Gov Crist signs Infant Mortality Bill sponsored by Joyner and Reed in East Tampa

07/02/07 Seán Kinane
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This morning at the College Hill Library in East Tampa, Governor Charlie Crist signed a bill that addresses the high rate of infant mortality among African-Americans in Florida. Senator Arthenia Joyner and Representative Betty Reed, both of Tampa, sponsored the bill. WMNF’s Seán Kinane reports that House Bill 1269 provides one million dollars to identify factors contributing to higher death rates among African-American infants.

“This legislation will help us reduce death rates among African-American infants. Every child deserves a long healthy productive life. This legislation will insure that more of Florida’s children have the same opportunity. It creates the African-American Infant Mortality Initiative and it will improve system services, increase access to community resources, the bill allocates a million dollars for this purpose.”

That was Governor Charlie Crist describing the bill that he signed this morning in East Tampa. One of the bill’s sponsors, state Senator Arthenia Joyner said that the bill is important because the rate of infant mortality of blacks is much higher than whites, including in Hillsborough County.

I’m anxious to see the studies to get underway because the coalition needs about a year to study why is it that black babies are dying five times more than white babies in Hillsborough and Gadsden Counties. Gadsden County is where Quincy is and that’s a rural community and this is Hillsborough, an urban community. And yet they both have third-world numbers when it comes to the death of black babies and this has got to stop [applause].

Representative Betty Reed, another sponsor of this bill, said that help is now on the way for populations suffering from high rates of infant mortality.

“It’s a great day in Tampa Bay for me because I know so many people that have gone through losing an infant and felt so helpless. And now I feel that there’s help on the way for so many people.”

Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros is the Secretary for the Florida Department of Health and became the first State Surgeon General yesterday. She commented on the bill.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to focus attention to a high-risk population and it’s going to allow us the funds to be able do that.”

Senator Joyner said that the grants to study the disparity in infant mortality would probably go to the Healthy Start Coalitions in Hillsborough and Gadsden Counties.

“As the Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough County and Gadsden County, whom I feel will be the two Healthy Start Coalitions who will be awarded the grant to do the study so that they can get to work and we can solve this problem.

WMNF asked Governor Crist whether having nationwide single-payer universal healthcare could help bring Florida’s high rate of infant mortality down to the levels of other countries that spend less money on health care.

“Well, I think what we do, Florida’s setting a good example this morning in my belief. And I think that the Senator [Joyner] and the Representative [Reed] have led well, particularly as it relates to infant mortality in the African-American community. That’s why we dedicated a million dollars to go with this piece of legislation so we can further study, do more research, and spend our dollars better. That’s a very good point and one we’ll follow on.

Representative Reed said that having single-payer healthcare would reduce infant mortality and she would work to implement it.

“I believe that. I believe that’s true. You know if a person was aware they could get health services, health care, even though they might not have money, then yes, I do believe it would help. … We can keep lobbying for it and that’s what we’re doing now. We can keep repeating over and over and hopefully when this study comes out it will also help us to actually have something that’s documented that we can say ‘this is the reason why.’”

After Crist signed the infant mortality bill he was asked about the recent property tax cuts. Crist said that he thinks the voters will pass the constitutional amendment authorizing a super homestead exemption in January.

“On the property tax issue, I’m very pleased with what the legislature did to have passed the largest tax cut in the history of Florida is very, very important. As I campaigned around the state last year, people told me over and over again that they were getting crushed not only by property taxes, but property insurance. So, we’re going to continue to hold the insurance industry’s feet to the fire, continue to try to push down those rates. While at the same time thanking the legislature for the already fifteen billion dollar tax cut. We hope that the citizens will follow up in January. I’m confident that they will, because they want property taxes, they’re the ones who led us here.”

The property tax cut passed by the legislature is resulting in massive layoffs of city and county employees throughout the state. Crist says that municipalities need to tighten their belts.

“Well, you know, it’s up to local governments to make that decision about how they want to reduce their necessity for the taxpayers’ money. And I think that the best way is to tighten the belt. If we can do that, that’s better for everybody.”

Crist also said that state agencies need to make budget cuts because the state budget is lower than expected.

“Yeah, well, we’re getting some estimates on the budget that it is reducing, that less is coming in. And I’m convinced that two of the major reasons why that’s [sic] happening are property insurance and property taxes. That’s why we’ve got to stay on these issues, free up the market, get this economy rolling again. Then everybody will do better. … As you know, we sent a memo out late last week to have those agencies look at 4 to 10 percent in reductions. We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is, too, and make sure that we return more money to the people of Florida.”

For WMNF News, I’m Seán Kinane

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