Representatives of Miami-Dade County’s delegation to the Florida Legislature and subject matter experts of the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County (LWVMD) provided updates and insights to an audience of more than 90 people at the LWVMD’s Legislative Briefing on January 20.
After welcoming remarks from LWVMD President Susan Windmiller and Maria M. Garcia, LWVMD Vice President for Advocacy, Representative Kionne McGhee of District 117, who serves as chair of the Miami-Dade County Legislative Delegation, kicked off the speakers' presentations with a plea for unity that transcends partisan politics.
“Both sides in a debate feel they are right, but neither has the right to condemn the other,” McGhee said. “You sent us to Tallahassee to make policy to move the state forward. If we allow politicians to use policy to advance their own positions, we are harming ourselves.”
Senator Annette Taddeo of District 40 applauded the League’s history of protecting voters in Florida, noting that she “wouldn’t be here” if the League hadn’t fought for fair redistricting. She also discussed an initiative to bring the Medicaid expansion issue directly to voters. 800,000 Floridians “fall into the crack—they are the working poor, in some cases subsisting on only about $11,000 a year, but we are punishing them for not being poor enough.”
Noting that there are several open seats in the Florida legislature, including several in Miami-Dade County, Taddeo encouraged attendees to run for office. “We need more women in the legislature and more seats at the table,” Taddeo said. “In the Florida Senate, we have a bipartisan group of women, and we need to speak up on both good and bad bills.”
Representative Nick Duran, District 112, discussed the need to protect healthcare access for children from poor families. In an issues that hits close to home, he addressed his legislative efforts to address the opioid crisis, as current rules do not allow Medicaid to pay for opioid treatment services. LWVMD board member Santiago Leon also offered remarks about the importance of healthcare legislation to protect vulnerable Floridians.
Representative Robert Asencio shared his plans to help organize voter registration events geared toward new Miami residents who relocated to South Florida from Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Kathleen Crampton of LWV Palm Beach is deeply involved in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which seeks to address the fact that, due to Electoral College rules, not every citizen’s vote counts equally. Noting a survey indicating that nearly 70 percent of Floridians believe that the president should be elected by popular vote, “The states tell electors how to vote,” she said, “and we can tell them to vote for the winner of the popular vote.”
Lucia Baez of LWVMD made an impassioned presentation on behalf of public education in light of several initiatives coming before the legislature during the 2018 session. She urged attendees to beware of deceptive language in bills designed to facilitate privatization of education and diminish accountability and transparency. “These bills are wolves in sheep’s clothing,” she said. “They create an alternate school system.” She noted that the League will be launching a major awareness initiative later this year, as the Constitutional Revision Commission may decide to place some of these initiatives on the 2018 ballot.
LWVMD board member Maggie Fernandez focused her remarks on environmental issues, such as fracking, that she said are being “under-addressed.” She also warned about efforts in Tallahassee to preempt local municipalities from implementing their own ordinances to protect tree canopy.
The League’s Letty Pelaez, who leads the LWVMD’s gun safety efforts, provided an alert about “zombie bills” that recklessly endanger public safety and that, while defeated, are repeatedly reintroduced in Tallahassee. These include permit-less gun carry, including assault weapons, in public places, and concealed-weapon reciprocity that would allow gun owners from states with extremely lenient gun safety laws to adhere only to their home states’ regulations even while in states with stricter gun safety laws.
LWVMD’s Jody Finver, who develops and manages solar co-ops throughout Miami-Dade County through Solar United Neighbors, reminded attendees about the benefits of solar energy and invited them to turn to the organization to learn more about ways to go solar and save money on electricity bills by joining a solar co-op.
Marisol Zenteno shared the success of the “Second Chances” voter reinstatement effort, which drew the requisite 1 million signatures to gain a place on the 2018 Florida ballot. With that hurdle cleared, Zenteno said, the next step is a grassroots campaign to raise voter understanding and support of the initiative, which, if successful, will retire Florida’s current punitive disenfranchisement policy.
Attendees were urged to stay in touch with LWVMD and LWVFL on social media and be prepared to respond to Action Alerts when calls to elected representatives are needed. They were also invited to get involved in the LWVMD 2018 Election Action Team, where they can help educate and engage voters in their own home communities and across the county.
The briefing was in every way a high-energy, inspiring event that exemplified the League’s commitment to “Defending Democracy, Empowering Voters.”