Proposed healthcare solutions won’t work for Alachua County, experts say

Former Executive Director of We Care Manatee Victoria Kasdan (left) and group CEO of Florida Medical Center and Tenet Health Miami Dade Group Jeffrey Weich (right) discuss ways Florida can improve its healthcare system.

By Hope Dean

The Alligator / University of Florida

When it comes to improving healthcare, the cellphone in your pocket might just be one of the keys to progress — or it could act as a bandage covering the real problem. 

Over 30 businesspeople, education leaders, public administrators and other state influencers met Monday, Nov. 18, at the University of Miami to discuss state issues, including healthcare. Their recommendations will be submitted to the Florida Legislature once the new legislative session begins Jan. 14.

The second-annual Florida Priorities Summit healthcare panel, comprised of five industry leaders involved with hospital care, health insurance and Medicaid, advised that the legislature should focus on establishing video chat or telephone-facilitated healthcare, public service announcements for cheap medicine and medical resource directories instead of medicare.

But experts in Alachua County don’t think these new measures will do much to help those with inadequate or no health insurance in the area. 

Victoria Kasdan, panel member and former executive director of free healthcare organization We Care Manatee, believes that focusing on these measures is a more realistic approach due to their lower costs and political pressure.

“It’s easier than trying to get them to pass a law,” she said. “Expand Medicaid? They’re not going to do that, so we’re not even talking about it.” 

Grant Harrell, medical director of the University of Florida’s Mobile Outreach Clinic, disagrees about needing to expand Medicaid. 

The mobile clinic is a large bus with medical examination rooms and a lab that drives around Alachua County to provide healthcare for free. It serves about 3,000 patients yearly, most of whom suffer from poverty, homelessness or unemployment, Harrell said. 

“That’s basically us trying to do our best with the dysfunctional health system that we have. But that’s not a way of solving the problem,” he said. “Minimally augmenting the safety net is not going to be a long-term solution for people without insurance or at a lack of access to care.” 

About 8.8 percent of America’s population is uninsured. That number is 9 percent in Alachua County and 12.9 percent statewide, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

The clinic bus is dependent on grants instead of a steady stream of government funds. One grant comes from the Community Health Offering Innovative Care & Educational Services (CHOICES) trust fund, which hands out $465,000 annually to healthcare providers in Alachua County, according to Choices Program Manager Cindy Bishop. 

The CHOICES fund — provided by money generated from a Florida sales tax for healthcare needs that was suspended in 2011 — funds 8 agencies and 10 programs that help with healthcare in Alachua County. 

Now, there is no source replenishing the fund and it will run out in five or six years, Bishop said. 

Alachua County has tried some of the Florida Priorities Summit’s proposed solutions before. UF Professor Laura Guyer, a healthcare professional,  spearheaded the Alachua County Community Health and Social Service Resource Guide in 2016. She and her students update the guide annually, she said.

Guyer didn’t expect it to take off the way it did. Copies were circulated  throughout the county and two resource-directing apps based on Guyer’s guide are currently being developed by the Gainesville city manager and UF’s Equal Access Clinic Network.

While the guide helps, it isn’t enough to support the uninsured, underinsured or those in rural areas with limited access to clinics, she said. 

“Those folks who are so unwilling to examine this issue, I just wonder if they’ve ever had a family member unable to find a dentist or a doctor,” she said. “It’s just cruel to make laws that make it unable for people to access care.

Alachua County is dotted with over 10 specially adapted clinics that provide poor people with more affordable healthcare. However, these clinics are often dependent on grant money that is given on a shaky year-to-year basis. 

One recent victim is The Alachua County Organization for Rural Needs (ACORN) Clinic. Guyer, who is also the board’s vice president, said it shut down last month due to grant cuts. It had been open for 45 years. 

Guyer wants lawmakers to consider that the solution might be in equity, not equality. A tall person does not need a box to stand on to see over a fence, but a short person will, she said. 

“People are born into circumstances that are not under their control, and so they are disadvantaged from the beginning,” Guyer said. “If we can’t change somebody’s economic situation — and that’s tough to do — what can we fix to at least make sure that they can be part of the game?”

Affordable housing has difficulty gaining traction among most Influencers

Annie Lord, right, writes proposed solutions for affordable housing on a white board during working group meetings of the Florida Priorities Summit at the University of Miami’s Donna Shalala Student Center on Nov. 18. Photo by Jonah Hinebaugh

By Jonah Hinebaugh

University of South Florida – St. Petersburg

A survey conducted by the Miami Herald found affordable housing for working-class Floridians ranked the least important issue among statewide business leaders and policy makers.

The survey asked a group of 50 Florida Influencers assembled by the Herald to rank, in order of importance, five issues: housing, transportation, the environment, education and healthcare.

Thirty percent of the Influencers listed environment as the No. 1 most important issue, followed by education at 23 percent.

According to Miami Herald Senior Editor Dave Wilson, it’s important to keep in mind housing overlaps with different issues such as the environment and economy.

“Sea level rise is a housing threat,” Wilson said. “It’s a housing threat, not only in affluent [areas]. We think of waterfront property as affluent, ritzy property, and in many communities it is, but in many parts of Florida, it is not.

“There are many fishing towns. Some of them got blasted by the hurricane last year in Bay County that may never recover.”

Wilson worked with a group of four Influencers at the University of Miami’s Donna Shalala Student Center on Monday, Nov. 18, to better plan possible solutions to housing problems, which will be presented to the Florida Legislature.

Annie Lord, executive director of Miami Homes for All, served as the chairwoman for the working group. She echoed Wilson’s notion of affordable housing’s ties to multiple issues.

“The market is not creating the housing stock that our residents, and our economy need,” she said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, the Influencers presented their conclusions and proposed solutions to the public during panel discussions.

The events are part of the second annual Florida Priorities Summit, which aims to start a dialogue about pressing issues facing Floridians.

As of July 2018, there are approximately 23.1 million people living in Florida.

Of those, nearly 800,000 renters are “cost burdened” — meaning at least 40 percent of their income goes to paying rent — according to the University of Florida’s Schimberg Center for Housing Studies. 

Cost-burdened renters account for 30 percent of the rental market in Miami-Dade County, with Pinellas County only two percentage points behind.

“When you think about housing, it’s not just affordability at two levels — low income housing, housing for everybody, or affordable housing, for people who are above [or] well above the poverty line,” Wilson said. 

“But our teachers, nurses or other healthcare professionals, firefighters, police officers, government workers … either there isn’t sufficient housing for them, or there isn’t sufficient housing for them that they can afford.”

Kerry-Ann Royes, left, and Wifredo Ferrer were among the 50 Influencers who took park in the second annual Florida Priorities Summit. Both Royes and Ferrer were part of the working group focused on affordable housing. Photo by Jonah Hinebaugh

In addition to Lord, the affordable housing group was made up of Kerry-Ann Royes, president and CEO of YWCA Miami; Rev. David Swanson, pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando; and Wifredo Ferrer, executive partner at Holland & Knight.

The groups main solutions included utilizing 100 percent funds from the William F. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act. The housing act, adopted in 1992, created two trust funds meant to support affordable housing at the local and state levels through taxes on real estate transactions.

The funds are constantly swept to the general operating budget or for hurricane relief. Between 2008 and 2017, only $578.5 million of the $1.9 billion actually went to housing, according to the Miami Herald.

“What tends to happen is they make big proclamations about this year we’re not going to [take funds out],” Swanson said. “Then they get down to the end and try to make things balance and, in my opinion, I think they think it’s easier to go ‘We’ll just go [take funds] here and make it all happen instead of having to actually do more work.’”

The group also came up with a list of “creative incentives” to help stimulate the market such as changing the narrative of affordable housing to “make it sexy,” amending an upcoming Florida House housing bill and putting an emphasis on public-private partnerships.

“We’ve pursued some affordable housing in the past,” Royes said. “And what we’ve heard is the appetite is changing in the neighborhoods. There are neighborhoods that are like, ‘No more. We get what you’re trying to do, but not in our neighborhood.’ 

“It’s changing that language, I think and helping neighborhoods to understand who we’re serving, why we’re serving them and making it not just housing but mixed use developments.”

The difficulties of providing affordable housing only grew earlier this year when the state Senate passed House Bill 7103.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the bill would require incentives like bonuses or waived fees to offset any additional developer costs if a developer sets aside a certain percentage of units for residents with low incomes.

The bill also imposes a 30-day time limit for counties or municipalities to review an application for a development permit.

“Fifty-eight percent of the Influencers said that that bill was a legislative overreach,” Lord said. “It was very limiting to local government where you have a lot of solutions being driven.”

“Affordable housing is a localized issue, they said, and decisions need to be
made by governments close to the communities,” Lord wrote in the housing working group report.

The Influencer group suggested amending the bill to encourage negotiations with cities and counties for appropriate time limits for permits. The group also recommended striking language requiring affordability incentives to “fully offset” the cost of affordability, according to Lord’s report.

Swanson thought partnerships with private organizations could help provide more than monetary aid.

“I feel like there’s a moral imperative for how communities are called to take care of their citizens,” he said. “We are not playing into it well. We should create more public, private, faith community collaboration that generates funding because of an inherent generosity that exists within any given community.

“I think we all acknowledge that taxes don’t go far enough to do everything that needs to be done on any given community,” Swanson said. 

“In the faith community, you’ve got a ready-made audience in Orange County and 400,000 people who would be willing to step in and help serve in these gaps, but we’re not doing anything to mobilize them to create the necessary pressure for legislators to do the right thing. Instead of doing things that serve themselves, what are we doing to serve people who are really in need?”

Economic impacts of climate change could be exponential in Florida

Influencers Steve Davis, senior ecologist at the Everglades Foundation; Xavier Cortada, an environmental artist and professor at the University of Miami; Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida; and Michelle Suskauer, an attorney at Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein, P.A., on Monday at University of Miami. Photo by Dylan Hart / University of South Florida – St. Petersburg.

By Dylan Hart

University of South Florida – St. Petersburg

Before rising sea levels change the map of Florida, the economic impact of the coming catastrophe could slam Florida’s economy.

Four influencers met at the Miami Herald’s second Florida Priorities Summit at the University of Miami on Nov. 18 to discuss solutions to Florida’s environmental issues. Among those problems was the potential for an economic crisis in the state caused by climate change. 

“Long before the sea laps at somebody’s doorstep, real estate values are going to tank,” said Curtis Morgan, environmental editor at the Herald and assigned “topic expert” for the group. 

The group believes that because of impending environmental issues like sea level rise in Florida, confidence in the state’s real estate market could fall, leading to economic problems for state and local governments which could compound the issues presented by climate change. 

Without sufficient funding from a lucrative tourist economy and a willing tax base, the group said that infrastructure used to fight sea level rise — like drainage pumps and sewers — would be difficult to establish and maintain.

The influencers were quick to identify Florida’s current and future environmental struggles as a “climate crisis.”

“Just imagine what happens to our state and our tax base if all these counties are trying to address these issues at the same time that investors leave, the tax base is diminishing, flood insurance is going up,” said Xavier Cortada, an environmental artist and professor at the University of Miami. “Then we don’t have the money. We’re in a state of crisis.

“We’re not addressing the issue. We’re doing it on a tax structure that’s not sustainable for what’s to come — this is not business as usual, this is — we’ve got a problem.”

The seas are expected to increase two feet by 2060, which could swallow a lot of low-lying areas in the state. Another four feet is expected by 2100, which Morgan said would “remake the map of Florida.”

Climate scientists have identified South Florida, especially the Miami metropolitan area, as particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. But because Miami is a massive tax base for the state, the economic impacts of sea level rise could hit other parts of Florida as well.

On top of that, the possibility of large swathes of people moving inland from the coast to escape sea level rise could have devastating effects on Florida’s infrastructure and economy. It’s a difficult problem to address, Cortada said, because transforming low income areas to high density zones could create “climate gentrification.”

“There’s huge swathes cultural heritage and families … people who have a lot to lose by selling at today’s prices and having nowhere to go,” he said. “I don’t know how you reconcile that here.” 

The influencers identified algae blooms and red tide due to water pollution as another key issue which could impact tourism, agriculture and resources in Florida, thereby impacting the state economy.

“I think that, for lack of a better word, the tide is turning here,” said Steve Davis, senior ecologist at the Everglades Foundation. With massive real estate value loss in Lee and Martin counties over the summer of 2013 after algae blooms, Davis feels that there’s a recognition among citizens that there is a “cost of inaction.”  

“I think there’s a growing recognition from people that were on either side of this issue 10 years ago recognizing that we’ve got to do something,” Davis said.

Although the issues are clear, the influencers suggested solutions to the looming threats. Some were easier than others.

They suggested more appropriations from governments at all levels for research funding, regulation oversight and infrastructure solutions, but acknowledged that it will require legislators to take an interest in the issue.

“The science is really well understood,” said Julie Wraithmell, the chair of the group and executive director of Audubon Florida. “What we need now is action.”

The group was particularly concerned about increasing regulations as a solution, arguing unanimously that regulations on businesses in Florida are not sufficient to prevent environmental threats. 

“We have a state where regulation is a bad word,” Cortada said. “We’re trying to influence the legislature to understand that.” 

But education — that is, making citizens “environmentally literate” to understand the issues and how they might affect them — was just as impactful to the influencers as the money.

“All of these issues must be viewed through an environmental lens,” said Michelle Suskauer, an attorney at Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein, P.A. “Housing, healthcare, transportation, the economy, education — all of them. All of these issues are interrelated and there has to be an environmental filter.”

Davis added: “The environment is everything. It’s our home.”

Affordable housing crisis affects big Florida cities including Orlando and Miami

Video by Eddie Messel and Caitlin Pickens of University of Central Florida

By Daniella Medina

University of Central Florida

Influencers, decision makers and voters from across Florida met Monday to discuss key topics and policy issues pertaining to the state and its constituents — among these the affordable housing crisis. 

The discussion was part of the second annual Florida Priorities Summit Influencer Series, a two-day event presented by the Miami Herald Monday and Tuesday at the University of Miami.

The Rev. Dr. David Swanson, a summit participant from Orlando, said the state as a whole is “exceedingly far behind” in solving the affordable housing crisis because it is impossible to know how the Florida Legislature is using the funds dedicated to affordable housing in the Sadowski Affordable Housing Act — which have been redirected from housing to general revenue. 

The Orange County Housing For All task force approved a draft Friday for a 10-year action plan dedicated to finding a solution for the affordable housing crisis affecting the city of Orlando. The plan seeks to remove regulatory barriers and find new sources of funding while engaging the community and providing opportunities and access to those in the region. 

The plan, drafted by a 38-member task force created earlier this year by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, calls for community-based solutions to preserve and create 30,300 housing units by 2030 if the plan is approved in December by county commissioners. 

Housing For All plans to establish a $160 million housing trust fund in addition to a $10 million annual commitment from the county and private contributions. 

The plan seeks to address the issues of the region’s growing population. The Orlando Economic Partnership’s 2030 report predicts that Central Florida will add about 1,500 people every week. 

However, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Orlando metro area ranks among the worst as an area with the most severe shortages of rental homes affordable to extremely low income households. There are 13 affordable and available rental homes per every 100 extremely low-income households. Orlando is also ranked among the most expensive housing markets as well, according to RealtyHop. 

The commission is a “policy advocacy agency that seeks to look at building a system of care in the Central Florida region that makes sure that homelessness is rare, brief and one time for anyone who may be experiencing it,” said Swanson, who serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Chronic Homelessness and chairman of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.

Swanson, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, said that Orange County’s faith-based community can play a large role in solving homelessness. 

“When it comes to homelessness, the government can’t solve homelessness. The private sector can’t solve homelessness by themselves. You need the government — they have to create the policies,” Swanson said. “It’s the faith community that creates, for the larger population, a moral imperative — it actually matters how we treat people who don’t have as much as we do.” 

With the Christian population in Orlando of over half a million people, Swanson said they are already incentivized to assist in solving the affordable housing crisis because of their duty to help other people. 

Furthermore, he said churches are able to provide more than just money. They provide human capital — educators, job creators and legal services — to surround families and households and help them thrive again.  

Swanson said he believes Orange County’s affordable housing plan has potential to work with its proposition of using tax incentives, public land and easing zoning restrictions. 

But, he said homelessness will always be a problem. 

“Housing and affordable housing and homelessness — you never cut the ribbon. It’s always a problem and you have to create a sustainable source of funding,” Swanson said. 

Among alternatives for generating streams of revenue are community generosity and corporate philanthropy. Kerry-Ann Royes, president and chief executive officer of YWCA Miami, attests to this. 

The YWCA is a social justice organization that pledges to eliminate racism and empower women while promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all, Royes said. 

Royes said everything related to the economic prosperity of a community is intertwined — housing, jobs, education and healthcare. Therefore, it’s important for the faith-based and nonprofit communities to come together to bridge the gap between low-income families and affordable housing. 

“The faith-based community and the nonprofit community are stepping up and coming to the plate to find solutions that have to do with housing more and more because it’s very disproportionately affecting communities that we serve,” Royes said. 

Royes and the YWCA pride themselves in being a “voice for the community” by advocating for its citizens with problem solvers and statewide leaders. 

“Some of what we talked about [at the summit] was asking our legislators what are some of the creative incentives or innovations in housing that we need to think about,” Royes said. “Not just for the demand today but for the future demand and, frankly, some of the economic growth we want in our state.” 

She stressed the importance of finding creative solutions to accommodate the influx of people moving to the region. 

Annie Lord, executive director at Miami Homes for All, an organization seeking to address homelessness and the affordable housing crisis in Miami-Dade County through policy advocacy and building coalitions, led the summit group discussion to help find creative solutions needed to solve Florida’s affordable housing crisis. 

Among the solutions agreed upon were fully utilizing Sadowski funds, passing legislation that creates incentives for affordable housing, including property tax abatements and incentives for mixed-income and mixed-use communities, and amending a Florida House bill that would increase tax exemption transparency and accountability, to strike any vague language about how the money can or cannot be spent.

This is how Florida can begin to ease its homelessness problem.

“There are always going to be homeless people, there’s always going to be housing challenges until we fix low wages, transportation, education and all the infrastructure problems,” Swanson said. “To say that we’re going to end homelessness — you’re never going to get there. But we can create a system that works so you see fewer and fewer people on the street and there are fewer people suffering.”

Florida Priorities Summit to facilitate discussions on issues impacting community

By Esther Animalu

University of Miami

Florida leaders, decision makers and voters are gathered Monday and Tuesday in Coral Gables to tackle and discuss policy issues that state lawmakers will face in the upcoming legislative session.

The second annual Florida Priorities Summit at University of Miami aims to help build a better Florida by spreading awareness on statewide concerns and will include discussions on possible solutions, which will be recommended to Florida’s elected officials.

The summit, hosted by UM, is produced by the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and Bradenton Herald.

Panelists during the “Election Shakeout”Session of the 2018 Summit. From right to left: Michael Putnam, Rachel Smolkin, Marc Caputo.

“The Florida Priorities Summit will allow professionals and the public to partake in discussions on critical topics that are impacting our local community and beyond,” said Rick Hirsch, managing editor of the Miami Herald. “It’s important to encourage an open dialogue on these subjects and craft solutions.”

The summit on Nov. 18 and 19 will highlight six main topics of discussion: the economy, environment, education, housing, healthcare and transportation.

Over the course of the past several months, 50 influencers have given their insights on key issues affecting Florida. These influencers aim to foster discussions at the summit that challenge political assumptions and create a shared vision for Florida.

“As a team we searched for influential people in Florida that can speak to these topics at hand,” Hirsch said. “Many of these influencers come from different backgrounds and experiences that can resonate with the public through their stories on these subjects.”

The influencers range from UM President Julio Frenk to Karen Arnold, the chief operating officer of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Day one of the summit is open by invitation to the media and professionals. The influencers will meet in small groups to draft recommendations on specific topics.

Day two of the event is open to the public, with panels of experts on key topics.

The event will occur at UM’s Donna Shalala Student Center. Monday’s event runs through 5 p.m.; Tuesday’s activities are from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Student journalists from UM, University of Florida, University of Central Florida, University of South Florida and Florida International University will be writing stories and creating videos for their campus publications and posting to social media during the summit. In addition to this, these students will also post coverage on this blog.

Miami Hurricane editor-in-chief Rebecca Goddard, a junior majoring in motion pictures attended the summit last year to cover it for The Hurricane and the Miami Herald. She said that it was very inspiring to hear from so many people who are making an impact in South Florida.

“It’s especially important for student journalists to attend events like these because it helps them break out of the campus bubble,” Goddard said. “It’s easy to get caught up with university news, but we need to remember that there’s a whole world of off campus issues to think about.”

Florida Influencers tackle state’s biggest problems

By Abigail Brashear

University of Central Florida

President and Publisher of the Miami Herald Alexandra Villoch speaks about the Florida Priorities Summit, a two-day event where 50 influencers from different backgrounds, political parties and lifestyles come together to workshop solutions to the state’s biggest problems. Workshops during the summit included the environment, healthcare, education, gun control and transportation infrastructure.


Could mental health stand at the root of mass shootings?

By Alfonso Flores

Florida State University

The recent tragic events in Tallahassee have triggered the heightened discussion on gun violence, an issue thoroughly discussed at the Miami Herald’s inaugural Florida Priorities Summit.

As part of its Influencer Series, the Miami Herald selected a group of experts from an array of different backgrounds discussed the Florida’s challenges and collectively proposed solutions.

On Nov. 2, a gunman opened fire in a Tallahassee yoga studio, taking the lives of two individuals– and injuring five others. Scott Beierle, the 40-year-old shooter,  died of a self-inflicted gunshot moments after the attack.

He wasn’t the first active shooter in Tallahassee. Four years prior, Myron May,  31, opened fire in Florida State University’s Strozier Library, and shot two students and a faculty member before being gunned down by the police.

Both shooters had a history of mental illnesses.

“Often times, clearly the victims of those who die of gun violence are the primary focus, and it should be,” said Dr. Robert McClure, President and CEO of the James Madison Institute. “Often times too, there is so much collateral damage to those who are left behind—the friends and families of those who are killed to students who may live in fear and anxiety. Unfortunately, Tallahassee still sees itself as a small town where these kinds of things don’t happen.”

Prior to entering the yoga studio and killing Maura Brinkley, 21, a student at Florida State, Nancy Van Vessem, 61, Beirle had a history of posting provocative videos that suggested a hatred of women. The former military veteran and Florida State alum also had a record of physically harassing women on numerous accounts.

May, an attorney and FSU alum, had published videos on YouTube that depicted the Wewahitchka, Florida, native as depressed and seemingly suicidal.

“A lot of these people, particularly those in Tallahassee, had major mental health issues,” said McClure. “Red flags were popping up for a long time before and for whatever reason, those folks weren’t stopped, they weren’t held up, they weren’t taken into a hospital.”


At Miami conference, state leaders get real about gun control

By Grace Wehniainen

University of Miami Hurricane

Less loopholes, clearer criteria for stand-your-ground laws.

The recommendations, presented on day two of the Florida Priorities Summit as solutions to gun violence, seem simple enough. But for Mary Anne Franks, professor at the University of Miami School of Law, that’s just the problem.

“I think they’re definitely incomplete,” Franks said in an interview.

Franks, who participated in a roundtable discussion on guns the day before, has been researching gun violence for about six years—and acknowledged how difficult it can be to find common ground when it comes to the nitty-gritty of gun control.

Conversation chair Rhea Law—Florida Offices chair at the law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney—acknowledged as much while presenting her group’s findings.

“To say we had a robust conversation is really an understatement,”  said Law, who is based in Tampa.

“What happens with these groups is something really interesting—you obviously have to get consensus, and there’s concerns about pragmatism and strategy and all of that makes sense,” Franks said.

She acknowledged, too, that the recommendations “were definitely widely shared across the group, so that’s a great success.”

But Franks, whose niece is a survivor of the Feb. 18 Parkland shooting, wants more.

“For me, personally… I felt that it could’ve gone much further,” Franks said.

How much further?

On gender

In her research, Franks said, she learned that gender was a much more worrisome predictor of gun violence—and that the vast majority of it (from suicides to mass shootings) is carried out by men.

“I think that no one yet, in a mainstream way, has actually addressed that head on,” Franks said. “We have a problem with violent masculinity, and if we don’t address that problem, the gun problem is only going to get worse.”

Franks also cited a 2017 NPR report, which found that 50 percent of mass shooters had a history of violence against women.

“That, to me, is a red flag,” she said.

Franks went on to suggest that men “identify with the power that a gun, the impression of power that it gives them,” whereas women are more likely to support gun control and stay informed of statistics.

On mental illness

“It’s actually extremely low,” Franks said of mental illness among mass shooters. She said at least one study said six percent had “some sort of diagnosable, recognizable mental illness.” Others said four percent.

“One of the reasons why it’s hard to talk about mental illness and its relationship to gun violence,” she said, “is after the fact, when people say ‘oh, he seemed lonely’ or ‘he was spending all of his time in his room,’ people sort of armchair diagnose and they say, ‘well, he probably had a mental illness.’”

The real issue, she said, is “not stigmatizing people with mental illness,” because they are not more likely to carry out gun violence.

In an email to her fellow roundtable participants, Franks refuted other myths, too—that violence-ridden Chicago actually has the nation’s strictest gun control laws, for example. It doesn’t.

On the “good guy with a gun”

Half of Franks’ family is from Arkansas—where they enjoy hunting and are “big believers” in the Second Amendment. So while she understands people’s attachment to their guns, she said “like any attachment, it has to be subjected to the public welfare.”

Franks also contested the idea of a “good guy with a gun” protecting people from criminals. During their roundtable, Bob McClure, president of the James Madison Institute, said making the system stricter for law-abiding citizens was “arbitrary.” Franks said it’s anything but.

Bob McClure, president of the James Madison Institute, is interviewed by a visiting student journalist. McClure took part in a roundtable discussion on guns Nov. 13, and sat on a panel to share his findings the next day. Photo credit: Cameron Tavakoly

“In the vast majority of these terrible shootings we’ve seen, it wasn’t as though any of them were violent felons,” she said. “It was somebody who decided, on that day, he was not going to be a good guy with a gun.”

And even when there are good guys with guns, they face real danger themselves. 26-year-old security guard Jemel Roberson was killed by police after he worked to apprehend a shooter in an Illinois bar.

He was the textbook “good guy with a gun, doing his job… but we can maybe speculate a bit about why it is that the police officers didn’t see him that way.”

For Franks, and for all the influencers, the conversation continues beyond Florida Priorities. She teaches a seminar on Second Amendment Fundamentalism at the UM School of Law, where gun violence and self-defense feature heavily in her scholarship – as well as in her upcoming book, “The Cult of the Constitution.”

Florida influencers shine light on priority issues

By Devoun Cetoute

University of Florida /

Red tide attacks the Gulf Coast. The state ranks 49th in health care. Mass shootings and gun violence are becoming increasingly frequent.

Florida has a mountain of issues, with few solutions in sight.

On the final day of the Florida Priorities Summit, influencers from across the state proposed solutions to those issues after brainstorming for two and a half hours in search of common ground.

On behalf of the transportation and infrastructure panel, Chris Caines was the first to present findings and solutions.

Caines, executive director of the Miami Urban Future Initiative, said Florida’s transportation issue stems from riders and the quality of services.

“You have underinvestment and substandard service in a lot of places, and then you have people that aren’t so enthusiastic about it,” he said.

The transportation and infrastructure panel suggested the way to fix this requires two steps:  make the service better and educate people, Caines said.

“We need to find ways to boost public enthusiasm and get people excited about public transportation,” he said. “In order to expect people to use public transportation, we need to find ways to make those services robust and as fully functional as the over-subsidized car industry.”

Next up was Cindy Arenberg Seltzer, who told the crowd what the education panel believed needed to be done.

She said the they believed the key to improve education is money.

“Taxpayers have said we are willing to pay more to give us a world-class education,” said Seltzer, president and CEO of Children’s Services Council of Broward County.

The education panel was most concerned that new sales tax money approved by voters for education will be diverted from teacher salaries and programs. They fear that as with money from the lottery, it will replace general revenue instead.

If used the way voters intended, “we can focus not only on the basics of education, but also enhance social and emotional learning, mental health services and critical thinking,” Seltzer said.

Although Florida is the third largest state and has the fourth largest economy, Victoria Kasdan said it’s 49th when it comes to access, affordability and disparities in healthcare.

“We are all consumers of health care so there is no reason we all shouldn’t be concerned about high cost and affordability,” said Kasdan, executive director of We Care Manatee.

Expanding Medicaid was the solution Kasdan presented from the health care panel. She says there are only 14 states left who haven’t done it and that it would cover an additional 300,000 people, leaving the eligibility requirements the same.

The health care panel also recommended repurposing low income pool (LIP) funds that currently fill in the gap for uncompensated care.

“We thought there could be additional accountability for organizations that receive LIP funds,” she said. “They don’t have to do reports. There is no independent auditor who certifies that the funding was spent the way they say it would be sent.”

With mass shootings becoming common place and rising gun violence being a persistent issue, Rhea Law presented the gun safety panel’s recommendations.

That panel recommended doing away with loopholes in background checks and clarifying the Stand Your Ground law.

The gun panel also recommended  creation of a new database that includes information about domestic abuse, substance abuse and mental health collected from the FBI and other state organizations.

“The FBI and FDLA database and whatever is being used by the Department of Agriculture should be the same,” she said. “People fall through the cracks because you have different data and don’t have a way of actually telling if there is a problem or not.”

Law went on to say that citizens need to educate themselves on the facts, so solutions can be found.

The environmental panel cited climate change, sea level rise, water quality and quantity challenges and preserving the Everglades as key issues, said Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida.

“The environment is Florida’s economy and if we don’t protect it our future well-being is in jeopardy,” said Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida.

She said the best way to fix these issues is to push to create new scientific industries and jobs to solve Florida’s challenges and for elected officials to base their decisions on science and to stick with them.

When it comes to water conservation, Wraithmell said local governments can play an important role.

“Encouraging and incentivizing the use of water conservation appliances and other elements is really a great opportunity for local governments to move the needle,” she said.

The solutions proposed at the summit will be shared with Florida lawmakers as a potential roadmap to addressing the challenges facing the state.