Awake Pinellas wants Florida politicians to wake up
Progressives gathered at 18 sites across Florida yesterday on the first day of the Legislative session. Awake the State demonstrators were protesting just about everything lawmakers in Tallahassee have done over the past year. In St. Petersburg about 100 people rallied to tell Governor Rick Scott and his Republican legislature to change the way they think of healthcare, womenâ€™s rights and education.
About 15 speakers represented organizations ranging from labor unions to womenâ€™s groups. One thing they all had in common was a mutual distaste for leadership in Florida. Tim Martin of Awake the Stateâ€™s Pinellas County chapter said the organization sprung up directly because of Governor Rick Scottâ€™s anti-middle class agenda.
â€œUnfortunately with the super majority that we have in both the house and the senate and the ideologically driven tea party governor that we have in office, itâ€™s a huge uphill battle. Part of what we do through Awake is to really seek political change. I think that is an important strategy, but I think other things like what the Occupy movement is doing, which seeks more systematic change is just as relevant because with so much money in politics now, itâ€™s really hard to get anywhere.â€
President Barack Obamaâ€™s Affordable Care Act has been one of the biggest targets of right wing conservatives. Theyâ€™ve challenged its constitutionality and given it what some consider a condescending nickname. Advocate Darden Rice said itâ€™s not called "Obamacare;" itâ€™s a law on the books and Republicans need to get out of the way.
â€œCitizens should be angry that Governor Rick Scott is making it such an agenda to attack Medicaid and to withdraw the state from participating meaningfully in federal healthcare reform. By doing this we are hurting senior citizens who are in nursing homes, weâ€™re hurting students, weâ€™re hurting women, weâ€™re hurting Hispanic people. This law is meant to help so many people in Florida. It is a landmark healthcare reform act and we need the Governor to show leadership in implementing this law instead of blocking it.â€
The healthcare reform law has already banned insurance companies from denying coverage to minors based on pre-existing conditions and will expand that to adults in 2014. It also requires insurance companies to keep young adults on their parentsâ€™ policies for longer. Thatâ€™s something Eckerd College student Dana Nalven needs as she transitions into a career.
â€œThe ACA act that they were talking about today, that would strip us of a lot of our healthcare issues, thatâ€™s really the most terrifying to me. Especially because I graduate from college in may so my healthcare is up for grabs and who know what will happen then.â€
Governor Scott refused millions of dollars in funding meant to prepare states for changes associated with the Affordable Care Act. Putting off planning measures could put the state way behind in its implementation. But thatâ€™s not the only way advocates think Scott is attacking healthcare. Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida spokesperson Wendy Sears Grassi said there have already been 8 proposed bills that impact reproductive rights and a womenâ€™s access to healthcare.
â€œThereâ€™s one that is an out right ban on all abortions with hardly any exceptions. Thereâ€™s one that would ban abortion at 20 weeks gestation on the stipulation that thatâ€™s when the fetus begins to feel pain which thereâ€™s absolutely no evidence of at all. Thereâ€™s another one thatâ€™s going to further regulate clinics to make it more difficult to comply with the hopes of shutting us down. That would be the aim of that I would suspect. Thereâ€™s another one which gives kudos to these crisis pregnancy centers where nothing more than groups set up to try to convince young women not to have an abortion.â€
Public education took a $1.35 billion hit in last yearâ€™s budget. The cuts led to massive teacher layoffs and a required 3 percent contribution to pension plans for those educators who didnâ€™t find themselves on the chopping block. After a year of public outcry, Governor Scott has proposed restoring one billion dollars. But he doesnâ€™t have concrete plans to pay for it. Pinellas County PTA representative Judy Owen said collecting sales tax from out of state online retailers could be the answer.
â€œMembers of the Pinellas County Delegation, Senator Latvala and Representative Hooper were talking about starting collection on the internet sales tax which could bring that money in. Thatâ€™s estimated to be about a billion dollars a year so that could make up for those funds. So thatâ€™s very encouraging on education.â€
Even if thereâ€™s a billion dollar surge in education funding, some public education advocates are concerned that money wonâ€™t be used wisely. Former Pinellas County school board candidate Jim Jackson said funding intended for maintenance and building projects on public schools got spent of privately run, public charter schools last year. He said this money needs to be used exclusively for public schools.
â€œIâ€™ve been for more parental choice, but choice within the rubric of the public schools. Fundamental schools, more magnet programs, the IB programs expanded, those kinds of things, not voucher, not privatization of public schools whatsoever; using public dollars for public education.â€
Marshall Ogletree is the executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. Even though he advocates for public education, heâ€™s also concerned about a fairly new legislative process that he said isnâ€™t democratic.
â€œWatching whatâ€™s happened in the last ten years, is the legislature finds a way in the last 72 hours to pass political policy issues through budget conforming bills. In addition, when it goes through the normal committee process and if a bill is in jeopardy in a committee, the leadership pulls it out of that committee or they send the majority leader in who can vote in a committee hearing to make the vote be the way that they want it to be.â€
Ogletree said budget conforming bills affect transportation, social programs and just about anything that could come up in the legislative session. Other issues were also tackled at the rally including funding for emergency medical technicians and equality for women and minorities in the work place.
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