Opinions Archives - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Legislature move on USF could leave St. Pete rattled

Boom!

That sound you heard emanating from the western side of the Tampa Bay area wasn’t a sonic blast, or the exhaust fumes from an unidentified flying object.

But if you’re still searching for answers to why your windows rattled this morning, check out the University of South Florida St. Petersburg – or, as that campus likes to call itself, USFSP.

Officials and faculty are no doubt still pondering how their life will different if a move in the Florida Legislature to combine USF’s three branches – Tampa, St. Pete, and Sarasota-Manatee – into one big single university is successful.

So what, you ask?

So, here’s what: goodbye relative autonomy for the smaller schools and hello to a new identity of being simply a branch off the giant USF main tree in Tampa. And if you don’t know how much they would hate that in St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee, then you don’t understand university politics.

USFSP has a history of going rogue against the authority of the Mother Ship on Fowler Avenue in Tampa. The short version is this: the good educators in St. Pete don’t want to be a branch on anyone’s tree. They have wanted to be a separate entity, making their decisions.

With the blessing of the Legislature in the 1990s, that’s kind of what they got after faculty and officials in St. Pete complained about being disrespected by the larger campus in Tampa.

There were limitations to that independence, as now-former USFSP regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

She was fired by USF President Judy Genshaft for essentially dereliction of duty when she left town during the storm but tried to imply that she was on the job protecting students and the campus.

“Your conduct created an intolerable safety risk to our students and the USFSP community,” is how Genshaft phrased it.

St. Pete got the message: You still belong to me.

Not long after that, the St. Pete campus lost one its main defenders when powerful state Sen. Jack Latvala resigned after being caught up in a sex scandal that swirls today.

Latvala fiercely fought for the autonomy of USFSP while in office, and officials in Tampa were concerned that he might try to break off the St. Pete campus altogether – following the model by former state Sen. JD Alexander who hijacked the USF campus in Polk County to create Florida Polytechnic University.

Tampa officials were concerned Latvala might try to include the prestigious USF College of Marine Science in a hostile takeover. The college, while located on the St. Pete campus, has been under full control of Tampa and is a cash cow in terms of generating donations.

With Latvala gone, though, the relative silence coming from Tampa after Tuesday’s news that Rep. Chris Sprowls filed a bill that would combine the campuses indicates Genshaft probably is smiling quietly.

For what it’s worth, Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, is a USF graduate.

Without Latvala to break knees and lead the opposition, the odds that this consolidation happens would seem to be greatly increased. Sprowls told the Tampa Bay Times that everyone should be happy about this because, “It’s an opportunity for St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee to have a pre-eminent university in their community. I think, naturally, it will have them rising together as opposed to being separate limbs.”

I doubt seriously that’s how USFSP is looking at this.

It goes back to the long regional rivalry between Tampa and St. Pete, and the complaint from the west side of the Bay that Tampa gets everything.

That’s not as true as it used to be. In this case though, it might the best way to describe what might happen.

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.

Blake Dowling: Session, bitcoin and digital currency

Now that the 2018 Legislative Session is in full swing, lawmakers and lobbyists have taken over our great city.

Last night, I bumped into a couple of lobbyists I know, who were hiding from the masses at Whole Foods. Which is genius.

Whole Foods has it figured out, they have sports on by the deli, and pour beer and wine, so you can hang out and have a beverage. Dilly-Dilly indeed.

You can also buy a steak from the meat market, and they’ll cook it up for you on the premises. Love it.

Plus, nothing makes inflated prices seem much for reasonable than downing a couple of 10 percent IPAs.

Back to the lobbyists; we talked shop for a minute when the dialogue switched to digital currencies.

One of the gents mentioned he had seen a 500 percent increase in his digital currency investment. Fantastic. He also shared a video (you must watch) for a very simple and comedic description of digital currencies.

“Shut up Margaret, you didn’t understand any of that!” … comic gold, courtesy of Late Night with Seth Meyers.

This all began back in the dark ages of 2008; someone named Satoshi Nakamoto announced to the world: “I’ve been working on a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party.”

For the official definition — bitcoin is a type of digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.

There are various types of cryptocurrencies but this is the one you hear about most often.

As of April 2017, one bitcoin is worth $1,223 – a considerable jump from late 2016, when it was around $770 (according to Investopedia). Last month it spiked up to $20,000. To summarize there are two ways to get into bitcoin: mining and investing. Investors go to an exchange and purchase bitcoin at the market value. Miners setup powerful computers and get paid for the work that the computers produce.

There are bitcoin ATM’s around the state of Florida in use right now.

In our state, the legal and judicial ramifications are under scrutiny as criminals love new ways of doing things. They jumped into digital currencies quickly – as the transactions are more anonymous – which is why new laws were put in place last year to address this issue.

According to the Miami Herald: “Cybercriminals have taken advantage of our antiquated laws for too long,” said Miami Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who sponsored the bill. “Bitcoin bypasses the traditional banking system, and our state’s laws simply had not caught up to the upsurge in criminality in the world of cyber-currency.”

Is this the future of the investing? Maybe.

However, be advised that some digital currencies have seen 80 percent swings in value in a single day. This is not your grandmother’s blue-chip stock.

Where is this all going? The only thing I can say for certain is where it is not going – away.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Darryl Paulson: President Oprah Winfrey?

Is Oprah Winfrey seriously considering a run for the presidency in 2020?

If so, will Americans support another celebrity politician with no political experience after the disaster known as Donald Trump?

If you ask me whether I would prefer having Trump or Oprah as a neighbor or a dinner companion, it is clearly Oprah. Ask me which one I would prefer having as president, the answer is neither.

I opposed Trump as president because I found him neither to be a Republican or a conservative. Most importantly, I found Trump to be uniquely unqualified to be president. Nothing has happened in his first year in office to change my opinion.

I would oppose Oprah Winfrey for the same reasons. She is extraordinarily successful; so was Trump. She is a billionaire; so is Trump. She has no political experience; neither did Trump.

Politics may be the only career where experience is considered a weakness. I hope you don’t choose your heart surgeon using the same criteria.

For those who argue that Oprah could not do any worse than Trump, I would argue that it is a low standard on which to judge a candidate. In addition, we won’t know if Oprah would be better or worse than Trump until she holds the position.

Supporters of Oprah argue that she is far more likable than Trump. She has consistently been rated among the most admired women in America. So was Hillary Clinton, and that did not help her in her presidential campaign.

Although Winfrey has no formal political experience, she did help secure passage of what is known as the “Oprah bill,” or the National Child Protection Act, which set up a national database of convicted child abusers.

Winfrey has given away tens of millions to support various causes, including the construction of 60 schools in 13 nations. One of those schools was the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

Winfrey has strong ties to two critical Democratic constituency groups, women and African-Americans. This could be an asset in a presidential race.

Even many Republicans see Winfrey as a strong candidate. Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, stated that Oprah is “more sensible on economics than Bernie Sanders, understands middle-class Americans better than Elizabeth Warren, is younger than Joe Biden and nicer than Andrew Cuomo.”

Oprah Winfrey’s negatives are long. Will American support another celebrity candidate with no political experience, or will they see her as a left-wing version of Trump?

Voters often select someone who is the opposite of the person occupying the White House. Will Oprah be seen as more of the same?

As a longtime media personality, every statement Winfrey has ever made will be reviewed and analyzed. How many times will we hear: “And you win a car. Everyone wins a car?”

A recent piece by Robert Tracinski described Winfrey as “our nation’s premier snake oil salesman.” Gwyneth Paltrow pushed her coffee enemas, Suzanne Somers offered her hormone therapy and vitamin treatments, and Jenny McCarthy attacked vaccinations for children on Oprah’s show.

Oprah created Mehmet Oz as “America’s Doctor.” Dr. Oz has recommended so many controversial cures that his colleagues at Columbia University wrote an op-ed saying that over half of his recommendations lacked scientific underpinnings. “Many of us are spending a significant amount of our clinical time debunking Oz-isms regarding metabolism game changers.”

Oprah is a successful person who has been a voice for the voiceless. Is that enough to qualify her as a presidential candidate?

Oprah’s elevation as a presidential candidate may simply signal the weakness of the Democratic Party and its pool of presidential candidates, just as Trump’s candidacy signaled the debacle that is now the Republican Party.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Herschel Vinyard: CRC should reject Proposal 23

The sanctity of Florida’s Constitution is violated when we seek to fill it with “feel good” amendments that are often vague, duplicative, and trigger unintended consequences. Such amendments are why we have a Florida Constitution addressing pigs, high-speed trains, funding for radios, and the taxation of boat storage facilities.

Certainly, all of these topics are important, but they do not belong in a constitution.

For this reason, the CRC should reject Proposal 23, which promotes additional, and potentially frivolous, environmental litigation.

As a former Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, I had the privilege of working with the sponsor of CRC Proposal 23 to identify restoration projects designed to reduce harmful algal blooms and freshwater discharges in Martin County. She was a terrific partner and her efforts to improve Florida’s environment are genuine and appreciated.

However, this proposed amendment to allow an individual to disregard our environmental laws and place environmental decision making in Florida’s courts (which were named last month as the No. 1 “judicial hellhole” in the country) is not the answer.

Current law already allows affected citizens to be involved in development permits and to take legal action to stop any person or company from “violating any laws, rules, or regulations for the protection of the air, water, and other natural resources of the state.” A constitutional amendment creating another right to sue is not the purpose of a constitution and would add to the litany of vague and duplicative amendments in our constitution.

Environmental restoration could also be jeopardized by this proposed amendment and would certainly be an unintended consequence. For example, communities served by septic tanks along the Indian River Lagoon and our springs have recognized that septic tanks are contributing to the degradation of those water bodies. Many of those communities are now investing in new or expanded central wastewater treatment systems to improve our springs and important watersheds. But, those new wastewater treatment systems are a source of “pollution.”

Regretfully, this proposed amendment gives a disgruntled homeowner not wanting to give up his or her septic tank another litigation avenue to block a new wastewater treatment system.

Restoration, not litigation, should be our rallying cry.

The last time the CRC convened in 1997-98, they too considered a similar proposal regarding vague environmental rights, and appropriately decided not to advance the proposal.

The CRC committee now considering Proposal 23 would be wise to follow suit.

Florida’s Constitution is a sacred document and is no place for feel-good amendments like CRC Proposal 23.

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Herschel Vinyard is an environmental lawyer for Foley & Lardner LLP. He served for four years as Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Mona Mangat: Marco Rubio, you failed Florida kids once. Here’s your chance to make amends.

Just recently, in the midst of cold and flu season, a young asthmatic patient of mine who works in the fast food industry walked into my office barely able to breathe. She couldn’t speak. We quickly worked to open up her airways, and the story she then shared was chilling. She had stopped her maintenance asthma medications two months earlier because the out-of-pocket cost was too high, and she prioritized her child’s medications over her own.

She had been sick for two days but willed herself to go to work where, upon entering a freezer, her lungs immediately seized up.

Children, families and parents like my patient are caught in the crosshairs of the Republican tax and budget overhaul that will shift trillions in tax breaks to the rich and corporations while forcing health care cuts and higher taxes on working families. At the same time, the health care of millions of children hangs in the balance as their families wait to see if Congress will provide long-term stability to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

After letting funding dwindle for months since its expiration in October, congressional Republicans relied on their standard answer for issues like this; they kicked the can down the road by only funding the program through March. But children and their families need full funding soon. They cannot spend several more months like they spent the last few — wondering if their children will get the care they needed.

And they need a real champion in Washington, D.C. — not just someone who pays lip service only to turn his back when families need him the most. Sen. Marco Rubio recently tried to claim the title of children’s champion, making headlines when he demanded improvements to the tax bill’s Children’s Tax Credit (CTC) in exchange for his vote. But that was grandstanding with little substance.

With just minor tweaks, Rubio voted for the Senate bill despite the fact that 26 million families would get only a token share of the credit and 4 million immigrant children of taxpaying parents would face new restrictions.

Recently, Rubio admitted that the deal he agreed to was lackluster, “probably” helps corporations too much, and won’t result in significant economic growth. This isn’t the first time Rubio has been caught showboating and pretending to be a fighter for families, and unfortunately, it’s hard to say that it will be the last.

But now Senator Rubio has an opportunity to stand up for many of the same kids the CTC leaves behind by becoming a vocal champion for CHIP and demanding that the same senators who pressured him into voting for the tax package provide families with certainty and ensure their kids will have the health care coverage they need.

Without CHIP reauthorization, 215,000 kids in Florida will be kicked off the insurance rolls. Failing to champion the reauthorization of CHIP is morally reprehensible, and Florida won’t forgive Rubio if he fails families again.

For me, this isn’t about a win for any particular party, it’s about taking care of my patients. Patients should never have to choose between purchasing their medications or their kids.’ Doctors like me stood up to speak out against this tax bill because we know it will hurt our patients, and we are demanding that CHIP be reauthorized because we know they can’t get the care they need without it.

It would have been refreshing to see Sen. Rubio stand up for his constituents during the tax debate but instead, he folded like he too often does. Florida voters won’t forget this latest publicity stunt from Rubio or his many votes to take away our health care, but agreeing to move CHIP forward would be a step in the right direction.

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Dr. Mona Mangat is an allergist and immunologist in St. Petersburg and former Board Chair of Doctors for America.

Heather Fitzenhagen: Level the playing field for Florida franchise operators

It’s safe to say that a large part of Florida’s thriving economy is fueled by franchised businesses, which provide some of our most common services — fast food, auto repairs, haircuts, and so on. Without committed business owners, who take on the responsibility of growing small local businesses associated with big national chains, we would miss out on countless staples of everyday life.

Even though their business signs carry the names of global brands, they are actually local operations owned by friends and neighbors who have invested their time and money in pursuit of their dreams. They operate in good faith in cooperation with the national brands, yet they’re not always treated with the same kind of good faith in return.

To operate a franchise business, owners devote hundreds of thousands of dollars on the franchise agreement, equipment and supplies, employees, advertising, and so much more. Right now, Florida provides few legal safeguards for the small-business men and businesswomen who choose to invest their hard-earned personal resources in a franchise business opportunity. I hope to change that.

Through my position as a member of the Florida Legislature, I have filed legislation promoting fair business relations between franchisors and franchisees, which will ultimately result in new business development and job creation for our state. The Small Business Parity Act is designed to help achieve a more level playing field for those who invest their personal time, money, and energy to build local businesses. It will bring important new reforms to the 40,000 small franchise operations in Florida who provide more than 400,000 jobs for our state’s residents.

Currently, a corporation can terminate its franchise agreement — and effectively drive the operator out of business — with the snap of a finger. They don’t even need to have a valid cause. They can do it simply because it’s better for them, regardless of the consequences on the hometown business owner. That is grossly unfair and imposes a tremendous burden on a well-intended entrepreneur. My legislation would help these franchise owners protect their growing businesses, providing a more even balance in the franchise relationship.

Along with providing this balance, the legislation has numerous provisions to ensure that local Florida businesses are treated fairly. It would stop a corporation from refusing to renew a franchise agreement unless the operator fails to substantially comply with the franchise agreement; it allows operators to sell or transfer their franchise to a qualified person; and it permits Florida franchise operators the right to pursue legal disputes with their franchisor in a Florida court and under Florida law.

My proposed legislation defends small-business owners and their dreams, without burdening the large corporations when they act in good faith. These are common-sense approaches that embody reasonable business practices. Florida business owners should be able to safeguard their investment and their livelihood. We may not notice the work put into these businesses behind the scenes, but we should step to the front now to shield them and their ability to continue providing jobs and fueling Florida’s economy.

Almost half of all states in the country have enacted similar measures to balance the partnership between small-business owners and their corporate brands. Florida should join the growing list of states doing the right thing by passing the Small Business Parity Act.

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Florida state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen is a Republican representing the Fort Myers area. She is sponsoring HB 1219, the Small Business Parity Act.

Tim Canova: Let the voters decide

Floridians have never been closer to putting an open primaries referendum on the 2018 ballot than we are today.

A proposal to amend our primary system was submitted by Commissioner Bill Schifino of the Florida Constitutional Commission (CRC). Schifino’s open primary proposal is now one of six being considered by the full Commission, out of more than 2000 original proposals.

Florida needs this political reform. In 2016, independent voters who wanted to vote in the presidential primaries were presented with two bad options: register with a political party they refused to join or stay home. The Schifino proposal will allow 3.4 million independent voters — 26 percent of all voters in Florida — to cast their ballots in either the Democratic or Republican primary elections without being forced to join a party.

All the CRC has to do is put the measure before the voters for approval. I hope they listen to the people and do just that.

I’m a passionate advocate on many policy issues, and sometimes people ask me why I devote time and energy advocating for opening our primary system. For me, being a progressive means advocating for a system that is fair to all voters, including people who disagree with me. That’s the kind of leadership that is so lacking in Congress today. Closed primaries are part of a political culture that allows party insiders to thrive at the expense of the people.

In a poll co-conducted by my organization Progress for All, Florida Fair and Open Primaries and Open Primaries, 73 percent of Floridians-including majorities of Republicans and Democrats as well as independents- supported putting an open primaries measure before the voters in November 2018.

Demographics in our state and in our country are changing rapidly. Independents are the fastest growing segment of voters in Florida, and some surveys suggest more than 70 percent of millennials are independents. We risk losing an entire generation of voters if we don’t embrace them. Democrats can’t win elections without independent voters. Right now we’re saying to them, “You’re not wanted in the primary process, but join us in the general election.” We simply can’t have it both ways.

I was disappointed in the recent decision of the Unity Reform Commission, a body created by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at the 2016 National Convention, to not recommend that the Democratic Party enact a 50-state open primaries rule for the 2020 presidential contest. Regardless of state election law, both political parties could, if they wanted, write rules to give every voter in every state the right to cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential primaries. It was a missed opportunity for Democrats to open our doors to independents.

Effective political change requires more than replacing individual politicians. Our political system itself is reinforcing partisanship at ever-increasing rates. If we want to transform politics, we have to elect better leaders and change how they get elected.

Which brings me back to the Constitution Revision Commission and their opportunity to now do right by the people of Florida.

The Commission held nine public hearings in early 2017, from Miami to the Florida Panhandle, to hear firsthand what issues are most important to citizens. Thousands of Floridians spoke out at the hearings, signed petitions, sent emails and made calls to CRC members to support an open primaries referendum. Inspired by this demand, Commissioner Bill Schifino introduced his proposal.

Now as the Commission moves proposals forward — including a vote on the open primaries proposal — we need to make our voices heard as we did so strongly last year. The CRC will be holding a second set of public hearings starting Feb. 12. I hope everyone will join me in attending one or more of these hearing and urge the CRC to adopt Commissioner Schifino’s recommendation and put an open primaries referendum on the 2018 ballot for the voters to approve.

The message is simple: Let the voters decide. That’s a progressive value that all Floridians can get behind.

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Tim Canova is the Chair of Progress for All, a grassroots political and community action group based in Hollywood, Florida that supports progressive candidates and causes. He is challenging Debbie Wasserman Schultz for the Democratic Party nomination in South Florida’s 23rd Congressional District.

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