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Craig Waters: Florida’s courts lead in use of social media

Long seen as the quietest branch of state government, Florida’s state courts have emerged in the last year as a national leader in social media use.

Craig Waters
Waters during the 2000 election challenge. (Wikimedia)

In fact, we are leading the nation with 20 out of 26 court divisions using Twitter to reach the public right now. That’s an astounding number.

In a report sent this week to Florida’s Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, our staff detailed the first year’s work in a state court communications plan adopted by the Florida Supreme Court in December 2015.

Labarga sent the plan for implementation to a professional association of Florida court staff called the Florida Court Public Information Officers, or FCPIO. I am the group’s founder and its current executive director.

The goal is simple. It’s not enough that courts do justice. They also must make sure people see justice being done.

It was a mission we quickly accepted. Originally set up by a post-9/11 crisis management plan in 2002, FCPIO has evolved into a group of court communications professionals unique in the nation.

No other state has anything approaching it – though many states now are studying FCPIO and the plan it is carrying out for Florida’s judiciary.

FCPIO incorporated itself as a federally recognized nonprofit in early 2007, right at the time events in Silicon Valley began shaking up the communications landscape. That was only a year after Twitter opened its doors and three years after the founding of Facebook.

But FCPIO also brings talent to the table. With representatives in every Florida state court, the group has been led by several media-skilled court officers that saw the need for statewide education and coordination with an emphasis on openness.

I am a lawyer and former Gannett newspaper reporter who has worked for the Florida Supreme Court for 30 years and started its public information office, its gavel-to-gavel oral argument broadcasts, and its website in the 1990s.

FCPIO’s current president, Eunice Sigler of the Miami courts, is a former Miami Herald reporter and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for team coverage of the Elian Gonzalez immigration case.

The report on implementing the plan addresses other issues that include:

Websites: Eighteen of Florida’s 20 circuit courts and all of the district courts of appeal currently are working toward redesigns of their websites because they are the judiciary’s most important communications tool.

Social media: The Florida state courts continue to debate the pros and cons of social media because of the strict ethical limits they must shoulder. While Twitter is now broadly used, Facebook has been more controversial – and only a minority of the state courts currently use it. However, FCPIO is studying ways to address concerns and identify best practices employed by courts now using Facebook.

Podcasts: Two courts in Orlando and Miami currently are using podcasts to communicate with the public, and the Florida Supreme Court soon will start its own podcasting program.

Media Relations: FCPIO will continue to educate courts personnel and judges in the methods needed to work in a cooperative and respectful way with news media. And Twitter has become an important tool for getting word out to the press and the public about breaking news.

Community outreach: Court outreach programs such as courthouse tours for schoolchildren, citizen forums, and public education programs remain important parts of the courts’ mission. They include outreach to elected officials, town hall meetings for residents, and innovative uses of Twitter to reach out to student groups and others.

Internal communications: Proper communications with internal court staff remain important so that everyone understands the overall mission, the need to speak with a unified voice, and the ways to address problems when they arise. One important example is crisis communications with staff during hurricanes or other emergencies.

The Florida state courts’ stress on good communications rests on a near-legendary history. It’s part of a longstanding commitment to transparency that began with Florida letting cameras into the courts in the 1970s.

It continues today thanks to several visionary judges leading the state system over the last half century. And despite doom-saying elsewhere in the nation, Florida’s courts really have had a very positive experience.

In other words: Openness works.


Attorney Craig Waters has been the public information officer and communications director for the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee since June 1996. He is best known as the public spokesman for the Court during the 2000 presidential election controversy, when he frequently appeared on worldwide newscasts announcing rulings in lawsuits over Florida’s decisive vote in the election.

Gus Bilirakis: Lower drug costs through competition and innovation

In Florida and across the country, Americans continue to feel the pressure of rising prescription drug costs. Too often, bad actors in the marketplace take advantage of monopolies, skyrocketing the price of lifesaving medication simply because there is little to no competition.

We need to take thoughtful action, and avoid knee-jerk responses, to solve this issue affecting so many millions. Leveraging the power of the free market and incentivizing competition among drugmakers will drive costs down — not government mandates.

The success of Medicare Part D illustrates how competition in the prescription drug market helps make sure patients can afford the medication they need. Under the Part D program, seniors have a variety of coverage options and stable premium costs. No wonder it has a 90 percent satisfaction rate. Just as important, Medicare Part D has been significantly under budget from original CBO estimates, proving the government does not need to spend absurd amounts to address drug prices.

To be clear, there is no shortage of potential for increased competition in the marketplace. The United States is the undisputed global leader in biomedical innovation. Our companies produce 57 percent of the world’s new medicines and invest $70 billion a year to research and develop new therapies. If we want to spur the discovery of treatments and cures for deadly diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and more, we need to allow America’s innovators to do what they do best.

There is a role for Congress to play to keep drug prices in check, which is why I introduced the Lower Drug Costs Through Competition Act to increase competition specifically in the generic drug market. The bill would incentivize drugmakers to develop generic drugs when competition does not exist, or when there is a drug shortage. It would directly address situations like Turing Pharmaceuticals hiking the price of an HIV drug from $13.50 to $750 overnight, or when Mylan raised the cost of the EpiPen by more than 400 percent.

We can modernize the Food and Drug Administration and clear the backlog of generic drugs waiting for approval. We can reduce unnecessary regulations that hinder innovation and competition. We can remove legal and regulatory barriers so insurers and drug innovators can make more arrangements to “pay for performance.” And we can quickly implement the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, using real-world evidence and innovative clinical trial design to get new medicines to market faster.

In the end, we all want affordable prescription drugs and a health care system that spurs innovation. I believe the best approach to accomplish this goal is harnessing the power of the free market to bring costs down and get treatments to patients faster.

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Gus Bilirakis represents Florida’s 12th Congressional District, which includes all of Pasco County and parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. He is a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

Richard Corcoran: Federal government needs to act now; mosquito season is here

As we celebrated Mother’s Day with our families this weekend, I could not help but think of all the moms in the U.S., and all over the world, who have been affected by Zika in the last year.

As a father of six, I know that all children bring challenges.  But a child born with microcephaly will present his or her parents with unique struggles.

As we enter into the warm summer months, the threat of another outbreak is looming. That is why I have and will continue to urge the federal government to quickly authorize new strategies that can be used to both curb the spread of the virus and prevent additional outbreaks.

 I believe we should be taking a multi-faceted approach to put an end to the threat of Zika. This must include spraying programs, education awareness efforts, and the search for a vaccine. But more importantly, we must also look at new and science-based solutions that can control the growing population of disease-carrying mosquitoes in Florida.

The mosquitoes that spread Zika are called Aedes aegypti. It is an invasive species in the U.S. and uniquely built to spread disease because it loves living in and around our homes and it loves to feed off humans rather than other mammals.

Besides Zika, it spreads a number of other diseases – yellow fever and dengue, just to name two. International travel and warm weather only increase the chance that these diseases are not only here to stay, but that we will continue to see more outbreaks. Because of the way it lives and breeds, the diseases the Aedes aegypti spreads are hard to control. It’s like a dry field of grass – just one spark can cause an out-of-control fire.

While ongoing research for a vaccine is imperative, we can’t only focus on a solution that will cost billions of dollars and that won’t be ready for years to come. I think we should be focused on the root of the problem – identifying new, innovative solutions to cut down on the population of Aedes aegypti. Some of those solutions already exist today.

One example of the technology I’ve advocated for is the Oxitec genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquito. When it is released into the wild, it doesn’t bite, it doesn’t transmit disease, but does transmit a self-limiting gene that makes its offspring die before reaching adulthood.

This technology is being used successfully in some countries already. If we had it available in the U.S., many expectant mothers might have one less thing to be anxious about.

Last year during a CDC briefing about the Zika outbreak in South Florida, former Director Thomas Frieden cautioned, “We also don’t yet have ideal ways to control the particular mosquitoes that spread Zika, and we need better methods and tools for mosquito control.” He added, “… aggressive mosquito control measures don’t seem to be working as well as we would have liked.”

What he means is that the insecticides that most cities use today to control mosquitoes do not work well for a variety of reasons, including the mosquitoes’ ability to be insecticide resistance. Even mosquito control officials have cautioned that insecticides are becoming less and less effective. This combined with the unseasonably warm winter we experienced has officials concerned

So as we enter into the summer months, I urge moms everywhere to take a few minutes to learn how to protect themselves from mosquito-borne diseases by going to the websites of the CDC or the Florida Department of Health.

Your health, and the health of your family, may depend on it.

___

Richard Corcoran is Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Ann W. Madsen: Where are the champions for women?

Ann W. Madsen

As this Mother’s Day approaches, I find it particularly ironic to be advocating for the same support for women as our founder did four decades ago. Helen Gordon Davis opened this nonprofit to help women who needed extra support just to survive — serious counseling, intense skills development, assistance to the homeless and domestic violence populations, legal advice, financial guidance and the restored confidence to lead independent lives. She advocated for and was successful in persuading the state Legislature to create a Displaced Homemakers Program and fund it with a Trust Fund comprised of fees from marriage licenses and divorce applications.

Just this week, a group of legislators in a late Friday afternoon session broke our trust and voted to terminate the Displaced Homemakers Program. What a cavalier and cowardly act. No one thought to speak with any of the eight organizations that work tirelessly to help women in need to see if that recommendation made any sense. No one appeared to consider what would happen to the hundreds of the most vulnerable “moms,” many of them single mothers with young children. No one apparently imagined that their mom, wife, sister, daughter or grandmother would ever need the kind of support that so many have found through this program for 40 years. Yet, wherever I go across Tampa, women from all walks of life, tell me about how the help they received through the Displaced Homemakers program helped them to survive and change their lives.

As I reached out to legislators about this, no one offered to help. I guess they are too focused on other priorities. It made me wonder whatever happened to the champions for women in our State Legislature?  Are there no longer those valiant few that will stand up for what is right? The whole sad episode reminds me of the commercial where a politician was throwing granny off the cliff.

We are not political at The Centre for Women. Our views are politically diverse and we intentionally do not get embroiled in the political arena. We simply concentrate on our day-to-day work of helping women to succeed both personally and professionally. We do it with limited resources because we know our work changes lives for the better. The impact we make is felt every day across Tampa Bay.

We hope Governor Scott will veto this ill-conceived amendment because that is the right thing to do. How anyone can think it is OK to take monies in trust to help vulnerable people and conflate that with support for tourism simply boggles the mind. Perhaps they thought women would not notice or would not speak up. I don’t pretend to know how government works. I am not sure anyone does.

Thankfully, many voices are joining in to encourage continued support for Displaced Homemakers. We hope you will too.

Speak up and ask the Governor to leave the Displaced Homemakers Trust in place so that the most vulnerable among us will have the support they need.

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Ann W. Madsen is Executive Director of The Helen Gordon Davis Centre for Women, Inc. in Tampa.

Samantha Pollara: In defense of my big brother Ben Pollara

For the last five years, my big brother, Ben Pollara, has fought to bring medical marijuana treatment to suffering citizens in the state of Florida.

He acted as campaign manager for United for Care, which was the chief facilitator of Amendment 2’s passage November, and has since worked tirelessly to craft and pass fair legislation to enact it.

His goal was a feasible plan for implementation that not only best represented the interests of sick patients, but also protected and encouraged diversity in the burgeoning medical marijuana market.

Currently, only seven companies have been licensed and approved by the Florida Department of Health to grow and dispense marijuana. In most states where medical marijuana is legal, retail dispensaries are required to be licensed individually.

However, some states, including Florida, permit multiple dispensaries to operate under a single license. Most other states impose caps on licensees, limiting the number of retail operations to either 3 or 4 on a single license, depending on the state.

My brother’s position has always been that setting caps on the number of retail operations is essential to ensuring a free and diverse market for medical marijuana in Florida.

Without these caps, the seven current licensees would be given carte blanche to overrun the market in cartel style, using massive funding capabilities to effectively shut out smaller operations at the outset. That’s basically equivalent to allowing the Wal-Marts and Targets of medical marijuana first entry into the market, without giving Mom and Pop operations a chance to gain a toehold in the industry.

Ultimately, a system of total control via these seven “cartels” would be harmful not only to the market, but to the patients as well, through artificially high prices and product homogeneity as a result of this lack of competition.

In the process of debating the bill, HB 1397, this also became the sticking point for legislators. A version of the bill passed by the Florida Senate would have allocated five dispensaries to each licensee, and allowed each one more for every additional 75,000 patients.  The bill put forth by the House of Representatives, however, contained no such restrictions. The Legislature could not come to an agreement on these terms, and the bill died in the final hours of Friday’s session.

While my brother was adamant that caps were in the best interest of both the market and the patients, he was not so uncompromising that he would have deliberately risked the passage of this bill in the Florida Legislature.

He would have done anything in his power to pass any version of it, rather than see the responsibility fall to the Department of Health, which will disproportionately favor the current licensees.

What ultimately killed the bill was discord and failure at the highest levels of legislature. It’s worth noting that the team of lobbyists working on behalf of the seven currently licensed “cartels” was headed up by Michael Corcoran, Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran’s brother. As a result of this connection, the House’s intractability on the issue of caps seems unlikely to be a coincidence.

To add insult to injury, despite having done everything he personally could to ensure the legislation’s success, my brother has faced a barrage of vicious personal attacks from his former partner and mentor, John Morgan, who places the blame entirely on Ben’s shoulders.

Mr. Morgan has repeatedly published harassing tweets directed at Ben, (one in which he even went so far as to refer to my brother as disloyal Fredo, from the Godfather, complete with the hashtag #FredoWillBeFishingSoon.) and has erroneously accused­­­ him of having an improper financial stake in attempting to pass a version of the bill that included caps.

No one has worked harder to ensure that sick patients in Florida have access to medical marijuana than my big brother, and no one knows that better than John Morgan.

Mr. Morgan ought to be ashamed of himself.

___

Samantha Pollara is a vice president of the Hillsborough Young Democrats.

Michael Bileca, Manny Diaz: Florida’s educational industrial complex earned need to be reformed

“It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men (and women)” — Frederick Douglass

It is incredible how many societal ills arise out of a failure to educate, in the fullest sense of the word, the children of our great state. We utter platitudes like, “we must do better,” as we watch a generation of children be stripped of their hope, their dignity, and their chance to be all that God intended them to be.

Sadly, this catastrophe is aided and abetted by an educational-industrial complex that is more dedicated to self-preservation then it is student achievement realization. 

How do we know this? Simple. Just try to change the status quo and watch. We are seeing it already in reaction to the Florida House’s revolutionary reform effort this year. Hyperbolic statements, threats, and massive disinformation efforts begin the minute you try to put kids before contracts. 

Despite the fact that there are 115 schools in Florida that failed for more than three years in a row. Despite the fact that just 22 percent of students in grade 8 can do math, and just 31 percent can read, at proficiency level or above. And despite the fact that it takes more than money to educate a child, we are constantly told that all will be well if we would just spend more. 

Where we come from, you’re entitled to what you earn. And the educational industrial complex in Florida has earned reform.

That is why we, along with several of my colleagues, introduced HB 7069 last week. Contrary to “news” reports, virtually everything within this large education reform was debated by the public and the Legislature for months.

We put futures first. We put kids ahead of bureaucrats. And we put money where it does the most good — in our classrooms and with our teachers. 

We begin by spending $241 million more this year than we did last year. This money does not even include $413 million in other provisions of the bill that require funding to go directly to students, parents, teachers, and principals.

Second, we allow what we are calling “hope operators” — i.e. charter school operators with a proven track record of success in low performing, low-income communities —  to come and provide students an alternative to their turnaround failing schools. We believe that hope and opportunity are transformational to the lives of kids who believe many have given up on them.  We also include grants to traditional public schools that submit a transformation plan to turn their school around.

Third, we spend $30 million to ensure every child with special needs receiving a Gardiner scholarship will continue to receive that scholarship and achieve their full potential in life.

Fourth, we recognize that the backbone of our brighter future are our best teachers.  The very best deserve the very best. To achieve this goal, we offer $233 million that is paid directly to teachers: $6,000 bonuses to the best and brightest teachers in our state as well as $1200 and up to $800 bonuses to all highly effective and effective teachers. We believe that your tax dollars should reward excellence not longevity.

We are changing the game with these and dozens of other reforms. Common-sense, child-centric, and results oriented changes are in store.

But as we stated earlier, when you try to fix an institution, those with much to lose make much the noise. In the case of HB 7069, the ones making the most noise are those most resistant to change.

You’ll hear from those suckling off the status quo that we actually spend less per pupil in many districts than we did last year.  What you won’t hear is that in all but one of those districts, the reduction in funding is due to fewer kids being enrolled in those schools. 

You’ll hear critics say that “schools of hope” are stealing from public schools. In truth, public education spending went up again this year. But most importantly, the “schools of hope” will be public schools.  Public schools in the same neighborhood as the kids they’re coming to save. 

 You’ll hear critics say this and so much more.

But we believe as Frederick Douglass believed that it’s easier to build strong children than fix broken adults. And we also know as we build strong children, we will need strong backbones to fix a broken system.

We, for one, won’t ever look at a child stuck in their failing school, with a fading glimmer of hope in her eye, and tell her I put fear before her future. Will you?

___

State Rep. Michael Bileca is chairman of the House Education Committee. State Rep. Manny Diaz is chairman of the House pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

Brian Robare: Proposed nursing home payment system raises serious concern

Brian L. Robare

I wanted to take a moment to alert Floridians to The Estates’, a Lakeland-based nursing home, significant concerns with the Florida Health Care Association’s (FHCA) plan, which would change the way nursing homes are paid, under consideration in the Florida Legislature.

The FHCA is asserting that this prospective payment system (PPS) plan will incentivize nursing homes to make renovations and improvements that will improve and enhance the resident’s quality of life. As a longtime member of FHCA, we are disappointed that they would place a higher priority on the building than on resident care.

At the Estates, we have long prided ourselves on our high staffing ratios, and with the care provided to the residents and families, we are privileged to serve. A “modernized dining room” does not improve that quality of care, and I consider it shameful that they would propose the redistribution of money from communities that have continually invested the money needed to make renovations and improvements to communities that have shirked this responsibility.

If passed, this plan will financially hurt our nursing home and Florida Presbyterian Homes.

To illustrate, our nursing home stands to lose $166,000 under this proposed plan. Frankly, I am stunned that the Florida House or Senate would even consider a plan that provides an additional $26 million to a nursing home chain that just had a $374 million judgment for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Consulate Healthcare’s 79 nursing homes in the state have an average star rating of 2.3 out of 5, and yet the plan is to reward their efforts with an additional $26 million to modernize dining rooms and improve the look of their buildings.

It’s imperative that any changes to the payment model for nursing homes are accomplished when all of the stakeholders are offered a seat at the table to develop a plan that advances the goal of providing quality care. At The Estates, we believe in the adage of slow and right versus fast and wrong.

This plan is the epitome of fast, and wrong.

On behalf of residents, families and staff at The Estates, I am asking that lawmakers reject the plan proposed by the FHCA and remain resolute that any PPS plan for nursing homes must include an open discussion by all of the stakeholders and must require that any additional funds to go improving the quality of care for the residents.

Finally, we ask that lawmakers advocate for slow and right versus fast and wrong and insist that any additional money advances the quality of care and does not further inflate the bottom line of companies that seem to focus on what is best for them and not on what is best for the residents and families they serve.

 ___

Brian L. Robare is CEO and Executive Director at the Estates at Carpenters, located in Lakeland.

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.

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.

___

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.

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