hardworking taxpayers.

Thankfully, we have seen real momentum in the Sunshine State to do away with this unfair arrangement that favors the well-connected, rarely delivers a return on investment, and leaves taxpayers on the hook for millions in hidden taxes and debt.

State Rep. Bryan Avila of Hialeah, and state Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, sponsored legislation earlier this year to repeal the Florida Sports Development Fund, a slush fund that allows the state to hand out millions in taxpayer subsidies to professional sports teams. Although the measure failed, Florida politicians must continue their work end to the unfair practice of corporate welfare.

Supporters of taxpayer subsidies claim they are necessary to keep teams from leaving for greener pastures, and that they help boost the local economy and create jobs.

Years of research has found that such lofty promises are rarely met. The Brookings Institution found “no discernible positive relationship between sports facilities and local economic development, income growth or job creation.”

And because of the eye-popping price tag for many of these facilities, today’s generation ends up paying for the previous generation’s spendthrift ways. Roger Noll, an economist at Stanford University, recently found that taxpayers in Oakland and St. Louis are still paying off the debt incurred to finance work on stadiums to lure the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams away from Los Angeles decades ago. By the way, the Raiders are leaving Oakland while the Rams have already left St. Louis.

We are well on our way toward saddling tomorrow’s generation with a mountain of debt here in Florida unless things change. One estimate found that for some of the costly expansion projects under the Florida Sports Development Fund, recipients could receive up to $90 million in taxpayer funds over 30 years.

It’s just one of the many reasons why Rep. Avila is right about wanting to turn off the taxpayer spigot.

But if we are really going to make a dent in slowing down the taxpayer gravy train, undoing sweetheart deals allowing team owners to buy public land at massive discounts must also stop. That’s why the two lawmakers have also introduced legislation to prevent owners from purchasing public land for the development of a sports facility without meeting strict fair market value requirements.

In some ways, these proposals are designed not only to protect taxpayers, but to save politicians from themselves.

Consider what’s been taking place between neighboring Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, which found themselves in a bidding war trying to entice — using taxpayer dollars — the Rays to build a new ballpark in their backyards to replace the Trop.

According to reports, the price tag for the new stadium will run close to $600 million. Don’t be surprised if the Rays continue holding out to see how much of the cost they can foist on taxpayers before approaching investors or digging into their own pockets.

Opposing stadium subsidies and unfair arrangements between owners and public officials doesn’t mean we can’t continue rooting for our favorite teams. Instead, it means restoring fairness to a broken and abused process and saying no to a bad economic bet that will only leave my generation to pick up the tab.

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Demetrius Minor is the Florida coalitions director for Generation Opportunity.

Charlie Leocha: Florida flyers don’t need higher airport fees

Air travelers who made resolutions to travel more in 2018 may not be in for a happy new year. That’s because Congress is considering an 89 percent increase to the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), one of the many taxes and fees airline passengers pay every time they fly. If approved, travelers flying out of Florida will pay up to $318.4 million more in air traveler fees this coming year alone.

The PFC or Airport Tax is one of 14 different fees tacked on to the cost of every plane ticket we buy. The current law allows airports to charge up to $4.50. The measure introduced by Sen. Susan Collins would raise that to $8.50 on the first leg of each flight. That may not sound like a lot, but a family of four purchasing round-trip tickets could pay up to $104 in airport taxes alone.

Passengers are asking why?

In 2016, America’s airports took in $3.2 billion in PFC revenue, the highest level in the history of the program. That’s on top of the $6 billion in federal funding which is just sitting in the Federal Aviation Administration’s trust fund. That’s money waiting to be used, that US airports can utilize. The argument that the airports need the money when they are currently sitting on $14.2 billion of unrestricted cash and investments on hand is nothing if not absurd.

When pressed by a Congressional committee to name an airport infrastructure improvement project that had gone unfunded due to lack of current PFC revenues, the head of the airport trade group was unable to name a single one.

It also belies a more fundamental question – Why should travelers pay for the total cost of running an airport when the municipalities and businesses that stand to benefit the most pay nothing? If the airports really need more money, it should come from surrounding airport businesses and the municipalities rather than from passengers. We are tapped out.

The reason, of course, is politics. Some in Congress and local Chambers of Commerce figure that they can get away with a sneaky tax increase by pawning it off as part of the fare airline travelers pay without having to anger their constituents.

It’s a bad deal for the millions of passengers who already pay more than their fair share in taxes. In addition to the Airport Tax, travelers pay a premium for parking, taxi and ride-sharing surcharges, and expensive airport food.

Meanwhile, Congress – who claims to be looking out for the little guy – just passed a massive tax cut that excluded private jet owners from paying an excise tax when they fly. Relative to what the normal commercial passenger pays flying coach, private jet owners – who happen to be among the biggest campaign contributors – pay pennies on the dollar.

Now, after a giveaway to the wealthiest among us, Congress is proposing to raise airport taxes on the little guy. Sad.

The good news is that airfares are down, more people are flying than ever before, and business is beginning to boom. Now is not the time to curb this growth by nearly doubling a tax that will make flying more expensive for our nation’s nearly 800 million yearly airline passengers.

Raising the PFC is nothing more than a greedy and easy way for airports to raise more revenue without asking their own municipalities for more funding. If Congress truly wants to ease the tax burden on the middle-class, their first New Year’s resolution should be to scrap the proposed airport tax increase.

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Charlie Leocha is the chairman and co-founder of the consumer advocacy group Travelers United.

Emma Collum: Taking action means just that!

Florida Politics recently ran a column calling me out for raising campaign dollars in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas massacre and did so without the benefit of several key facts, nor asking my input.

Allow me to offer both now.

First, in the immediate wake, we used our team of supporters to raise funds for the families and victims. We turned our network of campaign supporters into a team of people who wanted to help the families and survivors of this horrific event. We attended and, in some cases, organized the rallies, listening sessions, vigils, and community leader roundtables, each of which changed all of us forever.

Second, DAMN RIGHT!

We heard loudly and clearly that we must have change. We must have action. And taking action means (follow the logic here) actually taking action.

Contrast our response — help our campaign win so we can be part of the solution — to that of County Commissioner (and my opponent) Chip LaMarca who, during two votes on the matter, miraculously had “technology problems” and was unable to cast a vote on two resolutions related to the Stoneman Douglas massacre.

Let me repeat that.

When it came time to vote his convictions — either in support of or in opposition to — resolutions related to gun safety, mental health funding, and rebuilding Stoneman Douglas High, LaMarca — who had been present for the entire Commission meeting via phone — suddenly went through a tunnel, entered a bad cell zone, dropped his phone in the toilet, or Lord knows what. Twice he was listed as present but did not vote. It must also be noted that immediately following the second vote, he somehow re-entered the modern world, exited that tunnel and, once again, miraculously found himself back in cellphone range. Technology problems solved!

Let’s be a little frank here; Chip LaMarca didn’t have technology problems, he had strength of spine problems.

I won’t make that mistake.

I stand by our effort to take real action. I stand firmly with the families. I stand firmly against the NRA and will continue to demand real common-sense gun-safety reform. I will continue to ask those who agree with me to help our campaign and donate to our efforts to oppose cowards like Chip LaMarca who would rather hide behind faulty cell service than vote his conscience — whatever that may be.

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Emma Collum is a small-business attorney, President and Founder of Women’s March Florida, and a Democratic candidate for House District 93.

Rest in peace Walt Dartland, a modern Marvel-style comic book hero come to life

We’ve lost a really great and humble hero in the passing of Walter Dartland, who died at his Tallahassee home on March 1 after a valiant battle against lymphoma. He was surely Florida’s best-ever advocate for consumers and taxpayers — a mild-mannered gentle giant who was a living legend for most of his life because of his many victories for consumers.

Walt accomplished more to make Florida a better place than many government agencies and career elected officials combined. Heroically, he was a champion for consumers and underdogs throughout his storied career, often persevering and prevailing against all odds. In the 1980s, he was the official Consumer Advocate for Miami-Dade County government, and he took on the powerful almost single-handedly on behalf of Florida families, often making waves of reform and national news. Very competitive TV stations’ news departments often fought over which would have him on the air for live interviews first, or most often. He was a naturally gifted communicator — always eloquently assailing the arrogance and abuse of any powerful interests whose products or services hurt or undermined the public interest.

As an attorney and advocate, he was one of those quietly elite ones who help to define the profession and practice of law as its very best. Typical of his impact and legacy, Walt was the singular guiding force because Florida’s now decades-old landmark ‘Lemon Law’ that helped consumers whose new cars proved to be duds to have legal fuel to accelerate in a faster lane to justice. He spent so much of his career in public service that he never really retired. Whether leading groups as a dedicated volunteer to protect Lake Jackson or helping create a center for non-profits to gather, he was tireless in taking on so many challenges so effortlessly, though even one of his quests would exhaust a far younger person.

During many decades inTallahassee, his gifts to all included creating a statewide consumer advocacy group in the late 1990s, that he led almost singlehandedly for more than 15 years, for no compensation. One of his noblest battles several years ago was on behalf of a neighborhood of poor black residents in Port. St. Joe, whose homes were actively deteriorating because of major flaws in the homesites and construction. Strictly pro bono, Walt took on this long-shot cause and ultimately led a protest to the front door and headquarters of the major corporation responsible — ultimately winning a settlement for the homeowners to be compensated and the problems corrected.

While he was not Don Quixote — because his battles were for real and his victories many — Walt’s somewhat Quixotic decision at age 80 to run for U.S. Congress in 2016, as a lifetime Democrat in a district largely Republican district, confounded many friends and family. But to Walt, it was typical of his willingness to take on any long-odds effort — because no one should automatically win such an important and powerful job without a vigorous challenge. He actually had data and math to show a possible path to victory — and though the calculations would later prove to be wrong, his effort was so right.

As much as Walt loved his battles on behalf of good issues and the public, he was a devoted family man who would do anything for those he loved, including his children, grandchildren and dear friends. Though he seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of energy, it was his beloved wife and life partner, Diana, who was the real power pack source for most of his lifetime happiness and tenacity — and who inspired him as he inspired others.

If we could conceive a modern Marvel-style comic book hero to come to life and protect all of us in the things that matter most, Walt Dartland would be perfectly cast because it was the role he lived every day throughout his very distinguished life. We will likely never find another champion for consumers like him.

Ron Sachs is CEO of Sachs Media Group.

Mayid Yamin: Local ordinances targeting pet stores in Florida do more harm than good

In 2002, I left my home in Venezuela to pursue my dream of owning a business and providing a better life for my family. This country offered opportunity to an extent I had never seen before, and my business partner and I pulled out all the stops to achieve our goal.

We never expected the heavy hand of government to shatter our dreams – not here in America.

We became franchise owners of a Petland store in Pembroke Pines, my proudest accomplishment – but it would soon be ripped away.

One horrible day in 2015, I received an email saying the city was considering a new local ordinance that would prevent the sale of dogs in stores – presumably because some pet stores and their suppliers didn’t meet proper standards of care for their animals. I knew my store met the highest standards, but city officials didn’t want to listen.

I had to endure hurtful falsehoods by city leaders that damaged me personally and emotionally. At one point, we were told that dog store owners were making too much money, and that contributed to this incomprehensible forced shutdown.

When the ordinance passed, the city’s crusade against pet stores had succeeded.

I would expect this kind of treatment from the corrupt socialist government of my native country, but not in the land of the free, where the American Dream lives in so many hearts. In this country, people work hard for their success, and government is supposed to help them – or at least stand out of the way.

To suffer such obstruction from our local government was truly shocking. And today, I am still dealing with the financial and legal struggles caused by this ordinance.

When I lost my Petland franchise, the 30 dedicated workers I employed also lost their livelihood. It was always my priority to take the success of my business and give back to my community. None of this seemed to matter to local city officials, who seemed determined to shut down my store and others like it – no matter what.

The most frustrating part of all this is that the ordinance was so completely unnecessary. Petland prohibits franchise owners from purchasing puppies from breeders who have had violations within the past two years and encourages owners to visit breeders to make sure their operations meet our expectations.

At the same time, Florida law requires that pet store owners purchase pets from USDA-licensed breeders who are inspected and certified by the state, and stores must have a veterinarian conduct weekly exams for health standards.

By forcing stores like mine to close their doors, these municipal ordinances only encourage the growth of puppy mills and other unregulated vendors, hurting local business owners and workers, as well as the pet lovers they serve.

I followed each and every rule and regulation to the letter, yet I was still forced to close a successful, locally owned business that was committed to the well-being of our animals.

In the America I chose as my home, the government should not be allowed to shut down a legitimate business that was operating entirely within requirements of the law.

There is a bill in the Florida Legislature, HB 7087, that would stop local governments from acting so destructively by pre-empting their ability to outlaw certain things – including pets.

I encourage all freedom-loving citizens to urge their legislators to support this bill, to prevent what happened to me from happening to anyone else in the future.

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Mayid Yamin is a former pet shop franchisee in Pembroke Pines.

R. Scott Shalley: Allowing pharmacists to administer vital flu shots saves lives

There is widespread flu activity from this season’s flu outbreak all across the continental U.S. – something that has not happened in the U.S. Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s 13 years of tracking the spread of influenza.

This year’s flu is also particularly contagious and can be spread more easily just by breathing rather than by coughs and sneezes.

For context, a mild flu season tends to kill about 12,000 Americans while a severe flu season kills about 56,000. This is already considered a severe flu season. Currently, an average of 100 people dies each week from the flu.

In many of these cases, lack of access to the inoculation or an inability to see their primary care doctor in time lead to the person suffering from flu-like symptoms and in some cases, a late trip to the hospital was too late to save them.

This year’s flu is one of the most potent and deadly in years, but being able to get treatment in time can save lives, as long as patients have timely access to the vaccinations. Which many don’t.

Now imagine the ability to get this same crucial inoculation from your local pharmacy, with no need to schedule an appointment. This would serve as an easy way for an individual to get tested, treated and not have to worry about suffering from the flu.

For patients, being inoculated at a pharmacy would be cheap and most importantly, convenient which is why pharmacies and pharmacists are ideal partners for a pandemic immunization response.

Unfortunately, as logical as this scenario sounds, the Florida legislature has decided that it’s better to limit access to vital health care. SB 524 was proposed to allow pharmacists to administer flu tests and then treat and prescribe Tamiflu to the consumer.

A “yes” vote would ensure lives are saved.

Instead, we are left in the same situation, where patients who may not have a primary care doctor, or may not have health insurance, or whose local doctor may not carry these treatments, are left to the possibility of not getting access in time to save their lives or the lives of their children.

Getting medication within the first 48 hours of the first sign of symptoms is crucial, so every hour counts.

Even though patients know their local pharmacists are qualified to administer flu tests, this expanded prescribing would come with training and continuing education courses for the pharmacists. Pharmacists seeking to test for and treat the influenza virus must obtain certification through a program approved by the Board of Pharmacy and they must test for and treat the influenza virus within the framework of an established written protocol under a supervising physician.

This bill would provide many safeguards to ensure that every pharmacist is qualified, knowledgeable and capable of administering the flu test correctly. Not to mention, you can currently buy a flu test online and administer it yourself, yet somehow pharmacists aren’t qualified?

Opponents of this bill argue that allowing pharmacists to administer flu tests will hurt their business or that it somehow complicates the relationship between the doctor and patient if they receive treatment outside of their primary doctor. Are these minor concerns really worth putting thousands of Floridians’ lives at risk?

The Florida Retail Federation and our thousands of pharmacies throughout Florida stand ready to help fill this role of providing patients with immediate access to Tamiflu if they need it to our more than 19 million residents.

It is our hope that the legislature recognizes the error of their ways, realize the potentially thousands of lives they could be saving by passing this bill and vote yes when it comes back up for a vote.

This is not a time to be influenced by any outside groups but rather recognize the importance of voting yes and protecting Florida families.

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R. Scott Shalley is President and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. He can be reached at scott@frf.org.

Stephanie Smith: Florida Senate should vote to fix auto insurance laws

Floridians are blessed with a low cost of living.

When comparing the cost of housing, utilities, transportation, health, or the overall cost of living, Florida is lower than the U.S. average.

Why, then, is Florida ranked among the five most expensive states for car insurance?

The answer is, in part, because of a broken statutory system that does not require the purchase of third-party bodily injury coverage (BI) but does require the purchase of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage laden with high costs and pervasive fraud.

Florida is the only state that does not require drivers to purchase BI coverage when they buy auto insurance to satisfy financial responsibility requirements.

The point of financial responsibility is to guarantee that all drivers on the public roadways have a minimum amount of security to pay damages that they cause to others.  Florida has set that minimum financial responsibility at $10,000 per person and $20,000 per accident for bodily injury.  The statutes permit the sale of auto insurance policies that do not satisfy this requirement, which results in a staggering number of drivers on the road without adequate insurance as compared to other states.

In 2015, Florida ranked first in percentage of uninsured motorists at 27 percent, more than double our neighbor Georgia, which is near the average at 12 percent.

PIP is a vestige of the 1970s insurance reform movement that has failed to accomplish what the academics who dreamed it up believed it would do. The goal of PIP was to eliminate lawsuits over minor injuries and lower overall auto insurance rates.

The reality is PIP continues to be a cottage industry devoted to extracting money from insurers, even when there is no merit to the claims.

After an initial wave of PIP laws in the 1970s, no state has enacted a no-fault system like PIP again, and several states have wisely abandoned PIP due to the cost and the fraud inherent in the system. Lawmakers in those states came to understand that an auto insurance system is healthier when it relies on common law tort principles rather than the derogation of common law rights in favor of a no-fault scheme.

Uber supports a public policy that lowers the number of uninsured and underinsured motorists on the road.

Through statute and through our business practices, we guarantee that the over 100,000 drivers partnering with Uber in Florida are insured while using our app. Those hard-working drivers deserve to see their personal auto insurance costs go down and to see more of their fellow Floridians properly insured.

The Florida House has already passed HB 19 by Rep. Erin Grall. This bill repeals PIP and requires the purchase of BI coverage at a limit commensurate with average amounts across the country.

If enacted, this bill would make our public roadways safer and would lower premiums for the average Floridian statewide by more than 8 percent for mandatory coverage.

We applaud Rep. Grall and the Florida House for their good work, and we urge the Florida Senate to act on this issue.

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Stephanie Smith is Uber Florida’s Senior Public Policy Manager.

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