Editorials

Influencers provided the road map to a better Florida. Are state lawmakers on course?

Florida Priorities: What Florida wants

Aminda Marqués Gonzalez and George Haj talk with Cindy Arenberg Seltzer, Julie Wraithmell, Rhea Law, Chris Caines and Victoria Kasdan during the Florida Priorities event at the University of Miami on November 14th, 2018.
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Aminda Marqués Gonzalez and George Haj talk with Cindy Arenberg Seltzer, Julie Wraithmell, Rhea Law, Chris Caines and Victoria Kasdan during the Florida Priorities event at the University of Miami on November 14th, 2018.

In 2018, the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and Bradenton Herald selected 50 influential Floridians to wrestle with some of the thorniest issues affecting our state. After months of discussion and healthy dialogue, the Influencers gathered for a summit in Miami and produced white papers with recommendations for legislative and regulatory action to achieve progress on education, healthcare, the environment, transportation and gun violence. With the state legislative session under way, we asked five of our Influencers to offer their perspectives on what the state should be working on, based on the work done by the Influencers last year.

TRANSPORTATION

The ability to move people and goods throughout the state is critical to the people of Florida and the growth of the state’s economy. The Florida Influencers soundly endorse the need to increase funding for transportation infrastructure throughout the state, particularly public transportation such as buses and mass transit. In addition, nearly 50 percent of the Influencers believe that facilitating private sector capital to assist in funding projects such as high-speed rail is very important.

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The Influencers also believe that continued investment and incentives for transit-oriented development will be key to the State’s growth and mobility. To accomplish these goals, greater public education about the benefits of mass transit, along with measurable metrics that can be monitored and evaluated to improve transit service delivery, will be required. In addition, favorable tax treatment and other financial incentives will need to be implemented to allow for continued investment and incentives for transit-oriented development.

Finally, congestion will need to be managed through an increased usage of express toll lanes, promotion of telecommuting along with flexible work hours and public transit subsidies. For example, the elimination of fares for light rail in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties has resulted in a significant increase in passengers accessing those lines. Ultimately, the state will need to embrace SMART cities technology with the advent of autonomous and connected vehicles and look for additional ways to subsidize public transit, perhaps by redirecting toll revenues for such purposes, as is done in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In the end, the biggest question is how to enhance revenues and/or change funding priorities to be competitive in business attraction and retention.

Read the Transportation Working Group white paper: miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/influencers/article221708225.html

Margaret Lezcano,

managing director and head of Southeast Public Finance, UBS

member, Transportation Working Group

ENVIRONMENT

Last November, a diverse group of Miami Herald Influencers came together as a committee on Florida’s environment, to craft recommendations for decision-makers. As the chair, I will confess, I had my doubts. We came from such diverse perspectives, I worried we’d never find common ground. Our team included a sea-level rise scholar-scientist, a marketing maven, an award-winning graphic artist, a real-estate magnate, a lobbyist for the petrochemical industry and me, the head of Florida’s oldest statewide conservation organization.

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Turns out, common ground was simple: Florida’s environment is our economy. Whether you are a card-carrying treehugger or not, Floridians of all stripes care if their property will be under water in 30 years, if their beach will be covered in dead sea life, if their tap water is suspect, if their children have no parks to enjoy.

As a result, the message from our committee to decisionmakers was clear: Florida is at a crossroads, and our environment is essential. Addressing the challenges of climate change, sea-level rise, water quality and quantity, and urban sprawl will determine the future prosperity of our state. Florida needs leadership that prioritizes science-based solutions and stands by those solutions even when they are difficult.

And while these are challenges, they also present opportunities. Florida put people on the moon. Not surprisingly, mechanical cooling for air conditioning was invented here. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the needs before us are great. Fortunately, we are a state of innovation and creativity. The resources exist for us to be successful in this effort and make our communities and our economy more adaptable in this new future.

With this vulnerable paradise, comes great responsibility. Support full funding for Everglades Restoration and Florida Forever. Invest in our state’s climate resilience and water quality — they are core to Florida’s future prosperity. And if a few birds benefit in the process, so be it — but the real prize is a healthy, vibrant future of opportunity for generations of Floridians to come.

Read the Environment Working Group white paper: miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/influencers/article221708115.html

Julie Wraithmell

executive director, Audubon Florida

chair, Environment Working Group

GUN VIOLENCE

Our first consideration should be what kind of image do we want our state to project? The Florida Influencers anchored our policy recommendations on reducing gun violence in response.

Florida is well recognized as a state that is open for business with a favorable tax infrastructure and a rapidly accelerating start-up culture. Yet, gun violence remains our kryptonite for economic growth. The Urban Institute found that gun-violence surges in metro cities slowed neighborhood home-value appreciation by 4 percent, and in D.C., every 10 fewer incidents of gunfire resulted in the creation of 20 more jobs in new businesses, $1.3 million more in sales at new businesses and one fewer business closure. We have an obligation to mitigate the significant economic risk posed by the public safety challenges of gun violence. The cost of doing nothing is too great.

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While ubiquitous in daily lives, when optimized for social impact, technology is a tool that can and should be used to improve the human condition. We use apps to improve our health, to track and achieve our goals, to measure our financial security and climate resilience. Why then can we not look to novel tech solutions to close loopholes that threaten the safety of our communities?

The Influencers believe that our state needs to create and maintain better databases to improve coordination and information relating the issuance of concealed carry and other gun ownership licenses. Specifically, the Influencers recommend that (1) the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services utilize a shared database and (2) existing state and federal background check databases be enhanced to cross reference mental-health and criminal records and stronger reporting on instances of unlawful gun related activity.

Without question, these recommendations are broad and require navigating implementation roadblocks, including the interplay with related policies. Yet, in their simplest form, they are about data. Thus, we ought to look to innovative strategies, perhaps from the private sector and start-up world, for more effective ways to process information that has potentially life saving outcomes.

The issues of gun violence cannot be separated from our cultural imperative to value life and create an inclusive environment where people can feel and be safe.

Indeed, the most visceral and widely reported stories illustrate the urgency of the group’s recommendations to: (1) close the “boyfriend loophole” that places no gun possession limitations on convicted domestic abusers if they were not married to the victim or share a child, as well as (2) reform Florida’s Stand Your Ground law to clarify that law enforcement officers are authorized to conduct a thorough investigation even when the statute is invoked at the point of first response.

Substance over form matters more when lives are at stake. We therefore urge policymakers to consider adopting our recommendations, which we believe will help achieve this aim.

Read the Gun Violence Working Group white paper: miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/influencers/article221708050.html

Leigh-Ann Buchanan

executive director, Venture Cafe Miami

member, Gun Violence working group

EDUCATION

There are 2.8 million students in Florida’s public schools. Every day, across the state, classrooms are filled with Florida’s future doctors and lawyers. Those same classrooms give rise to future artists and musicians, future teachers, police officers and firefighters. It is in those classrooms where future scientists and inventors are inspired to change the world for the better.

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Since Florida’s future can be found in its neighborhood public schools, it is worth asking: “How can Florida’s Legislature and governor help public schools and the students who attend them ensure a bright future for Florida in an ever-changing global economy?”

To help answer this question some of the best education minds from around the state gathered to discuss what they know needs to be done to help our schools and our students to ensure continued growth and prosperity in Florida.

Many of the answers the Influencers came up with centered around funding. The group agreed that teacher pay needs to be raised in order to recruit highly talented new teachers as well as to keep current teachers in the profession. But the issue of funding extends far beyond teacher pay; the group also stressed the need to prioritize reducing class sizes and ensuring sufficient funds for school safety measures — including funding for mental health.

Of course, Florida’s future is more than just a K-12 issue. The Influencers also discussed higher education, including the need to increase post-secondary vocational training and to allow students to graduate college without facing crippling debt.

Gov. DeSantis has an opportunity to reshape the narrative of public education, which is yearning for teacher voice and input; those voices are demanding supports that will ensure student success, a system that will ensure recruitment of our brightest young minds to teaching and retain our master educators and finally an investment in education that will make Florida’s public schools the envy of the nation.

Read the Education Working Group white paper: miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/influencers/article221708180.html

Fedrick Ingram

president, Florida Education Association

member, Education Working Group

HEALTHCARE

Last year, over the course of several months, the opinions of what mattered most to Floridians on five key issues was collected from a multidisciplinary bipartisan group of 50 leaders from across the state. Concerns regarding the high cost and reduced access to healthcare rose to the top as a key concern by a vast majority of the 50 participants.

So, what happened after that? The state’s 50 key opinion leaders spoke and offered solutions, but was anybody listening?

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The Healthcare Working Group recommended a comprehensive approach that included both short- and long-term interventions to support individual liberty, while increasing access and reducing cost in a compassionate manner. These recommendations included, but were not limited to, the expansion of Medicaid; revised use of low-income pool (LIP) funds; funding local and state demonstration projects; and reduced Certificate of Need (CON) requirements.

Although more than 300,000 Floridians would gain access to healthcare using existing eligibility criteria with Medicaid expansion, the current Legislature does not seem to be receptive to this low-hanging-fruit option available at no additional cost, and any hints of bringing the idea to the floor were quickly squashed rendering the subject dead on arrival.

Lawmakers have however, taken some incremental steps in line with the Influencers healthcare recommendations, introducing bills this session to reduce healthcare facility barriers — including repealing certain certificate of need requirements(CS/HB21); expanding access to care using telehealth technology (HB23); allowing Medicaid reimbursement for emergency medical transportation (SB98); and reducing the barrier of transportation by introducing a requirement at local levels to offer transportation for the disadvantaged (SB 68).

Floridians still have one of the highest uninsured rates for low-income residents in the country, and we deserve more immediate and broader impact solutions from our legislatures in this area. However, new laws that offer small steps in the right direction provide some glimmer of hope. Let’s hope it gathers some momentum and the benefit of sheer inertia in moving toward further reductions in healthcare cost and increased access in the next session of Florida’s Legislature.

Read the Health Care Working Group white paper: miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/influencers/article221709540.html

Victoria Kasdan

executive director, We Care Manatee

chair, Healthcare Working Group

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