Opinions Archives - Page 5 of 241 - Florida Politics

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: Why I’m retiring from Congress

I have been honored and humbled to serve our South Florida community for almost four decades. From helping everyday people with constituent cases to standing up to dictators around the world, I am proud of the work we have accomplished over the years. However, it is now time to take a new step. With the support of my husband,

With the support of my husband, Dexter, and my children, I have decided I will not seek re-election in 2018.

After more than three-quarters of my adult life in elected public service more than 38 years by the next election — I am confident that my constituents would extend my term of service further should I seek to do so. But, we must recall that to everything there is a season, and time to every purpose under the heaven. The most difficult challenge is not to simply keep winning elections; but rather the more difficult challenge is to not let the ability to win define my seasons. This is a personal decision based on personal considerations; I will not allow my season in elected office be extended beyond my personal view of its season, simply because I have a continuing ability to win.

We all know, or should know, that winning isn’t everything. My seasons are defined, instead, by seeking out new challenges, being there as our grandchildren grow up, interacting with and influencing public issues in new and exciting ways.

In my almost four decades in public office, I have worked every day to put South Florida first. From authoring legislation to create the Florida Prepaid College Program which has allowed thousands of students to attain a debt free college education to working day in and day out with thousands of constituents who have found a helping hand in my office, our community has known they have a voice for their concerns in our nation’s capital. As Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and now Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, I have stood with the oppressed around the world and fervently against the dictatorial regimes that abuse and attempt to silence the brave men and women who seek their God-given human rights. I am proud of my record as a staunch supporter of human rights and democracy in my native homeland of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and other corners of the world. I authored the strongest sanctions legislation on the Iranian regime to keep our nation safe from their rogue nuclear program.

As the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Senate, the first Cuban-American to serve in the United States House of Representatives, and, ultimately, the first woman of any background to serve as Chair of a regular Standing Committee of the House, I’ve been honored to help lead the way for young women who want to make a difference in their community while honoring some of our nation’s heroes, such as World War II-era WASP pilots. I am also proud that our office has hosted interns from all over the world, from all walks of life who continue to keep in contact with me and who make me proud every day of the work they are doing to help our community.

It is still astounding to me that in 1960, my beloved parents, my brother and I arrived to this amazing country that graciously offered refuge from the tyrannical regime that has ruled my native Cuba for almost six decades. The same country that let someone who arrived as an 8-year-old refugee who spoke no English to then became the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Florida House and Florida Senate, and then serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, in addition to being the first Cuban-American in Congress, and, ultimately, the first woman of any background to serve as Chair of a regular Standing Committee of the House,

My inspiration for years of public service comes from my parents, Enrique and Amanda Ros, who instilled in my brother and me a deep love for this country, respect and hard work along with my rock and loving husband, Dexter, as well as our children and grandchildren.

I will work diligently for South Florida for the next 20 months with the same fervor that I have always had and the constituents of the 27th Congressional District can be assured that I will continue to be their voice in Congress.

I look forward to continuing to work for the betterment of our community and I will always be a voice for issues that impact South Florida. I am grateful to the United States for embracing me and affording me the opportunity of attaining a blessed life: full of love, purpose, and achievement. I can never repay what this country has given me and I’m honored to have been South Florida’s voice in Congress for so many years.

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Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District.

 

Florence Snyder: Hold the door on DSOs, Part 2; FAU says FU to ‘crown jewel’

Countin’ down to sine die, the House and Senate education budget conferees have bumped the secretive university and state college “direct support organizations” up the chain of command for further grinding.

Soon, we’ll know how serious the House is about forcing the DSOs to operate in the sunshine.

DSO top brass are paid princely salaries with public funds. Yet, they operate with all the transparency of a Swiss bank. We hear about them only when they do something really stupid that offends someone who’s really rich.

That’s how the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) foundation got itself the unwelcome attention of its hometown newspapers and got some “earned media” at USA TODAY.

FAU was hauled into court by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation, which “partnered” with FAU in 2007 and came to regret it when they came to believe that FAU is looking to move in and take over Harbor Branch’s $68 million endowment. That was not part of the deal, say Harbor Branch trustees.

 It will be for a circuit court in St. Lucie County to decide whether FAU — where UNBRIDLED AMBITION is, literally, uppercase and trademarked — has predatory intentions.

FAU’s in-house “former award-winning journalist” Lisa Metcalf, was dispatched to describe the lawsuit as “an unfortunate distraction that we hope to move past quickly,” adding that the folks who built what FAU President John Kelly refers to as the university’s “crown jewel” have “misinterpreted our commitment to our partnership and to our shared responsibility for efficient and proper stewardship of our resources.”

Patronizing millionaires with AV-rated lawyers is rarely a sound strategy, and the newspaper closest to Harbor Branch was appears underwhelmed, and possibly alarmed, by Kelly’s subsequent commentary on the controversy.

In a Feb. 23 guest column for TCPalm, Kelly wrote:

“The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation is a very important component of the university. It is a certified Direct Support Organization of Florida Atlantic University. These are a category of not-for-profit organizations created by the Florida Legislature that exist for one reason: to benefit the university with which they are affiliated.”

“To ensure DSO accountability and consistency with a university’s mission,” Kelly wrote, “the university boards of trustees oversee affiliated DSO boards and approve DSO budgets, and university presidents or their designee supervise DSO senior administrators … Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation became a DSO of FAU in 2008 as part of the $69 million transaction in which Harbor Branch became a part of FAU. Its sole and unique mission is to support the research, educational programs, infrastructure and overall mission of FAU and Harbor Branch.”

TC Palm speaks for the community that loved and supported Harbor Branch long before Kelly came to Boca Raton with a carpetbag full of grandiosity and UNBRIDLED AMBITION. Its editorial board wants to see this dispute resolved soon, and not in the courts.

Secrecy breeds shady practices. Accountability at the DSOs is long overdue, and would go a long way toward enhancing the credibility of Florida’s postsecondary schools.

Martin Dyckman: Florida needs answers on death penalty discretion

The courtroom at the Florida Supreme Court seats 164, which may not be enough for all the attorneys, organizations and individuals who have intervened in the unprecedented case of Aramis Ayala v. Rick Scott.

Six groups have weighed in as friends of the court on behalf of Ayala, the state attorney for Orange and Seminole counties who is fighting to regain the 23 murder cases that the governor assigned to another prosecutor after she said she would not seek the death penalty in any of them

Among her supporters is a group of 45 prominent lawyers and judges, most well-known nationally. Among them are four former Florida Supreme Court justices, two former presidents of the American Bar Association, nine current and former district attorneys in other states, and four former U.S. Justice Department officials including Jamie Gorelick, who was Attorney General Janet Reno‘s deputy.

Three “friends of the court” support Scott, among them the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, which sided with the man who controls their budgets rather with the colleague who is fighting for their independence as well as hers.

One group of families of murder victims is backing Ayala. Another is for Scott.

Despite the extraordinary interest, this case is not going to decide whether the death penalty is as error-prone, financially wasteful and as altogether counter-productive as Ayala correctly insists.

Florida needs answers to those questions, but capital punishment is one of those issues where precious few politicians care to be confused by facts. As the steam was building in Ayala v. Scott, the House of Representatives defeated a budget amendment calling for an objective study of the costs and consequences of the death penalty.

For the court, however, the questions are simply these: Did Ayala abuse her discretion in deciding as she did? Did Scott abuse his in stripping her of those 23 cases?

It’s one of the most significant arguments the court will ever hear. Florida prosecutors make perhaps tens of thousands of judgment calls every year: What crime to charge? What crime not to charge? What plea to accept? They have even more power than the judges in deciding who goes to prison and for how long.

Should a governor be able to supersede one of those decisions simply because he doesn’t agree with it? Carried to an extreme, that makes him a dictator.

As the brief of the 45 lawyers and judges argues, “The real issue—and the one properly before this Court—is the independence of state attorneys to exercise their discretion without interference from other political branches of government. Indeed, this case puts squarely at issue the fundamental independence of prosecutors and the judicial branch …

“The Florida Constitution does not allow the governor of the state to support the exercise of prosecutorial discretion only when he finds it agreeable to and to intervene when he feels otherwise.” the brief says.

This is the gist of Ayala’s case, although she contends that the governor’s power to reassign state attorneys is a lot less limited than Scott’s predecessors have taken it to be. They sent in substitutes not only when some prosecutor reported a conflict of interest, such as a relative or former client facing charges, but also in cases of official misconduct where they believed the resident prosecutor was compromised by friendship or indifference. But I can recall no case like Ayala’s, in which the issue is not whether to prosecute for a crime but only whether to ask for a specific penalty.

Scott contends that Ayala made an “across the board determination not to undertake a case-specific analysis.” In effect, his lawyers say, she decided not to exercise her prosecutorial discretion.

His position appears somewhat inconsistent with what the governor’s office wrote last year to a citizen who had complained about another state attorney.

State attorneys are independently elected, charged with “certain discretionary duties,” and answerable only to their voters, the letter said.

All this begs the question of whether Florida will be harmed in any way if Ayala gets the cases back and the defendants she convicts go to prison for life instead of to death row.

The answer is no. Florida would be better off.

The killers would be behind bars for life. Anyone who thinks that’s getting away with murder should consult the ghost of Aaron Hernandez. Florida would spend a lot less money putting them in prison and keeping them there. There would be no multiple rounds of appeals, many of them to federal courts beyond the state’s control. The families of victims wouldn’t have to wait 20 or 30 years or longer for closure.

In any event, the voters of Orange and Seminole counties will have the opportunity to pass judgment on Ayala three years from now. Why isn’t Scott willing to wait for that? Is it because that would be no help to his U.S. Senate campaign next year?

It would be useful — and overdue — to have a comprehensive study from the Legislature’s highly capable and nonpartisan office of Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability. Among other things, the people deserve to know how much extra money they are spending on death cases. OPPAGA should also be tasked to explain in detail what happens to the enormous majority of killers who don’t end up on death row. In fiscal 2015, for example, Florida courts sent 942 people to prison for homicides ranging from manslaughter to first-degree murder, but only eight to death row.

A safe guess would be that prosecutorial discretion accounted for virtually all of that. Isn’t it time to know?

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Blake Dowling: Maybe we are getting a handle on hacking. Maybe.

A fella named Pyotr Levashov was arrested in Spain this month. Allegedly, the man’s real name is Peter Severa, one of the most wanted cyber criminals on the planet.

At least six Russians have been arrested around the world on international warrants over the past several months, according to McClatchy Newspapers. There are allegations of involvement with the recent U.S. election, worldwide botnet schemes, ransomware and lots of fun stuff.

As Americans, we get it, the Russian hacking community is after our elections, money, infrastructure, trade and military secrets and even Hollywood films.

Maybe, we are getting a handle on the situation. Maybe.

Extradition from Russia is the equivalent of jumping a 4-wheeler over a 2-acre lake. Not happening.

As stated earlier, most of these folks have been caught elsewhere; if they stay home in the motherland, it’s vodka and hacking for days without fear of incarceration.

Most of these recent arrests have occurred outside of Russia. So, a few Russki baddies are out of the way. Who else do we need to look out for?

Have you heard of Pawn Storm?

It is a group of Hackers/Hacktivists who are gaining quite a bit of momentum. They took their name from a type of chess strategy in which several pawns are moved quickly to the opponent’s defenses. They are targeting elections (among other things) all over the world.

They are looking to disrupt the upcoming battle in France, Marine Le Pen versus Emmanuel Macron. If I was going to make a wager on PredictIT, keep in mind Le Pen is mightier than the sword.

That’s right, I am now Mayor of Pun Town (thanks, Keith).

What’s different about these folks? They crave the limelight. They want to be written about, and who are they after? They attack celebs, TV stations, government, politicians, lobbyists, journalists, anyone with influence and they impersonate you as well as rob you. Imagine they hack the Miami Herald and email blast Dade County: “Frank Artiles returns.”

Or “Artiles hires Playboy calendar model.”

Oops. That was real. Never mind.

Back to … Fake news? Oh yeah, supreme fake news, with a side of extra bogus sauce — the sole purpose is disruption.

Ever heard of Tabnabbing?

This is a form of cybercrime they use to change a URL (website) to that of a phishing site, that doesn’t look like one. A message pops up to re-enter your credentials as the site has timed out. When you do, your toast. These folks are patient too, they may sit on someone’s info for a year and then go to work. Who has fallen victim to these folks? French TV, The U.S. Army, The DNC, the World Doping Agency.

So, what now?

Russian Dmitry Ukrainskiy, 44 and Olga Komova, 25, from Uzbekistan, after they were charged in Bangkok with involvement in a transnational hacking gang.

Step 1. Awareness. You need to know these types of nuts are out there.

Step 2. Prepare. It has repeatedly been said, but here goes. Keep your passwords complex. It’s the front line, keep them unique. For example, Peter Severa (mentioned earlier) was caught by using the same passwords for his criminal empire that he used for his iTunes account. Details here.

Fakes news, hacking, hacktivists, tabnabbing, credential phishing. You name it, man, it’s all happening all over the world, our country and our state.

If an email looks suspicious, it is. Delete. Report to the Florida Cyber Crimes Office.

If someone calls looking for info and these days they also want to impersonate you digitally, post fake posts and tweets, even TV footage (back to France). Don’t give people info over the phone, and, more importantly, train your staff.

It seems like there is a new threat or group that threatens us online every day.

Eric Schmidt of Google said, “the internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity does not understand, it’s the largest experiment in anarchy that we’ve ever had.”

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

 

Paul Davidson: Florida Senate needs to act on auto insurance reform

Paul Davidson (Photo courtesy Plam Beach Post)

One year ago, I was riding my bicycle down A1A. Out of nowhere, a woman driving a 1988 LTD hit me going 45 miles per hour.

The force of the collision sent me flying 60 feet. I landed face first.

The next thing I remember is being rolled into the hospital.

My lip was ripped up to my nose. Two of my teeth were knocked out. Even though I (thankfully) wore a bike helmet that day, I suffered a concussion. I broke just about every bone in my face. My doctor says I have a road-rash tattoo on my face because the scarring from the accident will not go away.

The driver who hit me carried the mandated minimum $10,000 in bare-bones PIP insurance. Unlike 48 other states, Florida has no requirement for drivers to carry bodily injury coverage.

What did that mean for me, the victim? It meant I had to figure out how to pay the $350,000 health care bill created by an accident I didn’t cause. Because I have appropriate insurance coverage, the bills are getting paid.

What upsets me is there were no consequences for the woman who hit me. It’s as if carrying bare-bones PIP insurance provides a free pass for irresponsible drivers who hurt other people.

What happened to me isn’t an isolated incident.

I recently saw a similar story from Tampa where a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran was on his bicycle and was hit by a driver who carried only minimum PIP insurance coverage. According to the story, his bicycle was the man’s only means of transportation, so he doesn’t have auto insurance. He suffered serious injuries in the accident but, did not have insurance coverage to pay for his $200,000 in medical bills. People are helping him through donations on a “GoFundMe” webpage.

It’s really a policy change that’s needed to help people like us who could become victims of Florida’s outdated PIP insurance system and have to pay dearly because of the irresponsibility of others.

Lawmakers have an opportunity to change this by passing legislation to repeal PIP and replace it with a requirement that drivers carry bodily injury insurance at $25,000 per person/$50,000 per incident. The Florida House has already passed a good proposal to make this happen. The ball is now in the Florida Senate’s court.

Forty-eight states require drivers to carry bodily injury insurance. Why not Florida?

I understand that we’re down to the last days of the scheduled legislative session. With a little creative leadership that we know exists in the Legislature, the Senate can get this bill on its last-week agenda and send it to the governor.

We urge our children to take personal responsibility. We should also promote it in our state policies.

Please join me in calling on the Florida Senate to join their colleagues in the House by passing this good bill to repeal PIP and replace it with coverage that increases responsibility on our roadways.

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Paul Davidson is an engineer living in Boynton Beach and was a triathlete before the accident.

Florence Snyder: In Miami-Dade Schools, a Bermuda Triangle for union workers

Union members expect their leaders will look out for them, but that’s not how it works in Miami, where “leadership” at AFSCME’s Local 1184 thinks that a high-interest private loan program for its lowest paid workers qualifies as a “member benefit.”

No credit? No problem! for union members who are paid a pittance to deliver essential services in Miami’s public schools. The union and Miami-Dade have rolled out the red carpet for BMG Money, a Brazilian company that’s incorporated in Delaware and has offices in a luxury tower on Wall Street South.

BMG’s loans carry a crushing interest rate of 24 percent and will absolutely, positively be repaid. That’s because the school district will act as BMG’s collection agency, deducting scheduled payments from employee paychecks.

The deal to provide workers this “opportunity” did not go before the Miami-Dade School Board for public vetting and voting. It arose instead in the room where contract “modifications” happen. Union officials who signed on the dotted line did not respond to Bulldog’s request for comment, so we don’t know what, if any, benefits the union stands to gain from the loan program.

According to the union’s draft documents, however, BMG “would provide financial literacy training to union workers; support union membership drives and make an unspecified contribution to the union.” That was news to BMG’s “chief growth officer” Tom McCormick, who told Florida Bulldog, “We do not plan on offering any incentives to AFSCME based on any milestones.”

McCormick wouldn’t discuss the particulars of the Dade deal with Bulldog, but he did go on the record to point out that BMG’s “Loans at Work” program is designed for “good people with good jobs” who might otherwise turn to “predatory payday lenders … with absurdly high interest rates of 265 percent and repayment terms that make the loans exceedingly burdensome on borrowers.”

Business is booming at BMG, which claims over 40 government and public agency clients in Florida. The company is proud to have issued over $107 million in loans to employees who otherwise would have fallen victim to predators who occupy spots higher up the loan sharking food chain.

Time will tell if these folks are being serviced, or being screwed. For many borrowers, the difference between a 24 percent loan and a 265 percent loan is the difference between being shot with a handgun or shot with a howitzer.

Either way, you’re likely to end up dead.

This is not the first time that Miami- Dade schools’ top brass and union officials have triangulated with private businesses at the expense of the rank and file. It makes for a Bermuda triangle where what little the workers have too often disappeared into someone else’s pocket.

 

Mike Williams: Meaningful workers’ comp reform must protect Florida’s workers

Mike Williams serves as president of the Florida AFL-CIO,

With the House version of workers’ compensation reform, our state legislators are dangerously close to repeating the mistakes of the past. We cannot have a lopsided system that creates a chasm between the army of lawyers and executives who represent workers’ comp insurance companies and the injured worker who needs a competent lawyer to fight for the benefits that their employer has purchased.

Thankfully, the Florida Senate has taken the lead in advocating for effective, meaningful reforms that we know to be constitutional.

We must always keep in mind that workers’ compensation laws are designed to ensure the quick and efficient delivery of medical benefits to injured workers so they can recover from their injuries and return to work. The laws are not designed to grant one side a competitive advantage in the court system. Families that depend on the livelihoods of injured workers are counting on a fair system that will give them an avenue for redress when they are wrongly denied benefits.

The Legislature has an opportunity to fix several problems that would benefit both small-business owners and injured workers. The system must allow for appropriate access to the courts when an injured worker’s benefits are wrongfully denied. Maintaining a reasonable standard for attorney fees is the only remedy that will ensure this access for injured workers.

While there is still work to be done, I applaud the Senate for placing a cap on attorney fees, which are paid only when benefits are wrongfully denied.

Although an injured worker must retain counsel to pursue these benefits, the cap is reasonable and will not invite a constitutional challenge. The legislation also establishes a mechanism for containing defense expenditures by insurance companies by requiring them to refund money to policyholders if defense costs exceed a certain percentage.

We also have an opportunity to streamline the process for authorizing medical treatment. Under the current system, workers are unable to have any say in their own physician, and there are significant consequences from not being able to utilize a trusted physician.

Inevitably, there is a trust gap between the worker and the designated doctor paid for by the insurance company. This isn’t fair to either party and this simple fix will go a long way to reducing unnecessary claims. The Senate bill streamlines the authorization of medical treatment and will expedite how and when care is provided – avoiding the need for unnecessary litigation

There has been a great deal of discussion about the unique rate filing system that workers’ compensation insurance companies enjoy here in Florida. The Senate version smartly creates a competitive ratemaking system that will allow employers to shop for affordable coverage and eliminates the longstanding single rate system, which has granted a monopoly to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).

Florida’s workers’ compensation system has favored the insurance industry over employers and employees for far too long. There is much to be done to bring fairness to the system, more than the current Legislature seems willing to tackle. However, the bill being offered in the Florida Senate is a fair start and represents a far more balanced approach than the unconstitutional measure in the House.

Whatever happens, this session has put a spotlight on the many inequities in the system and we will continue to work to correct these for all of Florida’s working families.

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Mike Williams is a construction electrician from Jacksonville and serves as president of the Florida AFL-CIO, representing almost a million workers, retirees and their families across the state.

 

Bob Martinez, Dominic Calabro: The time is now to address the Everglades crisis

Florida’s Everglades is an American iconic national park known and revered throughout the world for its biodiversity.

Floridians, regardless where they live, must join together to protect and restore this treasure before the Everglades reaches a point of no return. The Everglades is home to thousands of plant and animal species and draws millions of visitors to Florida. Unfortunately, decades of massive changes to the habitat’s water flow have resulted in unintended consequences that threaten Florida’s environment, residents and economy. The situation requires immediate action.

During the wet season, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discharges large volumes of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee west into the Caloosahatchee River and east into the St. Lucie River to prevent flooding in the urbanized areas south of the lake. These discharges of lake water cause a number of problems to the east, west and south.

To the east and west, the introduction of large quantities of fresh water to the fragile estuaries where the rivers meet the coast harm or destroy wildlife, which rely on a delicate balance of fresh and salt water. Similarly, the lack of fresh water flowing to the south results in too much salinity in Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay, and harms or destroys the ecosystem there. Furthermore, nutrients in these discharges have resulted in harmful algae blooms along the affected rivers and coasts, which you may remember from numerous news stories last summer.

But in addition to the environmental effects, this situation impacts many Florida industries and small businesses. Unhealthy and unsightly estuaries discourage tourists from visiting Florida. Unhealthy waterways negatively affect commercial fishers, which affects other businesses in their supply chain. All of these reduced economic actives result in less tax revenue. Yet, these are just a small glimpse of the people and industries affected; when viewed as whole, from an economic and fiscal standpoint, it truly affects all of us in Florida.

It is rare in public policy when any solution would be a significant improvement over the status quo, but this one such situation. We are at a tipping point where we don’t have the luxury of time to wait for the perfect solution. These effects will cascade into economic and fiscal costs borne by all Floridians. There is too much at risk for us, as a state, to do nothing.

Recent a proposals in the House and Senate have seen spirited debate. Governor Scott recently came out in support of Senate President Joe Negron’s reservoir plan to send Lake Okeechobee water south into the Everglades and the House agreed to fund the reservoir as part of a budget compromise deal to ensure session ends on time.

A recent Florida TaxWatch report examines these issues and explores the costs of inaction. The report finds that “each day Florida waits to solve the problem, the solution becomes more expensive. While the price tag to address the issues may be a shock to the system, the cost of inaction could be far more devastating to the state of Florida and its hardworking taxpayers.” The report is available at www.FloridaTaxWatch.org.

It is clear that our state’s leaders are aware of and understand the importance of this issue. The questions now being debated are how to solve it and can we afford to fix it, but the real issue is not what we can afford, but the true and widespread cost of failure to act.

Florida’s livelihood is dependent on the strength of the Everglades. The cost of the solution will never be less than what it is today and any action is better than no action. Failure to act will send Florida down a terrible path. Soon, the damage will be beyond the point of no return and taxpayers across the state, and the state itself, will suffer irreparable harm.

These effects will cascade into economic and fiscal costs borne by all Floridians. There is too much at risk for us, as a state, to do nothing. Luckily, it seems that the Legislature is paying attention.

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Bob Martinez, 40th Governor of Florida and former Mayor of the City of Tampa, is a senior policy adviser with Holland & Knight’s Public Policy & Regulation Practice Group and is co-chair of the firm’s Florida Government Advocacy Team.

Dominic M. Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute & government watchdog.

Joe Henderson: Tearing down ‘booze wall’ is right choice for consumers

Assuming Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill repealing the state’s so-called “booze wall,” I suspect it won’t take long before we all wonder what the fuss was about.

The euphemistic wall is one of those Prohibition-era creations that mandated hard liquor can’t be sold in regular grocery stores. That might have made sense 82 years ago when it was enacted, but in 2017 — when convenience and one-stop shopping drives the market — it no longer does.

Repealing the law will allow shoppers the convenience of stocking up on their favorite spirit in the same store where they’re buying milk, lettuce, cheese and something for the grill.

Mom and pop liquor stores likely will feel the most pain from this, since their prices generally run higher — but that’s market forces at work.

The Senate’s already approved the measure, dubbed the “Whiskey & Wheaties” bill, and it passed the House by a single vote, 58-57. Lawmakers obviously were queasy about this. Some of them no doubt bought the argument by Charles Bailes III, chairman and CEO of ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, that removing the law would encourage under-aged drinking.

“The wall, which has separated minors from hard liquor for decades, has never hurt competition in Florida but it has kept young people from stealing bottles or drinking them in stores,” he said in a story by Jim Rosica on SaintPetersBlog.

“We are grateful for the 57 members who voted to fight for that protection and respect their political courage to do the right thing.”

It should be noted, though, that ABC offers a home-delivery service for those times when your supply is running low, and you don’t feel like leaving the house.

The argument against was disingenuous to me. It was really about protecting a monopoly.

I suspect shopping is about to become even more pleasurable at Publix, even though the grocery giant also opposed tearing down the wall. It will be interesting to see if Publix shrugs and goes along with the new reality, especially since it could have a big impact on the more than 200 Publix Liquors stores it has opened since 2003 as a separate business model.

I’m sure opponents of this measure will cry that this speeds the further decay of America, but to me removing that last barrier makes sense. The consumer wanting to buy a bottle of booze while shopping for groceries will able to do so without going to a separate store.

The consumer wishing to avoid that aisle will have the choice.

Isn’t that how it is supposed to work?

Pat Neal: Florida must commit to the future and invest in high-tech jobs

Pat Neal

The world around us is constantly changing as technology evolves. Investing in high-tech jobs can set Florida up to succeed far into the future while providing people with high-wage jobs that will keep the American dream alive and well in our great state.

Other states have already committed to investments in the future, with millions of dollars being poured into high-tech centers that boost the economy and create hundreds of jobs.

Luckily, our state leadership is committed to this goal, with Gov. Rick Scott recognizing the growing need for high-tech jobs in the state. He has consistently touted STEM programs in Florida’s education system, including his $10,000 STEM Degree Challenge to steer students into high-tech STEM jobs. He approved $15 million in funding last year for the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, now BRIDG, which partners with universities and companies to develop high-tech sensors.

Studies have shown that regions and states comprising of high-tech research and industrial centers achieve economic boons.

The Bluffs, an advanced manufacturing park in Pensacola, is a prime example: A Florida TaxWatch report found that about 6,000 new positions in Pensacola’s manufacturing sector would be created if The Bluffs reached its maximum potential. It goes on to state that new wages in the region as a result of increased job creation could grow by as much as $400 million and that Florida’s Gross State Product could rise by as much as $1.1 billion.

Research centers like BRIDG and The Bluffs are critical pieces to Florida’s high-tech puzzle and need both private and public support to attract companies to invest in them. We will need every available resource in the toolkit to do so, including Enterprise Florida (EFI), which has played a large role in the development of BRIDG and The Bluffs.

Unfortunately, EFI is at risk of being eliminated completely by the Florida Legislature, which would cut our investments on opportunities in high-tech fields. This would be an unwise move, especially as other states bolster their efforts to build up their high-tech industries and put Florida at a disadvantage to other states, halting the progress the state has made in high-tech principles. Instead, lawmakers in Tallahassee should consider the benefits of using EFI and other state resources to boost our high-tech footprint.

In this global economy, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Making an investment to ensure that Florida becomes a high-tech hub that attracts the top individuals and companies to the state is essential to the success.

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Pat Neal is a former state senator and the former chair of the Christian Coalition of Florida; he currently serves as chairman-elect for the board of directors of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog; and is the president of Neal Communities.

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