Guest Author – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Guest Author

Terry Thomas: Having children direct their own attorneys could put them in harm’s way

I’m writing to voice my opposition to a measure now before the Constitutional Revision Commission: To amend the state constitution to establish the right of all abused, neglected and abandoned children to their own attorneys in dependency court.

After more than 40 years in law enforcement — including 26 as the statewide coordinator of FDLE’s Crimes Against Children Program — I’ve seen too many cases where children and adolescents had their own attorneys, with the result that the dependency court could not adequately protect the child.

And so I see great potential for this measure to harm children, not help them.

Why? Because the truth is that children love their parents, and the vast majority of my child victims — no matter how badly they’d been abused — wanted to go home even if it placed them in danger. I’ve had kids say to me, ‘I love my dad. I just wish he’d stop doing what he’s doing.”

And so when you put an attorney in the midst of this, it’s not in the best interests of kids as far as I’m concerned. When the kids do go home or somewhere else they’re at risk, they often instruct the attorney not to tell the judge. I’ve dealt with attorneys who actually hid kids’ whereabouts while they were in touch with the abusive parents and having them change their stories.

And I know dependency judges who have had the same experience many times.

The truth is that abused children already have access to attorneys. For one thing, the dependency judge can appoint them. For another, the Legislature approved a measure in 2014 to have children with special needs represented by attorneys on a registry; a bill that would incentivize more attorneys to do this pro bono is before the Legislature now.

Above all, the Guardian ad Litem model we already have in Florida law provides children with a three-person team that includes a Best Interest Attorney; a GAL volunteer who advocates for the child in court, school, medical settings and more; and a case advocate manager who knows local resources and helps the volunteer gain access to services for the children.

In short, the Guardian ad Litem Program acts as the judge’s eyes and ears, providing all the information they believe the judge needs to make decisions that are in the child’s best interest.

I have investigated too many child homicides to allow dependent children to take still more risks. Vote NO on Proposal 40, and let the courts do their jobs.

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Terry Thomas is a retired special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Charlie Crist: Protecting Floridians access to medical marijuana issue of compassion

When Floridians went to the polls in 2016, more than just names were on the ballot.

Included was Amendment 2, amending our state constitution to legalize medical marijuana.

Amendment 2 received the support of 71 percent of voters – surpassing the 60 percent needed for passage. Do you know how hard it is to get more than 70 percent of the people to agree on anything these days? But Floridians understood that medical marijuana is vital to alleviating the pain and suffering caused by serious illness, affecting people in their families, their friends and neighbors.

That’s why it was so disturbing when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the U.S. Department of Justice would rescind policies enacted under the Obama administration that discouraged enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states like Florida that legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. It is an attack on states’ rights, undermining the will of 6.5 million Floridians, and putting at risk the ability of sick children and adults to receive the medical care they need to get well and reduce suffering.

I strongly oppose this change, and I want to tell you why.

I’m blessed to represent my Pinellas County neighbors in a district that stretches from my hometown of St. Petersburg to the beautiful white sand beaches of Clearwater, where Dani Hall lives with her two sons.

I am honored that Dani will attend the State of the Union as my guest later this month, and for her to allow me to share her story.

Born with a birth defect impacting her lower spine, Dani has endured severe pain and multiple back surgeries over the course of her life. To deal with the pain, she was given narcotics. But they didn’t help, which led to more painkillers being prescribed – at one point she was on 14 different medications. As you can imagine, this left her feeling almost zombie-like, unable to function normally.

Her options with traditional pharmaceuticals exhausted, Dani decided to try medical marijuana. Her pain subsided. She came off all other medications. Just think about that.

Now, Dani can exercise and was able to return to work thanks to the relief medical marijuana provides her. A biologist by trade, with this new lifeline Dani is currently going back to school to become a teacher.

Dani did notice a side effect, however – a welcome one.

As someone on the Autism spectrum, Dani found that her symptoms of severe anxiety and sensory sensitivity were also alleviated.

Dani was hopeful that medical marijuana might be able to help her two sons, who are also on the spectrum. She began advocating Florida officials to legalize medical marijuana so it could be an option to help others in the way it changed her life.

It would be cruel for the Trump administration to take this legal option of healing away from Dani, her boys, and the hundreds of thousands of people – perhaps millions – that medical marijuana helps across the country.

As a person of faith, to me, this is an issue of compassion. The Bible teaches us to recognize the suffering of others and act to help, similar to the “Golden Rule” that I try to live by every day.

I call on Attorney General Sessions to remember the Golden Rule, act compassionately, and reverse course on this harmful policy change. The well-being of countless families just like Dani’s are at stake.

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St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Andrew Gillum: How to get the Trump corporate giveaway back  —  and put it to work for Florida’s families

The Trump Tax Scam will put literally billions of dollars in the coffers of our richest corporations, money that would otherwise protect Social Security and Medicare, and pay for roads and bridges — just to name a few.

But we can get that money back — and put it where it matters most.

And it can happen next year — without Washington — in our states — if we fight hard for a bold proposal.

In Florida, around 90 percent of corporations already pay no state corporate income tax — those that do pay only 5.5 percent — lower than ruby red bordering conservative states Alabama and Georgia.

Florida’s 5.5 percent corporate tax will bring the state an estimated $2.4 billion in 2018—19 on taxable income of about $44.5 billion — and this doesn’t include any money from “pass-through” business that pay no corporate taxes at all, or exempted businesses, or corporations that don’t earn more than $50,000.

By that math, Republicans and Donald Trump, by cutting federal corporate taxes for the largest corporations from 35 percent to 21 percent are giving Florida corporations a $6.2 billion federal tax giveaway next year.

That’s right — our richest corporations are making off with sacks of money thanks to Donald Trump.

But this is an opportunity for Florida, and I have a couple of ideas that I’m calling the “Fair Share for Florida’s Future” Plan.

By adjusting our state corporate tax level to a modest 7.75 percent, which still allows corporations in Florida a massive tax cut and keeps our rate more than 1 percent lower than California, we will be able to recoup at least $1 billion back from the richest corporations and put it where we need it most — investing in our future.

My plan calls for rebuilding our public schools, paying teachers a minimum starting salary of $50,000, investing in early childhood education programs, and investing in SHOP 2.0 and vocational training to help get workers the training they need for higher paying jobs.

Our richest corporations will still pay billions less in taxes next year. We just ask that less than a fifth of that money go to work for Florida families.

And this is just the start of Fair Share for Florida’s Future.

If we end state loopholes that keep massive companies from organizing in a way that exempts them from paying any taxes at all — we can do even more. We can rebuild our state infrastructure. We can build world-class transportation. We can make health care more affordable and accessible than anywhere else in the world.

Right now, we can put the Trump tax cut to work in a way that works for middle-class families. These types of progressive investments are what we need — not more giveaways to the rich. But it’s only going to happen if we are bold enough to talk about it. It’s happened in Florida before.

We didn’t even have a state corporate tax until 1971.

Then a young, bold, courageous, unapologetic progressive campaigned on it, won, and then got it done with the backing of 70 percent of Floridians. And the last time the state corporate tax was adjusted was in 1984 under Gov. Bob Graham.

Together, we can do it again.

With your support, if I’m sworn in as the next Governor of Florida almost a year from now, I will work to put the Trump corporate tax giveaway to work for Florida families, through a state corporate tax adjustment package.

Trump and Republicans may have just given middle-class money away to the richest corporations, but if we want it bad enough, we can get it back in our states and put it where it should have been in the first place — our future.

Join me in supporting Fair Share for Florida’s future by sharing this post or joining our campaign at AndrewGillum.com.

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Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is a Democratic candidate for Florida Governor.

Dina Rubio: Tax cuts have already helped small businesses, like mine

Under our new tax code, Apple recently announced plans to invest $30 billion in the U.S. economy over the next five years, which would create more than 20,000 jobs.

Companies like AT&T and Wells Fargo have also invested in new hiring, higher wages, or four-figure bonuses, if not all of the above. Overall, more than 125 U.S. employers have put their tax savings to good use, benefiting more than two million working Americans.

But America’s largest corporations aren’t the only beneficiaries of tax cuts. Small business owners, who account for two-thirds of new jobs in this country, are also using their tax savings to make new investments and reward their hardworking employees.

I’m one of them. As the owner of Don Ramon Restaurant in West Palm Beach, I know the positive impact of small business better than most. My husband, Juan, and I take pride in providing our guests a true Cuban experience, from cultural events to homemade carne con papas. Juan’s love for music brings out the rhythm of the old and modern-day Cuba, differentiating us from chain restaurants.

Because of the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, we will pay lower taxes and qualify for higher deductions, leaving Don Ramon in a better position than ever before. We plan to open a takeout window and set up a customer bar, which would generate up to eight new jobs. We will also install new refrigerators and coffee machines, in addition to making much-needed renovations to better serve our customers.

Perhaps most importantly, all of our key employees received generous bonuses last month, and they will also see pay increases in the coming weeks. We take great pride in rewarding our workers, and the new tax code makes it much easier to do so.

While Don Ramon is only one small business, just consider the transformative impact of tax cuts nationwide. Florida is home to 2.3 million small businesses, which employ more than three million employees — nearly half the state workforce. Around the country, there are nearly 30 million small businesses, which provide financial security to tens of millions of workers.

For years, these job creators have paid inordinately high taxes. Under the old tax code, many small businesses were hit with a federal tax burden of nearly 40 percent, only to see it rise as high as 50 percent when state and local taxes were included.

But the new tax code drops the top federal rate to 37 percent, while increasing the standard deduction to 20 percent. This incentivizes small businesses like mine to invest in business expansion and job creation, helping me not only compete against chain restaurants, but also make a real difference in people’s lives.

When we’re left with more of our hard-earned money, we can also donate more money to local nonprofits and other community organizations. Coming from two troubled countries — Cuba and Nicaragua, respectively — my husband and I appreciate the many opportunities that the American Dream has given us. And we are honored to give back to the people of West Palm Beach. Local investments tie our communities together and strengthen the social fabric that makes America a truly exceptional country.

I applaud President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans for making a real difference in our lives — and the lives of countless other Americans.

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Dina Rubio is the owner of Don Ramon Restaurant in West Palm Beach.

Tim Cerio: Marsy’s Law for Florida brings fairness to criminal justice system

As a member of Florida’s legal community, I take very seriously any proposed changes to our state’s constitution.

In my role as a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), I will carefully weigh any proposal before us based on the need to have these proposals embedded in our state’s most powerful legal document.

While amending our constitution is not something I take lightly, I do feel strongly about a proposed constitutional amendment I put forward called Marsy’s Law for Florida (CRC Proposal 96). This measure would ensure that victims and their families are provided with the same level of rights and protections as those given to the accused and convicted.

Marsy’s Law for Florida is a pro-victims’ rights proposal, but to me, it is more about bringing equity to the criminal justice process.

The United States Constitution enumerates 20 distinct rights to those accused or convicted of crimes. The victims or the family members they leave behind when a tragic loss of life has occurred have absolutely no rights. While those who are accused or convicted have 20 different rights, the victims and their families – Floridians who were thrust into the criminal justice system by the acts of others – have none. There is no equity in that.

I want to be very clear that the accused are entitled to their rights, as they should be. They deserve to have every single right currently provided to them under federal and state law. Nothing should change there at all.

What should change is that victims should have the same level of rights and protections too.

The U.S. Constitution is silent on victims’ rights. Our state constitution does not have to be.

Individual states have the power to include victims’ rights and protections in their constitutions. Most states have already done so. Florida is one of only 15 states that does not provide constitutional-level protections for victims of crimes. As the third largest state in the nation, we should be leading the way on the issues facing our society, including victims’ rights, not lagging behind.

Marsy’s Law for Florida is the answer. This measure would provide victims of crime and their families with clear, enforceable constitutional protections – just the same as those afforded to the accused and convicted. Nothing more and nothing less. By giving victims and their families co-equal rights to the convicted and accused, we will empower them to take an active role in their case and guarantee that they, at least, have the ability to be heard.

Marsy’s Law is gaining momentum across the country. It has already been enacted in six other states. Most recently, in November, Marsy’s Law passed in Ohio with 83 percent of Ohioans voting in favor of it. We know there is overwhelming support for Marsy’s Law here in Florida.

According to a poll conducted in October, 87 percent of likely Florida voters believe victims should have, at the very least, the same level of protections in the state constitution as those given to those accused of committing crimes.

I appreciate the support of Floridians and the support of my fellow CRC members Patricia Levesque, Darlene Jordan, Fred Karlinsky, Jeanette Nuñez, Brecht Heuchan and Sen. Darryl Rouson who are co-sponsoring my proposal.

Today, Marsy’s Law for Florida will be put to a vote by the CRC Declaration of Rights committee. I urge the members of that committee to vote in favor of Marsy’s Law for Florida so voters will have a chance to decide for themselves if victims and the accused and convicted should be on equal footing in the criminal justice process.

We have a unique, once-in-20-year opportunity to ensure Floridians who are victimized, and their families, are treated fairly following a crime. Let’s bring equity to our criminal justice system. Let’s pass Marsy’s Law for Florida.

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Tim Cerio is a member of the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission and an attorney who practices law in Tallahassee.

Dana Young: Florida’s boaters deserve consumer protections, too

As an avid recreational boat owner and sixth-generation Floridian, I know there’s no better way to enjoy our state’s spectacular waters than taking your boat out.

And I’m certainly not alone — Florida is home to almost 1 million registered boats, and every one of them has an owner who delights in our beautiful coastline and lakes. Unfortunately, the fun of boating can be spoiled when predatory companies take advantage of a boater in distress.

Many boaters pay for memberships with maritime salvage and towing companies in order to be covered for services like fuel delivery, towing and so on. But sometimes these companies seize on the opportunity to unfairly classify assistance as a “salvage claim,” a classification that lets them charge outrageous and unexpected fees based on the value of the boat, not on the value of their actual services. These fees can sometimes end up costing tens of thousands of dollars for what should be a relatively simple job.

Additionally, when basic assistance isn’t enough, some companies take advantage of arcane maritime law and choose to declare it a salvage situation.

Here’s the real shocker: Because the cost of assistance on the water isn’t disclosed up front, these companies can stick boat owners with costly salvage fees after the fact. This is a case of powerful companies preying on the vulnerable and unsuspecting — an act of modern-day piracy.

As just one example, I recently met with a constituent who was charged $30,000 after one salvage company spent less than 10 minutes helping him pump some water out of his boat (in a nonemergency situation), and this is not an isolated incident.

To combat this unscrupulous practice, I have filed legislation that would provide added transparency and accountability to the marine towing and salvage business. The bill, which I filed with Rep. Shawn Harrison, requires salvors to give boaters a written estimate before providing service. That’s it. We are essentially taking the common-sense consumer protections Floridians have come to expect on land — from auto mechanics, for example — and extending them to our state’s boaters.

Situations like the one I described above underscore the need for more transparency in the marine towing and salvage industry. Our simple and straightforward proposal will provide boaters with the peace of mind that comes from knowing they’ll be able to see how much they will be charged — before any assistance is actually provided.

I want to make one thing clear: Most salvage businesses provide beneficial services to our boaters, ensuring their safety and keeping their boats afloat. However, there are some companies that exploit boaters and reap exorbitant fees for minor assistance.

These horrendous acts include charging thousands of dollars for nonemergency situations that should be simple fixes, like pumping water out of a boat or pulling a stuck vessel off a sandbar.

As a Florida senator, I take seriously my responsibility to help create a fair environment for Florida’s residents and visitors.

It’s time we put a stop to the undisclosed fees charged by some of these companies, charges that may far exceed the value of the service provided. When Florida’s boaters find themselves in trouble on the water, they deserve to know what they are facing.

I am proud to take a stand with my fellow boaters across our state and work to create a solution for these unjust acts. This legislation will give Florida boaters the clarity they need and the peace of mind they deserve.

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Sen. Dana Young represents state Senate District 18 in Hillsborough County and serves as chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee.

Dr. Nicole Fanarjian, Sarah Lipton-Lubet: Florida lawmakers are subsidizing anti-abortion lies

Wouldn’t you want to know if your taxpayer dollars were being used to lie to women about their health?

That’s exactly what is happening here in Florida. Each year, the Florida Legislature funnels taxpayer dollars to “crisis pregnancy centers,” (CPCs) anti-abortion organizations posing as legitimate health care clinics. Under the guise of providing reproductive health services and pregnancy-related information, these fake clinics shame women and lie to them to prevent them from accessing the care they want and need.

Often camouflaged as health care facilities and purposely located near real clinics that provide the full range of reproductive health services, CPCs try to lure women away from facilities that can actually meet their reproductive health care needs.

When a woman enters a CPC for any type of service, she is given biased counseling, misinformation and, at many “clinics,” religious seminars. Often, she hears false claims about fetal development and the health effects and safety of abortion care (in reality, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States).

To be clear, CPCs peddle falsehoods that have been repeatedly discredited by extensive scientific research and the country’s most prominent medical associations.

Florida women describe being harassed, bullied and given blatantly false information at CPCs. Janessa from the Tampa Bay area had been so ill from her high-risk pregnancy that she was hospitalized, unable to work and struggling to make ends meet.

Given her compromised health, she decided an abortion was her best option. Hoping to save money on the ultrasound she needed before her appointment, Janessa went to a nearby clinic that advertised free ultrasound services.

Unfortunately, the clinic was an anti-abortion CPC, and instead of providing Janessa with a reliable ultrasound, they shamed her for deciding to have an abortion.

Staff repeatedly forced her to view ultrasound images and told her they would call her after she left to discuss her pregnancy. Janessa was sure of her decision to obtain abortion care, but she was shaken by her experience at the CPC and intimidated by the staff’s threats to repeatedly contact her against her wishes.

Unfortunately, there are many similar stories of deception and harassment directed toward Florida women by CPCs.

CPCs are deceptive. They undermine a woman’s right to access abortion care. They undermine the trust at the foundation of the patient-provider relationship by posing as health care providers and peddling inaccurate medical information. And they undermine a woman’s dignity by attempting to shame and pressure her and take away her ability to make her own decisions.

Yet none of this has slowed the push by extremists in the Florida legislature to legitimize and fund CPCs with taxpayer dollars.

Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) has introduced SB 444, which would permanently fund CPCs with taxpayer dollars. His bill intentionally restricts women’s access to the full range of health care services by funneling public funds to entities that exclusively “promote and support childbirth,” while cutting out qualified medical providers who offer the full range of reproductive health services including birth control and abortion care.

By sending tax dollars to CPCs, anti-abortion lawmakers in Florida are demonstrating a total disregard for the truth, undermining a woman’s right to make her own informed medical decisions and denying her the respect and dignity she deserves.

Florida lawmakers need to know that taxpayers are watching. We will not stand idly by as hard-earned tax dollars in the form of public funding go to fake clinics that harm Florida women.

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Dr. Nicole Fanarjian is a Florida obstetrician and gynecologist. Sarah Lipton-Lubet is V.P. for Reproductive Health and Rights with the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Amanda Pedigo: Traditional vacation rentals part of Florida tourism DNA

It’s always nice to get away. No matter how much you enjoy your job, a vacation is a chance to relax with family and friends, experience new cultures and places, or check off an item on your bucket list. The wonder of Florida travel means the tourism and hospitality industry will always have a vital role in our communities, supporting local economies from Pensacola to Key West.

So, if you had the chance to improve the industry and amplify its benefits to travelers, local small businesses and residents across the state, wouldn’t you? That question and how to achieve it will surely be a topic of conversation during this week’s annual Florida Tourism Day in Tallahassee. HomeAway, a platform enabling traveling families to connect with local homeowners, businesses and attractions, looks forward to joining the effort to celebrate and enhance the rich tourism economy here.

Floridians know the benefits of this industry better than most, attracting more than 113 million visitors last year alone. National and international tourist spending in the state’s economy topped $109 billion in 2016, supporting 1.4 million jobs in the state, a number that grows each year.

But Florida didn’t become the travel destination it is today based solely on its attractions, sandy beaches and beautiful weather. The state also has an abundance of options when it comes to lodging.

Whole-home vacation rentals increase these options for travelers and groups, allowing families to visit that may not have otherwise. By connecting traveling families and homeowners, vacation rentals expand the tourism economy and enable families to take the vacation they’ve dreamed of. Furthermore, the additional lodging option generates more economic activity in areas outside of traditional hotel districts, supporting thousands of local jobs and revitalizing communities.

With vacation rentals across the state, HomeAway brings responsible travelers — and in turn critical travel and tourism dollars — to communities large and small. In fact, an economic impact report by the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association found vacation rentals generated more than $31 billion in economic activity and supported 322,000 jobs in 2013, numbers that are even greater today.

Given the state’s lively tourism economy, it’s vital to prioritize legislation that promotes economic growth and gives Florida homeowners an opportunity to responsibly participate. Smart vacation rental policies create a space for homeowners to use their property to earn money for retirement, save for education, and take care of their families. It supports Florida homeowners who have invested money and energy into improving their homes and helping travelers experience local communities.

Fortunately, the state has been considering legislation that both protects the economic benefits vacation rentals bring to the state and preserves the rights of Florida homeowners to responsibly engage in the tourism economy. Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) and Rep. Mike LaRosa (R-St. Cloud) introduced the Florida Vacation Rental Act, which establishes guardrails that prohibit local regulations dictating where and how many vacation rentals are allowed. The bill prevents patchwork regulation across the state, improving clarity and compliance for homeowners. HomeAway supports this effort and the conversation unfolding around how to create smart regulations that preserve vacation rentals as a valuable addition to the Florida economy.

Florida residents agree. A 2017 poll found that 93 percent of Floridians believe travelers should be allowed to rent accommodations other than hotels. A clear majority also said state and local governments shouldn’t have the authority to ban homeowners from renting their homes.

Florida Tourism Day is a time to recognize the value vacation rental platforms bring to communities and a reminder to support policy that benefits all groups involved.

As a company founded in the hospitality business, HomeAway remains committed to protecting vacation rentals as an option for Florida visitors, homeowners and businesses. We applaud Senator Steube and Rep. LaRosa for their continued efforts to preserve the benefits of vacation rentals. We look forward to working with all groups involved to create policies that protect this option for Floridians and continue to enhance the tourism economy upon which the state relies.

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Amanda Pedigo is vice president of Government and Corporate Affairs for Expedia Inc., Washington, D.C.

Kasha Bornstein, Austin Coye: Expand syringe exchange; all Florida deserves Miami miracle

Since the dawn of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, public health experts have advocated for syringe exchange programs as one the most powerful tools to reduce the spread of viral infections — including HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C — by removing contaminated syringes from circulation.

They have documented time and again that programs distributing sterile injection equipment are safe, save money and lives. Florida is currently being devastated by an opioid epidemic provoking as much infectious disease as it does overdose death.

However, despite the long-documented efficacy of syringe exchanges, the state has only one exchange, in Miami-Dade County.

Syringe exchange programs gained acceptance among public health policymakers a generation ago, first in New York, Seattle and San Francisco, and then saw legalization and proliferation throughout the United States, often under the auspices of local, state and regional public health departments. Endemic rates of HIV and Hepatitis C dropped dramatically in every locale where syringe exchange programs were introduced.

The opioid crisis that has gripped the United States for the past decade, epidemiologists have witnessed a combination of opioid overprescribing, poor access to health care, and a failed war on drugs, create the perfect conditions for infectious disease and overdose deaths to skyrocket, as we have seen acutely in Florida with opioid-related deaths rising 35 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Indiana has grappled with a similar epidemic, but there, then-Governor, now Vice President Mike Pence issued an executive order authorizing syringe exchange programs under the supervision of his then health commissioner and current US Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

Florida has been an epicenter of the opioid crisis, and we’ve seen the terrifying and tragic costs of this epidemic: we have the highest rates of new HIV infections anywhere in the country; from 2010 to 2016 the number of Floridians who died as a result of opioid overdose increased from 3,296 to an astounding 6,558 in 2016; more than 15 people in Florida died every single day last year; and opioids continue to claim lives so ruthlessly and effectively that opioid deaths are directly responsible for lowering the national life expectancy two years in a row.

In 2016, Florida took its first steps toward authorizing syringe exchange in the state. With the support of the Florida Medical Association and every physician and nurse in the Florida legislature, University of Miami physician Dr. Hansel Tookes and Sen. Oscar Braynon (a Miami Gardens Democrat) were successful in their four-year push to pass a bipartisan bill to allow just such a program. However, the 2016 IDEA bill allowed for only a single pilot program in Miami-Dade County.

Nevertheless, in this short time, we’ve seen veritable miracles occur at the IDEA Syringe Exchange. We’ve enrolled hundreds of people who inject drugs, referring nearly one-fifth of our participants into rehabilitation programs.

Since April 2017, we’ve put over 600 doses of naloxone into the hands of those most likely to witness an overdose, seeing more than half of these doses returned as used canisters. Each one of those used canisters represents a life saved, one less overdose death to join the statistics.

For the first time ever, we’ve quantified the nature of the HIV and Hepatitis C epidemics as they exist in this vulnerable patient population in Miami – 10 percent and 50 percent respectively – rates unheard of in the developed world. We’ve been able to link newly diagnosed and lost-to-care participants to HIV care, suppressing their viral loads and preventing further transmission in our community.

Each case of HIV we prevent saves the state and taxpayers more than the cost of running a single syringe exchange in one year; and saves another family from untold anguish.

However, the opioid crisis is not limited to Miami-Dade. Families throughout the state have lost parents, children, siblings and spouses to this scourge. Our results at the Miami IDEA Exchange reflect a basic tenet of public health policy: harm reduction saves lives. The rest of Florida deserves the results we’ve seen work in Miami.

This legislative session, HB 579 by Rep. Shevrin Jones, and SB 800 by Sen. Braynon, have been introduced as bipartisan bills that expand the 2016 IDEA Act to the rest of the state. SB 800 will be heard today in the Senate Health Policy Committee, but HB 579 is still waiting to be placed on legislative agendas in the House.

Every physician in the Florida Legislature has co-sponsored this legislation. We finally have an opportunity to lead the way in public health and fiscal responsibility, and expand syringe exchange statewide.

We need our legislators in Tallahassee to do the right thing and make syringe exchange available for the people of Florida.

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Kasha Bornstein and Austin Coye are M.D./MPH candidates in the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, Class of 2021.

Cecile Scoon: What can we do now for his dream?

As we make our New Year’s resolutions and measure how we have done on the prior year’s resolutions, we also celebrate January as the birth date of a great man who had high hopes and new resolutions for his beloved but flawed country.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made some powerful and everlasting resolutions for this vast land of opportunity, fear, and the partially fulfilled promise that a person’s achievements were only limited by their hard work and desire.

Dr. King was able to see this nation with eyes of love and hope, even though the reality that he often saw was the swinging billy club and the crushing force of an unleashed water hose upon defenseless people who were only asking to be treated equally. Dr. King was able to set aside the words of hate uttered angrily by segregationists and he was able to push past his own fears for his physical safety to utter words so glorious and so profound, “I have a dream…”

Certainly, some of Dr. King’s resolutions have been achieved, such as the end of government-sponsored segregation of people of different races. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 and Brown v. Board of Education were the beginning of the end of enforced segregation in class and at work, and many people of color benefited from those open doors.

Many of those who long trumpeted “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever,” recanted their words and asked forgiveness from the many that they harmed.

Has our nation, our leaders and we ourselves, done all that we could to make Dr. King’s dream a reality? Answering these questions truthfully requires us to reach past our own silos of self-complacency and speak truth to the power of our own demons and limitations.

The discussion about race often rings hollow as people speak past each other. Many white citizens are tired of “the blame game” and want the oppressed to pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps. They say, we are suffering too, our children have less opportunity now than we did and we do not like that change. This angst and frustration are real.

Still, today on average a white family with a high school graduate head of household earns 25 percent more than a black family with a college-educated head of household. In addition, the median wealth of black American family is still only approximately $13,000 compared with $125,000 for a white family. These numbers show that there are still so many disparities that are tied to race. Yet many Americans reject these facts.

Is racial inequality like the recent broad exposure of sexual harassment of women? Many good men have said say they are amazed that this gender-based mistreatment was still going on, even though many women experienced sexual harassment and many people watched their work neighbor endure such horrors. Like racial discrimination, sexual harassment is something too long tolerated until it was made public so that action had to be taken.

Like sexual harassment, the tangled web of racial intolerance and injustice is often hiding in plain sight.

What would Dr. King see if he looked around the nation to our school systems? Today, for many reasons, many public schools around the nation are struggling and failing. Children often arrive unprepared for school, often coming with so many problems from their home environment that learning is a challenge.

Charter schools are proliferating uncontrollably, taking public dollars without real accountability. Many charters are failing and closing with the organizers keeping the buildings and real estate to sell to friendly investors. Other charter schools collect the cream of the student population and aggregate and accelerate the economic and racial segregation, often claiming that they offer a private school atmosphere with a public-school price.

At the same time, newly created tax credits allow corporations to skip paying government taxes and instead send their dollars to holding companies that then send the money to private schools that have no accountability to anyone. The unfettered process of “school choice” has led to almost complete racial and economic segregation in many schools across the country.

There are so many ways that we can work on ensuring that more of Dr. King’s resolutions are obtained. We need to make engagement in our local schools one of our personal annual resolutions, and make school fun and engaging again with inspired and committed teachers. That means not pushing out the senior teachers because they cost more.

These silver-haired purveyors of knowledge often understand students the best and can communicate with and motivate them.

We need to bring back fun and fulfilling areas of learning, such as music and band which elevates math understanding and performance on standardized tests. We need to bring back studio art which stimulates higher learning. We should bring back theater which provides opportunities to read and discuss literature, and provides deeper understanding of historical events.

And of course, we need our children to learn civics again and how our great democracy works in order to be enchanted and anticipate their first day voting at the polls or to announce their first candidacy for an elected position.

This means we should hold all schools accountable — traditional public, charter, and private receiving tax credits — and ensure that all schools that receive government resources or tax credits take an equal share of students from homes that are struggling financially, and that the racial and economic ratios remain close to the actual ratios in the larger community.

Many studies have shown that this economic, racial, and ethnic integration develops the best educational environment for all students as they learn from each other and learn to strive for the best together

There is so much work to be done, but if we commit our resources and our imaginations — if these concepts could become our New Year’s resolutions for our communities, then many of Dr. King’s resolutions about equal education and equal opportunities for all students — and ALL people — in our great nation could be closer to being achieved.

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Cecile Scoon is second vice president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

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