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Guest Author

Bruce Grant: Leave alcohol wall as is

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Florida has some laws on the books that actually work well – and we should leave them alone.

Such as the law that restricts hard liquor sales to a store that primarily sells liquor. The same law limits and controls direct access to these stores by requiring customers to enter through a separate door facing the outside of the establishment. Both provisions exist to control – and thereby limit – access to minors.

When minors enter a liquor store, they immediately stand out from customers of legal age. This makes identifying and monitoring minors easier for store employees, and intimidates minors who realize everyone is watching them – and results in fewer sales to youth.

Under Senate Bill 106, big box stores would place liquor directly on their shelves – right next to all their other merchandise like diapers, video games or groceries. This change would allow access to underage employees, some as young as 16.

Why do we need special regulations for alcohol sales? Because alcohol is not just another product line – it is intoxicating and addictive, particularly so when used by those under age. Business and marketing practices – perfectly legitimate for selling other commodities – may cause social harm when the product is alcohol.

So why this law? There is no compelling reason to do this. Profits are high at the box stores and most consumers already go to multiple stores when they shop. Nobody’s complaining about having a hard time finding a convenient place to buy hard liquor. So the real agenda is simply to make more money. By doing this, they accomplish a major cultural shift in how and where alcohol is sold at the expense of our kids.

SB 106 will tear down the alcohol wall, give us lower costs, increased access and greater availability – the three factors in alcohol sales that always result in increased use. “Convenience” will begin an unraveling of over 100 years of laws and cultural norms that work. It will make it harder for parents to be a wall between their kids and alcohol.

Alcohol is by far our most abused drug. The first consideration for any change in alcohol regulation should be its impact on public health and safety, not customer convenience.

Existing laws regulating alcohol work. They make spirits reasonably available, prohibit over-the-top promotions that foster heavy consumption and strictly control sales to minors

What is good for business is not necessarily good public policy. Deregulation will result in serious social problems that are hard to reverse. Let’s not put profits ahead of public health and safety.

Current alcohol regulations work. They reduce youth access and have moderated alcohol use/abuse for many years. Lawmakers should not try to fix a good system that isn’t broken. Just leave the current law alone.

Bruce Grant is the chairman of the Leon County Responsible Decision Making Coalition and previously served as the director of the Florida Office of Drug Control.

Travis Hutson, Mike La Rosa: Florida needs 5G now

What do smart cities, driverless vehicles, autonomous drones, and instantaneous 3D downloads all have in common? The need for 5G wireless technology.

Under Senate Bill 596 and House Bill 687, which creates the Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act, Floridians have the opportunity to bring ultra-fast speeds – speeds that were previously only available through a wired connection – to your wireless devices.

With the deployment of 5G across Florida, we are looking at the future of machines talking to machines and wireless network speeds that are 10 times faster than today. This advancement to 5G will dramatically impact our everyday lives, allowing for the next innovation in communications.

So, what is 5G technology, why do we need it and how do you get it?  Simply put, 5G is the next generation of wireless networks that will allow users to move data at much faster speeds. As technology advances, just as it did from 3G (which brought texting and photos) and 4G (which provided for the capability to have social connections like FaceTime and video), our state will need to be prepared to give its consumers the tools needed to be able to participate in the technology revolution.

Which leads us to how we get this technology and why we are pushing for this legislation this session. In order for Florida to be a part of this technological revolution that is beginning to happen in other states, wireless communication providers, like Verizon and AT&T, need to be able to put in place the proper infrastructure needed to support 5G technology from the Panhandle to the Keys.

To help clear the path for this vital innovation, we introduced SB 596 and HB 687, which lays the framework and guidelines for the installation, placement, maintenance and replacement of micro-wireless facilities across the state.

As we begin to reach capacity levels with our current 4G technology, it is time now for Florida to be forward-thinking and not allow for there to be a gap in our wireless coverage. Florida is known for being a protagonist state. Let’s not lose our lead now. Let’s bring 5G to Florida and make our communities smarter, healthier, safer and more efficient. Let’s support SB 596 and HB 687 this session.

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Palm Coast Republican Travis Hutson represents Senate District 7.

Saint Cloud Republican Mike La Rosa represents House District 42.

Carol Dover: Florida’s future depends on tourism

Marketing is a contest for people’s attention, and state tourism marketing is no different. However, the detrimental impacts of removing a powerful marketing mechanism mean a world of difference when your state budget revenue depends on your share of the market.

The proposed bill spearheaded by the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee that eliminates VISIT FLORIDA will have severe and irreversible impacts on the state’s hospitality industry. We must protect the tourism industry, Florida’s top employer and chief economic driver, not only for the industry’s 1.4 million employees, but for the local communities whose livelihood is contingent on bringing tourists to the Sunshine State. In 2015, more than 106 million visitors came to Florida, spending $108.8 billion and generating $11.3 billion in state and local tax revenue.

Unfortunately, some lawmakers would put Florida’s economy at risk based on a philosophy financed by Americans for Prosperity. Other states have already suffered from this failed, free-market experiment. In 1993, Colorado cut their state tourism marketing budget from $12 million to zero dollars. Within one year, Colorado lost $1.4 billion in traveler spending. Tax receipts declined by $134 million from 1993 to 1997. Eighteen years later, Colorado still hasn’t recovered market share.

We must build on the successes of Florida’s hospitality and tourism industry by committing the necessary dollars to VISIT FLORIDA that will create jobs and generate revenue for the state. With a 2 percent reduction in travel, Florida would lose $2.2 billion in traveler spending, $225 million in tax revenue and 28,000 jobs.

Florida’s future depends on our lawmakers’ investment in the state’s destination marketing efforts that continue to bring record visitation numbers. VISIT FLORIDA funding isn’t about “corporate welfare” for Fortune 500 companies; it’s about sustaining hospitality employment, and the myriad related local businesses that depend on tourism. For every 76 visitors to the state, one tourism job is supported.

I urge our lawmakers to build on the successes of Florida’s hospitality and tourism industry by committing the necessary dollars to VISIT FLORIDA. It is critical that our lawmakers rally behind the Governor’s recommendation to continue to invest $76 million in VISIT FLORIDA’s marketing efforts. For every $1 the state invests in VISIT FLORIDA, $3.20 in tax revenue is generated.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) is vehemently opposed to any legislation that removes VISIT FLORIDA’s ability to operate as a separate entity and inhibits their efforts to market the state as a global destination successfully. The success of our hotels, restaurants, and attractions contributes to a stronger state economy and creates more opportunities for Florida’s families.

I look forward to working closely with our lawmakers, leadership, and agencies to develop meaningful reforms that preserve the overall integrity of our world-class tourism industry and reputation for providing premier hospitality services.

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Carol Dover is President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Greg Steube: Local rental rules hurt the economy

Short-term rentals have become a vital component of Florida’s tourism industry, granting property owners and visitors more flexibility when planning the duration and location of their stay. These types of rentals also help lift financial burdens off family renters by allowing them to stay together in a home instead of multiple hotel rooms, which can get unnecessarily expensive.

Property rights are advanced by this industry as well, giving owners the freedom to rent out their property as they so choose.

In 2011, the Florida Legislature recognized these benefits by passing a law that banned local governments from prohibiting short-term rentals.

It only took three years before the Legislature changed its mind and gave more power to cities seeking to prohibit or severely cripple the short-term rental industry.

Since that time, we have seen local governments run wild, enacting onerous rules that, in my view, dampen our economy and trample on Floridians’ property rights.

Take Miami Beach, for example, where some homeowners have been fined $20,000 for violations of short-term rental ordinances. These exorbitant penalties have functioned as a de facto ban for many homeowners who would have liked to rent out their property to potential vacationers.

Instead of recognizing vacation rentals as an economic benefit, cities have exploited it with excessive fines, penalties and registration fees, all while violating your right to own and enjoy your property!

I have introduced Senate Bill 188, a bill that will stop this kind of overreach and return the law back to its 2011 version.

The debilitating effects of current law are not limited to just travelers and short-term rental owners. Policies that discourage tourism have widespread effects on our economy too. Travel and tourism are essential to Florida’s economic health, producing $67 billion in economic activity every year.

Diminishing tourism activity ultimately harms local businesses and job creation, depriving Florida of valuable tax dollars. Less tourism means less tax revenue to be used for projects in cities and communities across the state, including right here in the Tampa/St. Pete area.

Opponents of my bill claim that short-term rentals invite the potential for “party houses,” when justifying the restrictions enacted by the cities. But cities have their own local laws that address such nuisance complaints, and all homeowners – full-time or part-time – are subject to these rules. If you as a homeowner feel that neighboring renters are disruptive, urge your city to either enforce existing ordinances or pass stronger ordinances that deal with such behavior.

I don’t think the government should be in the business of picking one person’s property rights over another’s.

Further, it is important to clarify that this bill does not affect local homeowner’s associations and neighborhoods that have adopted their own covenants, declarations or bylaws. The bill simply serves to help safeguard a vibrant part of our economy while protecting property owners and renters from overreaching city governments.

Florida has a chance to go back to a law for short-term rentals that worked. By passing Senate Bill 188, we can once again establish a commonsense approach to preserving a growing segment of Florida’s most important industry. Strong statewide standards that protect all Floridians’ property rights are crucial to ensuring the well-being of Florida’s tourism economy.

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Greg Steube represents Florida Senate District 23, which includes Sarasota County and western Charlotte County.

 

Carl Domino: Bridging the justice gap pays off for Floridians in multiple ways

Carl Domino

When I was a member of the Florida Legislature, I always supported efforts to expand access to justice. It’s a right that’s enshrined in the Pledge of Allegiance, the U.S. Constitution and the Florida Constitution: “The courts shall be open to every person for redress of any injury, and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay.”

But let’s be honest. Our legal system can be complex and difficult to navigate without an attorney, and many people cannot afford one. Faced with problems like foreclosure proceedings, evictions, divorces, probate or consumer disputes, they try to manage on their own. That’s costly, not just for them, but for all of us.

Investing in civil legal aid makes sense not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because that investment pays off for all of us, with a return of more than $7 for every $1 spent, according to a newly released study commissioned by The Florida Bar Foundation. From the $83 million spent on civil legal assistance in Florida in 2015, businesses experienced $274.8 million in increased revenue, and this, in turn, helped generate 2,243 new jobs, according to the study’s calculations.

The overall $600 million return on investment also comes from savings to the court system as it runs more efficiently and avoids cases that shouldn’t be there. It comes from fewer domestic violence calls to police; from less demand for welfare and housing assistance; from more stable communities and home values; and from payments of past-due child support. And it comes from legal help in capturing the veterans’ benefits due to those Floridians who served their country, as well as reimbursements from federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, and more.

I’m a lifelong Republican who, after a long and rewarding career in finance and politics, decided to seize the challenge of studying law in my late 60s. Since passing the Florida Bar exam, I’ve taken quite a few pro-bono cases, because the need is so great.

These are real people with real problems. They may not be getting alimony payments; their condo association may not be responding to them. Sometimes all I need to do is write a letter, and a situation can be resolved, keeping it out of the courts. Having a lawyer on your side in meritorious cases can really make a difference.

Community-based legal aid agencies have long served as that safety net for low-income Floridians in need of legal support. But due to in large part to the interest-rate sensitivity of one of Florida’s primary legal aid funding mechanisms, funding for civil legal aid in Florida has fallen to its lowest level in 10 years.

According to the new study, “Economic Impacts of Civil Legal Aid Organizations in Florida,” every additional $100,000 of funding enables legal aid organizations to generate an additional $719,000 in economic benefits.

That’s why bridging the justice gap will benefit us all.

So what’s the answer? More volunteering by lawyers would help. Broader philanthropic support of civil legal aid as part of the spectrum of human services would also help. Contributions from businesses, including in-kind support for civil legal aid organizations, would help. The Florida Bar Foundation’s study, conducted by The Resource for Great Programs, offers solid evidence that foundations, donors and businesses can make a real positive impact by supporting civil legal services.

Access to the justice system is a basic right, so let’s make sure that that access continues, for the good of all.

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Carl Domino served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2002 to 2010. He serves on the board of The Florida Bar Foundation. An investment manager who founded Northern Trust Value Investors, in 2014 he earned a law degree from Nova Southeastern University at the age of 70.

Steven Kurlander: Turn Donald Trump voter fraud distraction into 21st-century voting platform

President Donald Trump unfolded his promised massive scale-back of leftist Federalism last week by signing numerous Executive Orders – so many that their volume probably made former President Obama blush with envy.

The Trump Revolution, which can be defined both in conservative ideology and viewed as totally hazardous, shallow and impulsive at the same time, has begun in earnest.

And it’s more than obvious that Trump is using all that (unconstitutional) executive power that has been allowed to build up the last 30 years to begin his revolution.

At the same time, the Executive Orders were rolled out, Trump and his White House staff continued the campaign ShockPolitics methodology of making belligerent statements and discussion points to draw outrage toward Trump, distracting his opponents and Americans alike from the wielding of such power and the true implications of his executive orders.

So while the Trump White House began to gut 30 years of excessive Federal environmental regulation and jump-started the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines, he continued to complain about the reporting by media outlets of size of the crowd at the Inauguration.

As the president began to frame a revision of our antiquated immigration policies by ordering our borders closed to visitors and refugees from selected Islamic countries, Trumps key adviser Steven Bannon incredulously stated at the same time that “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”

Probably the most outlandish statement, actually two tweets, made by Trump during his few days in office was this:

“I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and … even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!” Trump wrote in two consecutive tweets Wednesday morning.

Sure, the president’s assertion is, to put it nicely, questionable at best, particularly in light of allegations of Russian hacking against Democrats.

However, the tweets themselves could be used to demark the beginning of a true discussion of fixing our voting system.

Here’s a suggestion: Instead of an investigation, I would suggest the president form a bipartisan presidential commission comprised of members of Congress, security and computer industry leaders and experts, state officials and common citizens to secure our voting processes and modernize the way we vote to 21st century standards.

I would suggest addressing five major voting issues:

Voter Registration — Building and implementing a national registry from scratch that would replace antiquated and inaccurate registration rolls in states and counties and safeguarding voters from suppression on a national level; standardizing voter registration in all 50 states; requiring a Social Security card, valid picture identification, and developing a eye-scanning or similar system to prove identity; building technology to allow voters to vote by using their PDAs and home computers; and to make registration for native-born American citizens at birth along with the issuance of a birth certificate or Social Security cards.

Launching a Voter Technology and Security Initiative — much like President Kennedy launched the Space Program — major national resources would be dedicated toward building a voter registration system that is impenetrable — and spur a much-needed buildup of securing our computers from hacking and identity theft in all aspects of our lives.

Destroying the Two Party hold on Voting – in all regions across the nation, there are a growing number of voters and office-seekers who are NDAs that do not receive the same influence and protection as Democratic and Republican voters both in election offices and at the polls – there’s a need to modernize this 19th century party system of controlling who votes and how polling places are manned.  The Two-Party System is basically dead in 2017 and it’s time to reform voting to reflect its demise.

Replacing Election Day with an Election Period — where voters could vote within a time period rather than on a certain day. States already allow early voting and mail ballots.

Replacing voting at polls with voting by PDA or at home on computer or snail mail.  The present scanning devices at polls are crap as well as the old methodology of voting itself by having to go to a specific place to vote. Going to the polls should be one of many options, not a mandate.

The creation of such a presidential voting commission would be a positive first step for the president to take not only in terms of really addressing the breakdown of American voting, but to begin a positive dialogue, not confrontational rants by tweeting, to address the many issues facing Americans today.

Such a commission could also serve as a model for Trump to build badly needed consensus and tamper down the vitriol that his election has created as a new norm in American life.
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Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly’s Kommentary and writes for FloridaPolitics.com. He is an attorney and communications specialist living in Monticello, New York.

He can be reached at kurlyskommentary@gmail.com.

 

Airbnb offers free housing for refugees

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has offered free housing Saturday night to refugees worldwide who are not able to return to the United States because of President Trump’s executive order.

Chesky posted on Facebook detailing how he disagrees with the president’s order barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

“Not allowing countries or refugees into America is not right, and we must stand with those who are affected,” Chesky wrote.

Airbnb has 3 million homes worldwide, according to the CEO.

Chesky is asking those who would like more details about the offer to email him at brian.chesky@airbnb.com.

Wayne W. Oliver: Solution to address health care affordability

Health care continues to be at the center of debate across our nation and in Florida’s State Capitol. At the national level, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Representative Tom Price are vowing to make tort reform a key part of their replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act which is usually referred to as “Obamacare.” But while many focus on the number of Floridians covered by some form of health insurance, equal attention should be paid to the ever-increasing cost of health care.

The cost of health care affects everyone: the insured, the uninsured, employers and the State. If costs are reduced, by definition, health care becomes more accessible and more affordable for all Floridians. We must, therefore, look at spending on the front-end and develop effective mechanisms to contain costs while considering any State options for extending coverage to more people.

Currently, in Florida, the fear of medical litigation among physicians has manifested itself in the form of the practice of defensive medicine. By definition, defensive medicine is ordering unnecessary medical tests, medications, CT scans, referrals to specialists, procedures, and consultations with little clinical or no therapeutic value but may help physicians protect themselves against a potential malpractice lawsuit. In Florida alone, the practice of defensive medicine costs all Floridians more than $40 billion per year. Each year, billions of dollars are wasted on unnecessary health care expenses. And, defensive medicine is a hidden driver in the cost of health care. According to the Gallup Organization, wasteful, defensive medicine accounts for as much as 26 percent of overall health care spending.

The current dysfunctional and inefficient medical malpractice system is, therefore, imposing an avoidable and onerous burden on a wide swath of Florida’s economy, impacting Florida’s physicians, patients and businesses. A proposal called the Patients’ Compensation System is intended to transform the broken medical malpractice system in Florida and preserve the physician-patient relationship.

The proposal would remove medical malpractice from the inefficient court system and place it in a streamlined administrative system. Rather than flooding the courts with lawsuits which take years to resolve, the administrative model allows for a less contentious, more fair and timely determination of any compensation that should be paid to an injured patient.

Joanna Shepherd, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law, detailed in her article “Justice in Crisis” that the current system offers justice for 3 percent and no justice for 97 percent of medically injured patients. The vast majority of attorneys require minimum expected damages of $500,000 to accept a case. The high cost of medical malpractice litigation limits the plaintiff attorneys to take cases below this threshold.

This creates a major access to effective health justice issue for a significant number of injured patients in our state that have no access to a judge and jury. Yet, attorneys and insurers have created a profitable niche within the existing medical tort system.  We need a system that ensures access to legitimate health justice which fairly and appropriately compensates all medically injured patients.

The Patients’ Compensation System works to ensure costs savings to our state, private employers and citizens, eliminates frivolous lawsuits and ensures all legitimately medically injured patients receive fair compensation, especially those who are currently denied access under the existing system.

Affordability extends to everyone across the health care spectrum — whether utilizing private or public health insurance. The Patients Compensation System would make Florida a national model for how to protect the physician-patient relationship while bringing down health care spending in Florida.  The proposed Patients’ Compensation System will likely be considered in the 2017 Legislative Session by Florida’s legislators.

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Wayne W. Oliver is Executive Director of Patient for Fair Compensation.

Richard Chait: Reform workers’ comp to protect Florida’s businesses and workers

Richard Chait

It’s no secret to lawmakers, business owners and workers throughout the state that Florida’s workers’ compensation system is in need of reform. With the recent unnecessary rate hike in premiums for workers’ comp insurance, the state’s economy will suffer along with the looming potential for job loss.

Recent coverage of the workers’ comp system has correctly focused on the lack of transparency and competition in the ratemaking process. There is every indication that the quest for comprehensive workers’ comp reform, including a new ratemaking process, will be one of the leading issues of the upcoming legislative session.

In the overwhelming majority of states, workers’ comp premiums are determined through a competitive ratemaking process, where employers are able to shop around for the best rates. Not so in Florida. Ours is one of just four states using an antiquated system that allows a trade group of industry insiders, called the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), to have a formal role in setting workers’ comp rates. NCCI files just one set of rates to be used by all insurance carriers, virtually eliminating market competition.

The ultimate beneficiaries of an effective workers’ compensation system are supposed to be both employers and the workers who are unfortunately injured on the job. Here are four ways Florida legislators can craft a fair policy that will work for both workers and the businesses that employ them:

Develop a transparent ratemaking process that allows for meaningful competition. The current process with NCCI is a bad deal for the tens of thousands of businesses in Florida required to pay workers’ comp premiums every year — they can’t shop around for better prices with more efficient insurance carriers, and Sunshine laws are virtually ignored. This is a seriously flawed system, and Florida’s business community suffers as a result.

Permit some element of patient choice in medical care. The current process is controlled entirely by the employer’s insurance carrier, and the injured worker cannot receive treatment from their selected doctor. This often leads to substandard treatment of the employee and prolongs recovery. Reforming the system to allow for patient choice of a specialist will not only give comfort to the injured worker by allowing them to use their preferred doctor, but also will potentially get them back to work sooner. This benefits both employee and employer.

Develop a midlevel tier for providing benefits once the doctor determines the employee has reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). Currently, an injured worker may receive temporary benefits until reaching MMI. Unless they are declared “permanently and totally disabled,” their eligibility for post-MMI benefits is wholly inadequate. This means that if the worker has a career-altering injury — but not one that is career-ending — there is no meaningful remedy in the system. This affects a significant number of injured workers, and there must be a safety net to protect them.

Ensure that injured workers have proper access to the court by maintaining a reasonable standard for attorneys’ fees. Attorneys’ fees are only paid by the insurance carrier when benefits are wrongfully denied. This is the only “hammer” that the injured worker maintains to receive the benefits for which they are entitled.

It’s time for Florida to have a workers’ compensation system that addresses the concerns of all affected parties, centered on the injured workers and their employers — not just on the needs of the insurance companies.

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Richard Chait serves as chair of Workers’ Compensation Section of Florida Justice Association (FJA).

Christian Ulvert: A presidency remembered for tearing down walls of injustice

As I traveled back from Thailand to the United States earlier this month, I watched “Southside With You” and was once again in awe on the deep-rooted bond between our now former President, Barack Obama and first lady, Michelle Obama. The movie also depicts the devoted love President Obama has for his community and his sense of urgency to move strategically on solving problems.

The movie was as a reminder of why so many of us feel a deep connection to this president. I never worked on his campaigns, but was moved to volunteer often. Every one has a personal story on how President Obama has marked their life in a positive way. In Miami-Dade, you hear stories of families reunited with their Cuban relatives, residents who have insurance because of the Affordable Care Act, Dreamers who feel their government is on their side and couples like Carlos and I who were able to marry because this President believed in us.

You see, this President looked to his heart every day to find ways to make this country better and stronger. President Obama governed with a bold agenda that was guided by his belief that government should tear down the injustices in our country that held back so many from achieving their full potential.

In many ways, my ability to live by our nation’s credo, “in the pursuit of happiness,” was fully realized when President Obama declared that marriage equality was going to be his fight and one that he was not going to back down from, regardless of who stood in his way. I am able to live a life full of love, joy and complete happiness because our government didn’t stop me from marrying the person I love.

Like so many, I have watched the final days of President Obama’s presidency with hope and sadness. He encourages us to remain hopeful while our hearts weep because we know he accomplished so much and stayed true to his campaign motto of Hope and Change. We don’t know what President Donald Trump’s administration will bring to our nation, but I have to believe in President Obama’s words that our nation will be OK.

For me, one thing is certain, President Obama has shifted my view on how to stay engaged. On this Jan. 20, I will reflect on President Obama’s legacy and use it as a call to action. Let us live by the hope to fight injustices, the will to change them and the freedom to marry the one you love.

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Christian Ulvert is a Florida Democratic political and public affairs consultant based in Miami.

 

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