Guest Author, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 151

Guest Author

Herschel Vinyard Jr.: Listen to water experts in Lake Okeechobee debate

In my previous role as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, it wasn’t often I would find consensus on issues involving local water management districts, the state and federal government. But after years of studying the options to best reduce the occurrence of discharges used to lower Lake Okeechobee, those involved in these three levels of governance all agree that buying additional acres of land south of the lake doesn’t solve the problem.

Instead, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the state, Florida’s Congressional Delegation, and the Florida leaders of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers remain firm on finishing the projects included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP.

So, what are the water quality experts responsible for Everglades restoration and fixing Lake Okeechobee saying?

Starting at the district level, SFWMD scientists and engineers earlier this month reported district modeling shows that storage north of the lake included in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Planning Project (LOWP) – which includes solutions such as a 250,000 acre-foot above-ground northern reservoir and 110 Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells – will “reduce the total discharge volume to the estuaries by more than 60 percent.”

For the state’s part, under Governor Scott’s leadership, it has increased annual funding for the completion of CERP projects to the tune of $200 million more through the Legacy Florida program. Since 2011, Governor Scott’s administration has also invested more than $688 million in the completion of critical Everglades restoration projects as designed through CERP. This has included the state’s share of dollars that are necessary for the completion the C-44 and C-43 reservoirs, which when completed will provide up to 75 billion gallons of water storage in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie river basins.

At the federal level, the entire Florida Congressional delegation – all 27 Republicans and Democrats – wrote a February letter to President Donald J. Trump urging him to stay the course on congressionally-authorized projects that are proven to provide the most benefits to the Lake Okeechobee system. In the letter, which was released by Congressman Francis Rooney, the members noted that the CERP projects “are an important step in achieving more optimal water flow” and asked for a continued partnership through CERP and the recently-approved Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP).

Most recently, Col. Jason Kirk, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District and the person in charge of releasing excess water from Lake Okeechobee, said that the currently planned projects – and not the plan to buy more land south of Lake Okeechobee – are “the optimal sequence of restoration activities.”

With so much consensus at every level of government, it’s clear the buying land south of Lake Okeechobee is the latest shiny object, and collectively, Florida must not get distracted by it. Unfortunately, the real science behind the decisions our partners in government are making sometimes gets buried by detractors looking to grab headlines. The state has invested too much to abandon the projects that science shows will provide a tremendous boost to Florida’s historic efforts to restore the Everglades, fix Lake Okeechobee and reduce the coastal discharges.

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Herschel Vinyard is former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

 

Donato (Danny) Pietrodangelo: It won’t happen

Donato (Danny) Pietrodangelo

The alphabet of American culture – the NEA, NEH and NPR – won’t lose public funding.

No, the president and Congress didn’t have a Eureka moment and realize art and cultural and the capacity for creative expression differentiate us from the primordial slime from which we came.

And, it’s not because lawmakers got all warm and fuzzy about projects that extending the paint-smeared hand of arts experiences to disenfranchised inner-city programs and not so disenfranchised charter schools.

And, it’s not because experts concluded that, well, Bert and Ernie – it’s just a bromance.

Real reasons?

First, it was never the plan. It was all part of the Deal. And, I won’t debase the word “Art” by putting it in that sentence. No one expects to get asking price, especially a man who gloats about the size of his deals.

Second, political realities.

Will Marco Rubio put the big kibosh on funding for the International Hispanic Theatre Festival of Miami with its, “… all-day event for children and their families in Little Havana featuring performing arts workshops and …”?

And, it’s not the Senator will kill the minuscule $820,520 the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs received from the NEA in 2015 -2016. It’s seed money – for an industry, Secretary of State Ken Detzner says puts more than $1.2 billion in the Florida economy. Americans for the Arts, Arts & Economic Prosperity puts the figure at $3.1 billion and 88,236 full-time equivalent jobs.

Nationally, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports arts and cultural productions contribute more than $704 billion to economy, more than 4.3 percent of GDP –  more than construction, agriculture, mining, utilities, and travel and tourism sectors

The Senator and Governor “Jobs” aren’t going to step into that can of paint.

The NEA gets $146 million annually – 0.004 of the budget. (The government pays more to keep the first family in Trump Tower.) It gives 80 percent to large and small arts groups ranging from the Harlem Dance Theater to the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, Inc. in Mississippi to the New York City Ballet (and Tallahassee Ballet).

Defunding these would unleash political wrath of biblical proportions.

Tax dollars help support (just 7 percent of their budgets) the pastimes and passions of art lovers, many of whom are well-heeled. That makes support a win-win for politicians – a double-dipping bonanza. They get cultural creds with the home folk, and garner favor with the corporations and moneyed individuals who contribute about 40 percent to the cost of art.

Sipping champagne at a premiere or opening is surely more profitable than tipping back Red Solo Cups with the rest of us at the Monster Truck Mash.

(Whatever the motive, as an artist, it’s all good. The end justifies the means, so rare in Washington.)

No one knows the symbiosis of art and politics better than the president. He’s been rubbing elbows with the glitterati his whole adult life. This brings us back to the Deal. With the arts, he’s holding a royal flush, in a game that will play out sort of like this:

“I want 90 more of those awesome F-35s, at about $90 million a pop,” he says.

 “We’ll give you 85, but you give us $445 million for public television.“

“OK, losers. Now cut the IRS by $268 million.”

“Who cares?” If you use it for NEA and NEH, we’ll throw in the $168 million for those charter schools.”

“Tremendous.”

“Let’s go guys, great food, open bar and deep pockets at that new gallery opening.”

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Donato (Danny) Pietrodangelo is a fine art photographer and writer, former recipient of an NEA/Division of Cultural Affairs Individual Fine Arts Fellowship, and solo exhibitor at a number NEA supported galleries and museums in Florida.

Andrew Gillum, Mayors: State preemption hurts local values

Among Thomas Jefferson’s many famous sayings is this: “The government closest to the people, serves the people best.”

Across our state and nation, that sentiment holds true for all who favor local control, whenever possible. But it seems as though our state lawmakers have forgotten this.

For the past few years, state legislators in Tallahassee have steadily eroded the ability of towns, villages, cities and counties to govern. They’ve passed new laws to prevent citizens from having their say through local government. And now, they’re threatening to silence local voices with fines and other punishment.

It’s called preemption. And it’s a threat to our democracy.

State lawmakers don’t like when our communities pass ordinances to preserve quality of life, protect our environment, promote public safety, improve wages and sick leave, regulate utility infrastructure, development and vacation rentals, and restrict threats to public health. They don’t like when cities and counties govern according to their own values. So, they strip local authority with ill-advised preemption.

Experts say these preemption bills are overly broad, waste taxpayer money, create confusion and may be unconstitutional. An analysis by the National League of Cities shows this is a problem nationwide. And preemption comes with real consequences.

In recent years, Florida’s local governments have recouped millions in stolen wages for workers, created jobs with local hiring preferences, cleaned up neighborhoods, protected their communities’ character, and fostered innovation. Those local efforts would be struck down by state lawmakers hungry for power, disguised as “easing regulatory burdens.”

But you know better. When you vote in local elections, you’re voting for local problem solvers. You’re voting your values. You know what’s best for our communities — not out-of-touch state legislators, hundreds of miles away.

And you certainly know better than unaccountable lobbyists who push these bad ideas through Tallahassee. Shadowy special interests know it’s easier to get one state legislature to do their bidding than 67 counties and 410 municipalities.

We stand with you, the people — not corporate bottom lines.

We’re your mayors, commissioners and council members. We’re your neighbors, small-business owners, native Floridians, immigrants and veterans. And we’re the people you’ve trusted to keep the lights on in the places we all call home.

That’s why we’ve joined the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a non-partisan, grassroots coalition to protect our residents from state preemption. We’re encouraging people to learn how preemption threatens local control and local voices — and to sign up to fight back at DefendLocal.com.

Together, we can send a message to our state lawmakers that local communities want local solutions to local problems — not a legislature controlled by special interests.

Andrew Gillum
Mayor, City of Tallahassee

Charlie Latham
Mayor, City of Jacksonville Beach

Chris Arbutine
Mayor, City of Belleair Bluffs

Dan Daley
Vice Mayor, City of Coral Springs

Frank Ortis
Mayor, City of Pembroke Pines

Kevin Ruane
Mayor, City of Sanibel

Harry Dressler
Mayor, City of Tamarac

Jack Seiler
Mayor, City of Fort Lauderdale

Jim Simmons
Mayor, Town of Melbourne Beach

Joe Barkley
Vice Mayor, City of Belleair Bluffs

Lisa Wheeler-Bowman
Council Vice Chair, City of St. Petersburg

Marni Sawicki
Mayor, City of Cape Coral

Matthew Surrency
Mayor, City of Hawthorne

Michael Udine
County Commissioner, Broward County

Russ Barley
Mayor, City of Freeport

 

Mark Wilson, Dominic Calabro: Strangling Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA costly to Sunshine State future

Right now, jobs and the future of Florida’s economy are in jeopardy. That’s because some politicians in Tallahassee want to eliminate Florida’s economic development programs and slash the state’s tourism marketing efforts.

Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA, Florida’s economic development and tourism marketing programs, are essential to the economic well-being of our state. Eliminating Florida’s targeted and proven economic development programs is not the way forward, and will slam the brakes on the amazing job creation success Florida has seen since the end of the Great Recession.

While incentives paid for by hardworking taxpayers are rarely if ever used and are almost always inappropriate, Enterprise Florida has safeguards in place to ensure taxpayer dollars are not used as corporate welfare to skimp on contractual obligations. As Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida TaxWatch, have often said, programs offered by Enterprise Florida are not paid until the business achieves what is outlined in the contract.

If the Florida House has its way, VISIT FLORIDA will see its budget slashed by $50 million — a move that would cut two-thirds funding. Tourism is still one of Florida’s top industries for jobs and economic growth, despite Florida having a more diverse economic portfolio than at any other time in state history.

Florida has advantages, but the Sunshine State also has a major lawsuit abuse problem, we’re the only state that taxes small business rent, and our unfunded pensions cost eight times what we invest in economic development. The point is that until the Florida Legislature puts jobs and families first, now is the worst possible time to make Florida less competitive.

Taking economic development strategies that work off the table is short sighted, and without question, harms Florida’s ability to continue to lead the nation in job creation. Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA are important pieces to Florida’s economic puzzle and strangling their resources will hurt our state, our taxpayers, job creators and 20-plus million residents for years to come.

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Mark Wilson is the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Dominic Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Matt Gaetz: Fix Florida’s Everglades, avoid distraction of costly land buy

As a former state legislator and now a member of Congress, I’ve been proud to support investments in protecting Florida’s natural resources, including the Everglades. While located far from the Emerald Coast, the Everglades are about as iconic in Florida as the Blue Angels, the Space Shuttle, and the orange. Everglades National Park alone welcomes 1.1 million visitors annually with an economic impact of more than $103 million.

Recently, I joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in encouraging President Donald Trump to remain on the current path to Everglades restoration. In a letter delivered by Congressman Francis Rooney, we made the case for why Everglades restoration is critical to preserving such a unique and treasured ecosystem. Congress has already invested $1.26 billion into this ongoing effort. The smartest scientists say these projects are having a meaningful impact on restoring Florida’s “River of Grass” and addressing concerns over water quality issues around Lake Okeechobee. For these reasons, we must complete the comprehensive array of fully-vetted projects that are designed to restore the Everglades and reduce the discharges from the lake.

At the heart of the current debate over fixing Lake Okeechobee is whether additional land should be purchased by the government using state and federal dollars through a bonding scheme that relies on future generations paying off the debt. At a time when 42 percent of all land in South Florida is already owned by the government, we should be looking for ways to get government out of the real estate business – not deeper into it. And with Washington so focused on cutting costs, there simply isn’t enough money to buy more land, especially for projects for which land has already been acquired by the government.

Instead, the dollars committed by Congress and the state should be going toward projects that the science says can provide communities with tangible benefits for flood protection, storage and water treatment – the most quickly and at the best price.

Land buys are not only costly to taxpayers, but also to those who rely on the land to help put food on our tables. According to the conservative James Madison Institute, more than 4,100 jobs will be lost as a result of the proposed land buy. The study also found the plan could cost Florida up to $700 million in economic output, mostly in already struggling Glades communities.

In the case of the proposed plan to purchase 60,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee, the major landowners have signaled they are not willing to sell. Many of these are multigenerational family farmers. So, without a single seller, why does the debate continue? One has to wonder that if the sellers are anything but willing, is eminent domain really at work?

Instead of a futile land buy, Florida needs to stay the course on completing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which has enjoyed bipartisan support from our

Congressional delegation since its inception under Governor Jeb Bush and President Bill Clinton in 2000. The plan keeps taxpayer dollars focused on addressing the water quality issues in coastal areas of South and Southwest Florida while also building additional storage at points north, east, south and west of Lake Okeechobee. Most importantly, it does so in a way that respects private property rights and agricultural communities, which play a crucial role in Florida’s economy.

Whether you are from North Florida or South Florida, we can all agree that Florida’s Everglades are a national treasure we cannot afford to lose. Finishing the projects that were started in 2000 will help to ensure the “River of Grass” will be around for generations to come. We need to stay the course and not get distracted by another government land buy that won’t solve the problem but will harm some of our struggling rural communities.

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Matt Gaetz is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 1st Congressional District, stretching from Pensacola to Holmes County.

John Couris: Open letter to the community from Jupiter Medical Center

John Couris

This legislative session, a group of lawmakers with a shared free-market philosophy are working to eliminate an important health care planning process called the Certificate of Need (CON) program. They believe by deregulating health care, costs would be reduced and quality would be improved. We disagree.

While we believe our legislators want to do the right thing, eliminating this program is not good for our community or state. It currently requires health care providers to obtain state approval before offering services in Florida. But eliminating CON and deregulating health care could trigger a chain reaction that reduces quality, increases costs and makes it harder to obtain necessary services.

At Jupiter Medical Center, we are passionate about caring for your health and wellness. As a community hospital, we invest in many unprofitable services and heavily subsidize others because they are essential to you, our patients. This includes services like obstetrics, diabetes care and our free clinic. CON helps ensure that we are able to continue to provide these vital services.

It is important that we all understand the facts surrounding this issue. Here’s how eliminating CON could affect you and your family:

Loss of Vital Services — Community hospitals across our state could no longer afford to offer many critical health care services. With no regulation, boutique health care businesses can move in and choose to offer only profitable services, instead of balancing these with the vital services the community needs. That means losing many essential programs you and your family may depend on.

Reduced Quality — It is well-documented that the more times a hospital performs a procedure, the better the outcome. Adding more hospitals spreads out the patient volume, leaving providers performing complex procedures only a handful of times. Think about it — would you rather have neurosurgery in a hospital that performs 100 of these sophisticated procedures a year, or only four?

Higher Costs — While eliminating CON is being touted to create more competition and drive down costs, the opposite is more likely to happen. We compete against other hospitals in our area every day, and that’s a good thing. But delivering health care is not like selling widgets. Bring more widget sellers into a market and sure, prices will go down. But let more health providers come into a market without any oversight or planning to determine the need for more services, and costs will rise.

CON is working in Florida. It’s an effective tool that protects the quality of your care and ensures you have the opportunity to provide your view on whether a new service or facility is actually needed in your community. Under these proposed bills, your voice would be taken away.

You should be concerned about the negative consequences of eliminating CON and the effect it could have on your health care. We encourage you to reach out to your legislators and tell them you do not support Senate Bill 676 and House Bill 7. You can find your representative by visiting

You can find your representative by visiting www.flsenate.gov/Senators/Find or www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/myrepresentative.aspx.

We also welcome you to contact John Couris, president and CEO, at jcouris@jupitermed.com to share your concerns. Additionally, you can read more about his stance on this issue either through his blog (Inventinghealth.blogspot.com) or by connecting with him on LinkedIn (Linkedin.com/in/jcouris).

With Congress currently working on massive changes to our U.S. health care system, now is not the time for Florida to make wholesale changes to our state regulatory structure. Join us and make your voice heard on this harmful legislation that could critically impact you, your family and our community.

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John Couris is CEO of Jupiter Medical Center. Couris and 15 members of Jupiter Medical Center board of trustees signed the above open letter.

Audrey Brown: Long-term care key to quality of life for Florida Medicaid seniors

Audrey Brown, president and CEO of Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc.

In 2011, the State of Florida elected to move long-term care (LTC) into the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care (SMMC) program, as the escalating costs of providing care at more institutional-style settings, like nursing homes, to an aging baby boomer population was creating a looming health care crisis.

For most families, the decision to move a loved one to a nursing home or institutional setting is difficult and saddening.  Many people would prefer to be at home and not institutionalized, if at all possible; but, until the implementation of the SMMC program, the hope of transitioning out of a facility was dim and the possibility of having the necessary services to keep someone at home was slim.

The fundamental strategy to allow Florida’s health plans to coordinate long-term care for our state’s most vulnerable and frail Medicaid beneficiaries was to enhance care in institutional settings, while simultaneously reducing the reliance on nursing homes by increasing the utilization of appropriate community-based alternatives.

Since its implementation, the program has been successful, as the LTC program now works both in terms of achieving cost savings and expanding meaningful benefits.  First and foremost, this program delivers the right amount and type of care to address individuals’ needs.  Often this appropriate type of care is delivered through more cost-efficient, home-based care services, which not only offers a less-restrictive setting for those eligible, but has also resulted in more than $400 million in cost savings.

Moreover, health plans have been able to leverage their resources to offer expanded benefits, such as support to transition to the community; emergency financial assistance; dental, hearing and vision services; transportation and many more.  These expanded benefits were valued at $9.5 million in 2015 and are financed by the health plans — not taxpayers.  Further demonstrating its success, 77.4 percent of Medicaid LTC recipients recently indicated in a survey that their quality of life has improved as a result of the SMMC LTC program.

Despite these documented successes and high satisfaction rates, some have expressed interest in regressing to the old model, wherein more of Florida’s most vulnerable populations would once again remain in institutional settings, where they are often not better served, with fewer opportunities to transition to more appropriate, less restrictive settings.

The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) also recently took a look at the impact that regressing to the old fee-for-service model would have on the state and found that the result would be calamitous.  Noting in a bill analysis, AHCA said that this move would result in additional costs amounting to $284 million for FY 2014-2015, $432 million in FY 2015-2016 and an estimated ongoing cost avoidance of $200 million annually.

Further, to demonstrate the real-world benefits Florida’s health plans deliver to patients, including in LTC, the Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc. (FAHP) recently launched a campaign, Florida Patients Matter, which showcases a series of videos focused on health plans’ commitment to being patient-centered.  In one video, a health plan member, Carol, discusses how after being diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, she was successfully transitioned home after being in a nursing home for three and a half years. Carol, now in remission, receives in-home care and assistance with medication, setting up doctor appointments and more from her health plan.

As Florida lawmakers discuss long-term care this session, FAHP urges them to keep the current LTC program in place, as it is truly improving the quality of life for seniors and their families.

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Audrey Brown is president and CEO of Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc.

Dennis Ross: Obamacare a mistake; time to repeal, replace

This month marks seven long and daunting years since Obamacare was signed into the law.

Seven years of broken promises. Seven years of skyrocketing premiums and fewer options. Seven years of tax increases, mandates and penalties. Seven years of families and hard working Americans having to make the choice between putting food on the table, buying cost-prohibitive health insurance under Obamacare, or facing federal mandates and penalties.

This is no way for Americans to live, and we cannot let it continue. We must pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA) so we can repeal the failures of Obamacare and replace them with a robust and vibrant health insurance market where people will have more freedom and flexibility to get the affordable plans they need and prefer.

Since its enactment, Obamacare has kicked 4.7 million Americans off of their health care plans and forced double-digit premium rate increases on families. Today, one-third of U.S. counties have only one insurance provider, and multiple insurers are pulling out of the federal exchanges because of the economic strain Obamacare has on our nation.

Even leading Democrats, like former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Chuck Schumer, have admitted Obamacare was a mistake and has left Americans with less coverage.

In Florida alone, premiums will increase by 19 percent this year, and nearly 72 percent of Florida counties have only one or two insurance providers to choose from on the exchange. This is not choice.

Instead of kicking Americans off of their plans, the AHCA will kick bureaucrats out of doctors’ offices and put patients back in charge of their own health care decisions. This patient-centered legislation will lower health care premiums by 10 percent, reduce the federal deficit by $337 billion, cap Medicaid spending for the first time, and provide $883 billion in tax relief for middle-income families and small businesses.

The AHCA further eliminates the individual and employer mandates that impose burdensome requirements on small businesses and families. It also reduces federal mandates and regulations that force health care plans to be filled with services people do not want and cannot afford. The AHCA will allow for a seamless transition that provides continuous coverage for those currently enrolled in the health care exchanges, while helping Americans purchase their own plans through tax credits and Health Savings Accounts so no one has the rug pulled out from under them.

Through this legislation, we are also protecting families and the unborn by allowing children up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ health care plans, preventing health insurers from denying coverage to patients based on pre-existing conditions, and blocking abortion providers from receiving federal funds.

This a beginning, not an end. We are going through the proper regular order and transparent process with this proposal, and are open to suggestions and ideas, something President Obama and Democrats were unwilling to do when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in the middle of the night. The AHCA is the first of three necessary and needed phases to fully repeal and replace Obamacare. This first phase allows us to immediately get the ball rolling by taking full advantage of the budget reconciliation process that will avoid Senate Democrats’ attempt to filibuster a full repeal and replacement.

After phase one is accomplished, we will quickly move on to phase two, which includes administrative actions, notably by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, to stabilize the health insurance market, increase choices and lower costs. The third phase will then allow Congress to introduce and pass additional legislative policies, such as allowing Americans to purchase coverage across state lines, which by Senate rules cannot be included in the reconciliation bill in phase one. Each phase has a thoughtful and strategic purpose in order to accomplish our long-awaited goal.

If we do not act, this disastrous health care law will continue in its death spiral, hurting American families and businesses, and threatening the next generation. After seven years of the American people telling us that Obamacare is not working, and after seven years of Republicans telling them we will repeal and replace it, the time for action and to fulfill our promise is now. We cannot, and will not, let this opportunity slip through our fingers. We must unite and put American patients first.

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross represents Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Maria Wells: Assignment of Benefits — A growing problem for Florida families

Maria Wells

Florida homeowners need to start taking action regarding an escalating problem that will lead to increases in their insurance premiums in the near future. Abuses of the Assignments of Benefits (AOB) process have already led to substantial insurance rate increases in South and Central Florida and it is only a matter of time before those premium hikes spread statewide.

The most common AOB arrangement involves transferring your home insurance policy benefits to a home repair vendor after an emergency, such as a plumbing leak or roof problem. With the contractor and their attorney now in control, claims can be inflated with unnecessary or phantom costs and attorney fees. And make no mistake, these inflated costs are passed on to policyholders when insurance companies calculate their rates.

Large areas of the state, particularly the tri-county area of Southeast Florida, have already been hit with double-digit property insurance rate hikes with more increases on the horizon if something isn’t done. State-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has calculated what will happen if lawmakers do not fix the problem.

In Palm Beach, for example, coverage for a residential structure with a value of $155,000 would rise from $2,210 this year to $3,559 in 2022. In Broward, that premium would jump from $2,390 to $3,850, and in Miami-Dade, the premium would increase from $2,926 to $4,712. Premiums for more expensive homes would go up even more.

For most Floridians, their home is their largest investment. Homeownership is still the key to the American dream and is vital to building strong communities. Floridians on fixed incomes are particularly vulnerable to increases in the ancillary costs of owning a home, such as property taxes, insurance and maintenance.

It is heartbreaking to see hard working families scrimp and save to be able to qualify for a mortgage only to learn that these overhead costs end up busting-the-budget.

These premium increases, mostly due to AOB scams, are already putting homeownership further out of reach for many families in South Florida and will start to impact families in other areas of the state without prompt legislative action.

The Assignment of Benefits process was envisioned as a tool to aid homeowners with disputed insurance claims. Unfortunately, it has been hijacked by unscrupulous contractors and attorneys who are enriching themselves at the expense of Florida families. That is why Florida Realtors® have joined the Consumer Protection Coalition to help put a stop to AOB abuse. Go to www.fightfraud.today to learn more and consider joining our effort.

Also, make sure to tell your state senator and representative to support meaningful AOB reforms that allow consumers to quickly and effectively repair damage to their home but also stop scammers from attempting to transform legitimate insurance claims into personal gain.

We all put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay; they should do the same.
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Maria Wells is the 2017 president of Florida Realtors.

Matt Thompson: SB 1040 & HB 853 — Serving up beer the right way in Florida

Matt Thompson

At the three local Tallahassee establishments I own, Madison Social, Township and Centrale, we serve more than 30 types of beer from breweries all across the country.

And, I sincerely enjoy and have an appreciation for each of their unique qualities and love to share them with our patrons.

But in my establishments, like most bars and restaurants, we sometimes don’t have access to one key element that would improve the beer-drinking experience for customers — the right glassware. To explain, in Europe, different beers are served in different glassware depending on the style and brand — from tulip and pilsner glasses, to snifters and chalices. This glassware serves a real purpose, because the glass a beer is served in can draw out that beer’s unique quality and flavor profile.

Take for example a Belgian-brewed blonde pilsner; it is meant to be served in a chalice-style glass because they are designed so every curve serves a discrete purpose to how the beer should be enjoyed. The authentic shape encourages the perfect balance of CO2 and liquid, enhancing head retention and flavor. Overall, this enhances customers’ beer-drinking experience.

While many bars and restaurants, including my own, would enjoy the ability to serve each different type of beer in the appropriate type of glassware, we are often not able to do so because we lose inventory to breakage and theft, and simply cannot afford to keep the various glasses we need on-hand.

In the same vein, the beer industry would often like to supply us with their branded glassware in an effort to elevate consumers’ experience as they enjoy their product. Yet, due to a current Florida law, the industry is prevented from giving retailers, including bars and restaurants, their appropriate branded glassware at no cost.

But there is good news on the horizon for establishments like mine, the beer industry and beer connoisseurs alike. There is an effort underway in the Florida Legislature, House Bill 853, by Representative [TomGoodson and Senate Bill 1040, by Senator [FrankArtiles, that would allow the industry to provide the appropriate glassware to accompany their beers to Florida bars and restaurants.

At the end of the day, retailers, along with the beer industry, are all trying to provide consumers and beer lovers with the best experience possible, and that includes serving their beer in the right glass. And, as the beer scene continues to be an exciting industry space, which is especially true now with the craft beer scene continuing to flourish, I hope we can evolve to serve these unique beers in the appropriate glassware.

I thank Representative Goodson and Senator Artiles for sponsoring these bills and hope my fellow restaurant and bar owners, as well as Floridians across the state who wish to enjoy their beer the right way, join me in asking the legislature for their support of House Bill 853 and Senate Bill 1040.

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Matt Thompson of Tallahassee is an alumnus of the Florida State University School of Communication and owns Madison Social, Centrale and Township.

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