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Education and Action Highlight Miami's Legislative Debrief

MIAMI – Political engagement is at an all-time high. While Washington DC gets the most attention, there is a growing awareness of the impact of Tallahassee. Now Floridians want to know what goes on up there and how they can be a part of the process.

To help, on Saturday the Miami Healthcare Coalition hosted a 2018 legislative session debrief and panel discussion with community partners, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, and Rep. David Richardson. The health of our communities is a function of much more than whether someone has insurance, and because of this, the coalition opened the conversation to include important issues like education, housing, immigration and more.

Experts and advocates delivered presentations on issues impacting Miami’s unique community. Attendees heard how these issues are interconnected and how we can collectively solve the challenges facing our communities.

Karla Hernández-Mats (United Teachers of Dade) shared the latest on education. Charo Valero (National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health) spoke to the dangerous immigration bills during this year’s session and the small, but key victories won. Maggie Fernandez (New Florida Majority) highlighted the growing concerns with affordable housing and criminal justice reforms. Jeanette Smith (South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice) discussed other working family labor issues like changes to Florida’s workers compensation. Tania Galloni (Earth Justice) described new environmental regulation and deregulation threatening the water and health our communities. On health care, Monica Skoko (Planned Parenthood) detailed the latest trends in curbing women’s choice in reproductive health. Scott Darius (Florida Voices for Health) lifted the state’s direct attack on the Medicaid program.

We learned that to move forward we must build a dialogue with our lawmakers. State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and State Rep. David Richardson spoke with incredible candor about the difficulty of solving problems in Tallahassee. They both repeated the need for ordinary citizens to get involved and the power of individual stories to change a lawmaker’s perspective. The legislators shared practical ways citizens can get involved, but stressed two strategies in particular: coalition building and growing relationships with lawmakers.

It is no longer enough for folks to simply be aware of Tallahassee, we must actively engage it if we want to change it for the better. The Miami Healthcare Coalition is urging local residents to take the first step by staying connected with us. Sign up for updates or follow us on Facebook for upcoming events, opportunities to share your story, and actions.

What We Learned

Health Care - The legislature and Governor voted to restrict access to Florida Medicaid. Under the new retroactive Medicaid eligibility plan, pregnant women and children are still eligible for 90 days of retroactive coverage from their application. However, seniors, adults with disabilities and parents taking care of minor children would only have coverage going back to the first day of the month that they apply.

The Governor signed a bill providing permanent state funding to controversial "pregnancy support centers." The centers work to prevent abortions through extremely deceptive tactics and do not provide meaningful medical services.

Education - For the 2018-19 school year, the K-12 total budget is about $21.1 billion, or about $7,408 per student. Most of the increase in funding this year is for “hardening” schools with security and metal detectors. Funding for actual learning only increased by 0.47 cents.

Environment - Florida’s biggest issues are related to water. Thanks to litigation, other advocacy and public pressure, Florida regulators withdrew a set of controversial standards for how much pollution can be dumped into the state’s waterways. Now the Department of Environmental Protection will start over to produce new pollution standards. The Florida legislature passed a bill to recycle and reuse toilet water, but the Governor declined to sign.

Immigration - Advocates defeated bad bills including one requiring all municipal employees to report suspected illegal immigrants. This would have stopped even legal residing immigrants to think twice about using needed services because of fear.

Labor - Legislators considered a bill making it harder to certify unions and passed a bill providing worker’s compensation to first responders with job-related post-traumatic stress disorder. Still, the number of Floridians dying on the job are up 19% and must be addressed.

Criminal Justice - The legislature passed a good bill encouraging the use of civil citations rather than arrest in certain situations. However, they failed to pass a bill eliminating minimum mandatory sentences for non-violent drug trafficking convictions.

Housing - In 1992 Florida created the Sadowski Trust fund to help families pay for affordable housing. Again this year, Florida lawmakers took money from the fund to pay for needs that don't include helping low-income residents find housing.

The conversation was hosted by the partner organizations of the Miami Health Care Coalition, including: SEIU Florida, For Our Future, Catalyst Miami, Florida Voices for Health, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood, the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, the Community Labor Alliance, Our Walmart, the Health Council of South Florida and more.

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